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Last Updated: Friday, 2 March 2007, 13:27 GMT
Interview: Jon Cruddas
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News politics reporter

Jon Cruddas
Mr Cruddas says Labour needs a debate like the Tories had in 2005

Jon Cruddas thinks New Labour has lost touch - it is becoming tired, old, neglectful.

Mr Cruddas, a contender for Labour's deputy leadership, fears an over-reliance on focus groups searching for the views of the elusive "swing voter".

This is turning Tony Blair's regime into a caricature of itself, rather than an effective government, he argues.

The 44-year-old MP for Dagenham, in east London, said: "There's a brilliant sketch by Armando Ianucci where they cut out all the middle men and end up with one person they call 'Middle England' and they just talk to him and ask for his view on everything and that's it.

"They just ignore 50 or 60 million people, and end up with one person who dictates the terms of political debate - and that's where we're going."

Mr Cruddas, a former Downing Street adviser with roots in the trade union movement, is seen as the "outsider" candidate - the only runner who is not a minister.

He insists that, unlike current Labour deputy leader John Prescott, he has no wish to be deputy prime minister, but to serve as a "transmission belt", reconnecting the party's grass roots with its leaders.

'Brilliant in '97'

Mr Cruddas is portrayed as a left-winger, an "Old Labour" politician.

But, after 10 years of Mr Blair's premiership, he says he is more "new" Labour than the government.

"I think we were brilliant in '97, in terms of forging a political strategy based on the real material concerns of people. The Labour Party became a vehicle to remedy those insecurities.

Age: 44
Family: Married
School: Oaklands Roman Catholic Comprehensive
University: Warwick
Political hero: Oscar Romero and EP Thompson
Good night out/in: Curry out with some mates
Hobbies: Fishing, swimming and golf
Favourite film: Wild Strawberries
Favourite book: If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi
Best thing on TV: Curb Your Enthusiasm
Bad habits: Smoking (until two years ago)
Something we don't know about you: I am learning to surf

"Arguably we lost our way because we're not doing that anymore. We're not setting our strategy on the basis of people's insecurities.

"The last Queen's Speech talked about asylum seekers, criminals, terrorists and it ramped up a sort of politics of fear, because of the same exercise of appealing to certain voters.

"If you talk to people in our area, and around the country, they will talk about insecurity at work or insecurity in terms of access to healthcare, or housing pressures.

"What we have is a rupture between this and the political strategy based around some people's concerns, which doesn't actually remedy most people's insecurities."

Ministers have to look at issues such as housing - "centre-stage in people's insecurities" - and immigration, but "not through the prism of the swing voter", Mr Cruddas argues.

He wants Chancellor Gordon Brown, the runaway favourite to succeed Mr Blair, to face a serious challenger.

So far, only left-wing MPs Michael Meacher and John McDonnell have said they will run.

'Two options'

Mr Cruddas wants a wider debate about the future, much like that which led the Conservatives towards picking David Cameron in 2005.

"There are two options. We can either use the next few months in a fertile way to rebuild a coalition.

"Or we can say look we understand the way to win elections, there's going to be an ever more precise calibration of strategy."

Does he think that, after 10 years in government, Mr Brown - one of the architects of New Labour - will be any different to Mr Blair?

I find him quite refreshing in a strange way. I think that's partly because I'm a bit seduced by the presentation
Jon Cruddas on David Cameron

"I don't know. I'm not sure. We haven't heard what Brown's got to say. He hasn't laid out his manifesto for the Labour Party.

"This is contested terrain, or it should be. My view is that Brown has to be challenged in terms of policy and what he thinks about the Labour Party.

"Any aspiring leader has to be called to account... to show his world view."

So far, five ministers - Hilary Benn, Hazel Blears, Harriet Harman, Peter Hain and Alan Johnson - have declared they want to be Labour's deputy leader.

Mr Cruddas is unimpressed by their apparent motives.

'Baubles and houses'

"I agreed to enter this because I was pretty fed up with three responses to the contest.

"First, it was going to be a beauty contest within the Cabinet for the position of deputy prime minister - for the baubles, the houses, all that stuff - and the stepping stone to that was deputy leader of the Labour Party.

"That's symptomatic of the consequence of power. That seemed to be the dominant orthodoxy among those who stated their candidacy.

"The second was that people thought they would stand but there were no outstanding issues to resolve.

"The third was that someone 'revealed' to me that the future lies in all this virtual politics stuff, using research on the internet.

"Now, I can't go with all three of them."

Mr Cruddas has to gain the signatures of 45 MPs before entering a vote decided by them, party members and trade unions.

He said: "My view is this is all pretty unchartered territory and it's difficult to predict how it will all pan out. Strangely I think I'm going to win.

"Those who have the best research - the bookmakers - have taken me from 150-1 to about 9-2. Something's churning. It's because we offer people a space to contribute."

'Political geniuses'

However, for an MP who professes to hate market research and the scrabbling of the three main parties over the "middle ground", Mr Cruddas has a surprising respect for David Cameron.

"I find him quite refreshing in a strange way. I think that's partly because I'm a bit seduced by the presentation.

"The techniques of persuasion are extraordinary. I remember watching Tony Blair give a wonderful speech at the Labour Party conference and I found myself nodding about things I disagreed with.

"It was a brilliant exercise in message delivery and presentation, and Cameron I find the same.

"Bill Clinton has it as well. They are absolute political geniuses. They are brilliant at it. But scratch beneath the veneer and they don't deal with issues I think you need to deal with. They don't grapple.

"But you get into politics to deal with the difficult stuff.... Otherwise everything becomes an exercise in political positioning."

'Scars of the 1980s'

Mr Cruddas said the fact Labour had lost more than half its members since 1997 showed something was "going wrong".

Some recent opinion polls have put the party behind Mr Cameron's Conservatives, but he added: "It's all do-able. I think we can beat them."

Mr Cruddas is in no hurry for Mr Blair to leave office though.

"There should be no race for the exit because that might close down the opportunity to discuss things. There's no rewind button.

"There's a generation of Labour politicians who are so scarred by the 1980s they think any form of debate means it's back to 1981. That's not the world we live in.

"There's a real latent energy. People want to feel like they have a party again.

"More of the same won't liberate them. We need change, but not through some stylised exercise with 120 people spread around the M25 marginal seats - Harlow, Kettering, Watford - that just doesn't fly."

Here is how Jon Cruddas answered the questions e-mailed in by you:

Mr. Cruddas, Do you think Mr. Blair was right to send soldiers to Iraq, while we all know and knew then that there were no weapons of mass destruction in the country? Is there a possibility that the troops will return if Labour delivers a new Prime Minister, be it Mr. Brown or someone else?
Nick Delafontaine, Bruges, Belgium

Jon Cruddas: I did think he was right at the time Nick, and I voted with the Government for the war. We were asked to vote for the Iraq war on the basis of WMDs and to bring democracy to a country used to dictatorship. Clearly the premise on WMDs was wrong, as we haven't found any, and at the moment there is a bloody conflict rather than a stable democracy. Its turns out the case for war was flawed, and I now deeply regret voting the way I did. If I knew then what I know now, I would have voted differently, and I hold my hands up on that one. The important thing now is to ensure that we get our troops home as soon as possible, while not abandoning progressives in Iraq.

I have just finished reading your interview with Justin Parkinson and I just want to say, what a breath of fresh air you are! As a Labour member, I have struggled to find anything inspiring in the options open to us from the usual suspects (other than perhaps, Hilary Benn). I, and many of my colleagues and fellow party members are tired of the rhetoric, the phoney political positioning and the stump speeches about the promises of 'renewal' and how the party must 'reconnect' with its members. To me, the likes of Harriet Harman, Hazel Blears and Alan Johnson are empty vessels, too closely connected to the misgivings people have about the government. I am not a rabid left winger who thinks the party died when Blair took over. Nor, I think are you. The Labour government has done some fantastic things, most notably in my view, the introduction of the minimum wage, tax credits and the equality legislation. We are rightly proud of most of Labour's record in government. However, I agree with you, the seduction of power has left many within government unresponsive, even ignorant to the voices of the very people they were sent to parliament to represent. We just want to be listened to. To many, the Government has become detached and I believe, indeed, I hope you offer something different. My hope is, you get the support needed to get on the ballot and I get a chance to vote for someone who can articulate the views of party members in Government. After all, the Labour Party should be the voice of the many, not the few. Thank you for listening, Darren
Darren, Cardiff

Jon Cruddas: You're right to say that members just want to be included more Darren. I think that ministers do a tough job in running departments 70, 80 hours a week, and then having their party responsibilities on top of that. I don't question their integrity. In my experience, MPs of all parties are actually in this for the right reason. But I think that's why we need to have a full-time deputy leader who is dedicated to the party, and is the members' representative to government, not the other way round. That's why I have promised that if elected, I would turn down the job of Deputy Prime Minister, and just be the members' voice in cabinet.

Politicians used to have kitchen cabinets and now have advertising groups. Both served to isolate them from the public. Would you agree?
Vinay Chand, London

Jon Cruddas: I know it's not a very popular view Vinay, but I actually think politicians are in it for the right reasons, they're trying hard in a world where they are under extraordinary pressures. Of course politicians have to work harder to be in touch with the people we represent, and I have concerns that focus groups and opinion polls mean you end up focusing on a tiny number of voters at the expense of the rest of the country. I want to carry on having as much focus on swing voters, but extend that out to everyone.

A good friend of mine has worked with your people on fighting the BNP in places like Dagenham, what a great job you are doing; so I warmly wish you the best in the contest and hope you win. I am saddened by the decline in morale amongst our people, particularly as expressed in articles in the guardian (where we might expect support). do they think the decline in unemployment is bad? in the NHS waiting list? in class sizes in schools? in child poverty? what do they think about the minimum wage? do they think the Tories will help our people better? also, i think you are right to respect Cameron. he may be a member of Whites, an Old Etonian, a shooter of stags and all the rest. but he is clever and shrewd; he knows people don't mind about that, he makes them think he's a "good bloke" all the best in your campaign
Jim Fisher, Ridge, Herts (Hertsmere CLP)

Jon Cruddas: Do you know what Jim - I have been pretty impressed by Cameron's presentation skills. He's good at marketing you know. But I think the thing about Cameron being a shooter of stags is very unpleasant. When I saw that in the papers, I was reminded of Helen Mirren in "The Queen" trying to save a stag on a shoot. That could come and hurt the Tories.

Agreed, but easy to say if you are MP for Dagenham. What if you are prospective Labour candidate for Harlow, Kettering or Watford. Sad fact is given our present voting system marginals matter enormously. Dagenham, Hackney and Huntingdon do not.
Les Roberts, St. Neots, previously Hackney

Jon Cruddas: I want Labour to have a 650 seat strategy where Harlow and Kettering matter, but where safe Labour seats, and seats where Labour might not win count too. I am not convinced that this Labour government is the only type of Labour government available under the current voting system, actually.

You are as guilty as the rest of them and your piece seems like more NL spin. Tapping in to the voter's sense of disengagement is one thing but putting forward just one idea or principle behind which your are prepared to stand is another. For example; keeping the state out of private individual choices, defending the principle of national sovereignty when it comes to military interventionism or standing up for habeas corpus and our right to be judged by our peers. There must be principles in politics otherwise it is stripped of meaning and becomes merely the technical exercise of power. New Labour's legacy in truth. Genuinely tragic and dangerous for our future.
Dave Humphrey, Manchester

John Cruddas: Thanks for that Dave! I don't agree with all you say, but it doesn't follow that people who don't agree are therefore unprincipled. This Labour government has got loads to be proud of. Like Jim from Hertsmere says above - is bringing in a minimum wage where millions of low paid - mostly women - workers are getting a fairer wage unprincipled? Of course not. We have done a great job - there's more to do of course, but let's not pretend that Britain isn't a better place now than it was in 1997. That'd be ridiculous.

I am very impressed by Mr Cruddas' comments. It does feel like Labour (and indeed the other two political parties) only seem to be targeting one particular category of voter whereas I think they would be more successful (and offer a wider range of voter choice) if they tried to appeal to the vast numbers of people with left of centre political views and who - while feeling disillusioned by the current Labour government - are reluctant to vote for the Conservative Party or Menzies Campbell's Lib Dems. Personally I feel Labour will lose power if they elect Gordon Brown - I believe people want a change and I simply do not feel Gordon Brown is detached enough from the current regime to provide that.
Paul Hawkins, London, UK

Jon Cruddas: Interesting comment - thanks Paul. I don't actually agree with you about Gordon Brown though. I haven't decided who I will support to be Labour's next leader, I want to hear what all the candidates have got to say, but Gordon Brown is someone who I think can move to rebuild a new sense of public service. He is an impressive guy, and I think we will see him setting out more and more interesting policy ideas over the next few weeks.

John, you voted for the Iraq war. You voted for the introduction of student top-up fees. You voted for the introduction of ID cards. What makes you think that you can offer anything new for the party?

Jon Cruddas: I voted against top-up fees actually. But on your broader point, let's not start pretending that somehow all of the last 10 years have been bad. A massive majority of our work has been great stuff. Yes, I think we have lost our way over the last couple of years and need an injection of fresh thinking, but if you have a list of policies you want to me tick off, I am the wrong person to vote for.

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