Civitas meeting at 55 Tuftn Street Westminster SW1P3QL
14 October 2013
One nation Labour: work, family and place
Speaker: John Cruddas MP
The speech was howlingly vacuous, full of trite phrasemaking and statements of the blindingly obvious added to a rich menu of vague aspirations. Here are a few examples:
“Families come in all different shapes and sizes”.
“Some of our families trace their English roots back generations, and for some their children are the first born in England.“
“We will improve our schools so they can help children develop good character, and learn the values of respect, honesty, compassion, trust and integrity.”
The only surprise is that Cruddas did not tell the audience that he believed in motherhood and apple pie.
But empty as it was of hard policy, this speech is important because Cruddas was laying out the general propaganda strategy of the Labour Party for the coming General Election. The strategy was noteworthy for its unmitigated cynicism, it being a shameless attempt to cloak the true intent of Labour with words which until very recently the Party would have treated as beyond the politically correct Pale.
Cruddas’ engaged in dog-whistle politics. For Labour’s historically core vote, the unalloyed white working class, he used words and phrases such as patriotism and national renewal, but in a way that would have met with the firm approval of Lewis Carol’s Humpty Dumpty. They meant whatever Cruddas meant them to mean rather than what any normal person or a dictionary would take them to mean. Nation did not mean a natural nation but a bogus one centred around civic ideals. Patriotism did not mean wanting to express a sense of nation but pride in the civic ideals. Being English did not mean being English in the cultural or historic sense, but English as simply a coverall term for those living in England. (In passing, I could not help wryly wondering if Cruddas was unaware of the fascist echoes in his language: One Nation; National Renewal, the new England…. )
Cruddas had other electoral wares to peddle. To entice Tories alienated by Cameron’s NuTory social liberalism and the aspirational working-class vote, Cruddas put forward what might politely be called the NuLabour version of that risible Tory phrase The Big Society. This consisted of a condemnation of centralisation and a devolution of power and responsibility to the local level in general and the individual in particular. Here is a flavour of Cruddas’ general thrust:
“One Nation begins in local places. It is in our neighbourhoods that we express our cultures and identities and the new England taking shape is happening where people meet and greet one another, neighbours help one another and watch and learn from each others different lives and so build up trust and in the process make a home together. “
“They are the people who tend to think of themselves as both English and British. They care about their families and work hard for a better life. The ethic of work is deeply held because it is about self-respect and self reliance. They are responsible and look after their neighbourhoods. But they don’t feel they get back what they deserve. “
“They are powerfully aspirational but they are struggling to make ends meet. The better life they have worked for, and their hopes for their children are under threat due to the cost of living crisis. Labour should be their natural home.”
Despite the Thatcherite tone, this was The Big Society NuLabour style. Consequently, it also contained a good deal of political correctness, including a seeming acceptance of male employment providing less than enough money to support a family as a permanent fixture in the British economy. Indeed, there was even an undertone of this being a good thing because it furthers the cause of gender equality, viz:
“Millions of men no longer earn enough to follow their fathers in the role of family breadwinner. More and more women are taking on the role of breadwinner. Families thrive when there is a partnership and teamwork amongst adult relations We need a new conversation about families and their relationships that is jointly owned by women and men. “
“We need to value father’s family role as highly as his working role, and women’s working role as highly as her domestic one. And we need to have high expectations of fathers because otherwise we collude with those men who don’t step up to the mark.”
“We will look at where we can make greater use of a ‘whole family’ approach to public services which assumes, where it is safe and appropriate, that a child needs a relationship with both parents.
– exploring changes to maternity services to engage the whole family and include fathers.
– looking at paid leave for prospective fathers to attend antenatal sessions and hospital appointments during pregnancy.
– developing services that facilitate mutual support between families.
– helping family self help initiatives in the community and letting finance follow.
Helping children take responsibility for their own actions, also means improving sex and relationship education for boys and girls with zero tolerance of violence at its core. “
The third prong of Cruddas’ propaganda method was to speak of England not Britain:
“It is a sentiment that is shared by a large part of the electorate today, particularly in England. Patriotic, love of family; live and let live. Committed to the virtues of responsibility and duty; fiercely democratic and individual. “
“We are a country of many roots looking for an identity. Some of our families trace their English roots back generations, and for some their children are the first born in England.“
“One Nation begins in local places. It is in our neighbourhoods that we express our cultures and identities and the new England taking shape is happening where people meet and greet one another, neighbours help one another and watch and learn from each others different lives and so build up trust and in the process make a home together.”
This is not Englishness at all but a substitute for the increasingly meaningless use of British, a term which has become a semantic umbrella to obviate the need to call immigrants and their descendants English. There is to be a new Englishness, not one born of the organic formation and shaping of a nation across a millennium and a half, as has been the genesis of England and the English, but a cosmopolitan multicultural politically correct mess which no English man or woman would recognise as English.
In true Labour fashion his speech was also packed with uncosted spending commitments such as paid antenatal paternity leave, guaranteed work for the long-term unemployed, increased childcare payments, cutting and then freezing business rates for small and medium sized firms and putting more money into vocational training. Incredibly, Cruddas claimed that these new costly policies will be made whilst government spending reduces overall, viz:: “We will govern with less money.”
There was a strong hint to what the devolution of power would really be about in Cruddas’ housing proposals, viz:
“Local people need local homes and we will devolve power to local authorities to negotiate with private landlords reductions in rent and use the savings to build new homes.”
The device is transparent: the responsibility is moved from national politicians and any failure rests with local politicians. And so it will be with anything else devolved under a Labour government if one is elected in 2015. As for the housing proposal, If there were no legal power to force private landlords to reduce rents, and there was no suggestion from Cruddas that there would be, it is the purest pie-in-the-sky.
On the subject which most exercises the native English, immigration, all Cruddas had to offer was first this:
“Change brings both a sense of loss as well as hope; across the country there is a powerful sense of grievance and dispossession. A loss of culture and a way of life. We have to engage with the visceral politics it creates. “
With this as the risibly inadequate solution:
“On immigration, Ed Miliband has set out a new approach which combines tougher controls on people coming in from new EU countries with measures to help stop low skilled migration undercutting the wages of workers already here.”
Cruddas also had the effrontery to claim The Conservatives are dividing Britain when of course the greatest cause of division is mass immigration which increased hugely under Blair and Brow with a net inflow of more than three million to the UK.
It would also be interesting to know how Cruddas could square his wish for Britain to be “fiercely democratic” with the mass immigration which has been the prime policy exercising the British electorate for a long time when they have been denied any say on it because neither of the major parties has any real intention of preventing it, not least because both major parties are committed to Britain’s membership of the EU.
There was also a feeble apology for the mess created by the Blair and Brown governments. Reflecting on the 2010 election defeat Cruddas mused “did we spend too much attention treating problems in society rather than preventing them? We moved thousands more people into work, but did we pay sufficient attention to the type of work performed and the rewards received? Were we attuned to the scale of low skilled immigration and across its impact in communities? “ before concluding baldly “We got things wrong.”
Needless to say, Cruddas’ conclusion that serious mistakes were made did not lead him to suggest that he , and all the other Labour MPs who served in the Blair and Brown governments who are still in the Commons should resign in disgrace because of the mess Labour left on leaving office. An admission of fault without proportionate or indeed any penalty suffered by the wrongdoers is meaningless, a taunting of the public.
The full text of Cruddas’ speech is at http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/earningandbelonging.pdf
Come question time I managed to get the first question. I launched it with a decent preamble during which I pointed out the three to four million net immigration under the last Labour government; the reckless spending with government spending deficits totalling more than £200 billion before the crash of 2008 and the millions in full-time work who could not earn enough to support themselves and were heavily dependent on benefits. I ended by asking the question “In view of the mess the last Labour Government left behind them in 2010 why should anyone trust the Labour Party enough to re-elect them at the next election? Had there been time, I would have added in the perpetual warmongering of Blair, the handing to the EU of ever more power without the British public being consulted in a referendum, the disastrous neglect of the UK’s energy supplies, the vast expansion of the racket that is PFI and the institutionalisation of political correctness within the British public sector.
Cruddas gave me a non-answer, being reduced to saying that I had not given a nuanced view of the last Labour government, followed by a claim that all had seemed going well until the crash of 2008, with an implied shrug of the shoulders that the crash could not have been foreseen. Contemptibly, he tried to hide behind the Tories by saying they had supported the economic policies of the Blair government. The latter was of course true, but being wrong with along with your political opponents is no excuse. The reality is that the crash was about as obvious as Christmas coming at the end of December if one looked at the economic indicators. (I publicly predicted the crash in July 2007. By then house prices had risen so high that in the large majority of English council areas it was impossible for someone earning the average wage to buy their first house, despite the ease with which mortgages could be obtained with loans of up to 125% of the property’s value being offered. It was clear that the housing market, which underpinned the gerrymandered NuLabour boom, would collapse and cause a severe recession).
The rest of the questions were curiously bloodless. Depressingly, no one else at the meeting seemed to be angry about what had happened to Britain under Blair and Brown.
The one thing of interest which came from these questions was Cruddas’ definition of what constituted a sense of nation and patriotism. It was the “civic patriotism” so beloved of the left at the moment, the ludicrous idea that a nation can be formed around nothing more than a set of self-consciously arrived at values such as a belief in representative government and the rule of law. Any sense of belonging arises organically from the natural human traits which create “tribal feeling” not from governments telling people what to believe.
The “values” which Cruddas was speaking about were in reality those of political correctness. This meant he was purveying not one nonsense but another one on top of it – nonsense on stilts – because political correctness is in itself an exercise in denying reality.
After the meeting I email Cruddas this without receiving a reply:
Dear Mr Cruddas,
I was the person who asked the first question at the Civitas meeting tonight. Apart from the points I made in the preamble to my question, I would say that your emphasis on localism and community self-help sounded remarkably like a NuLabour version of the Tories’ Big Society. Both ideas are non-starters because you cannot create social networks and community spirit self-consciously. It can only develop organically. For the same reason a civic citizenship cannot be created to stand in the stead of Man’s innate tribal feeling.
What the Labour Party needs is a return to a firm and clear understanding of what things should be private and what public and to defend public ownership and intervention where it is appropriate. The long essay below (https://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/public-and-private-confusion-and-yes-there-is-an-alternative/) examines that proposition in detail
At present all your party is trying to do is patch a few social and economic grazes when what is needed is major surgery.
In your answer to my question you said the picture I painted was not nuanced. To that I would reply how exactly does one nuance over 3 million net immigrants under Blair and Brown or massive debt they ran up from 2002 onwards? The detailed debt figures are
Labour ran a surplus for each of their first four years of government:
1998 £ 703 millions
1999 £11,976 millions
2000 £16,697 millions
2001 £ 8,426 millions
Total 1998 – 2001 surplus of £37,802 millions
Labour ran a deficit for the rest of their time in government:
2002 £19,046 millions
2003 £34,004 millions
2004 £36,797 millions
2005 £41,355 millions
2006 £30,755 millions
2007 £33,718 millions
2008 £68,003 millions
Total 2002 – 2008 Deficit of £263,678 millions
2009 £152,289 millions
2010 £148,774 millions
Total 2009 -2010 Deficit of £301,063 millions
Net total debt accumulated in the period 1998 – 2008 £225,876
Net total debt accumulated in the period 1998-2010 £526,339 millions
These figures understate the true increase in public debt because of the Enron-style accounting which kept most the PPI and PFI debt incurred under Blair and Brown off the books.
As can be seen, the present Labour claims that the financial mess is all due to the post-Lehman global crash is embarrassingly untrue.