Labour's John Cruddas urges 'rehabilitation' of Blair legacy

Tony Blair

Labour will be “in the dead zone” if it continues to treat Tony Blair as a pariah to be booed at Labour party conferences, Jon Cruddas, the party’s former head of policy review, has warned.

Without re-appropriating Blair within Labour, “the party cannot own its own recent political history”, Cruddas added. He said Blair’s early years – before he became an advocate of global liberalisation – should seen as part of the Labour tradition, including his support for morality, family, nation, and the common good.

Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, is unusual in his determination to rehabilitate part of the Blair legacy since he is not seen as a traditional Blairite.

He said: “You cannot have treated him as a pariah booed at a Labour party conferences, and see him only in absolutist terms, either by those that support or reject him, because that is the dead zone for Labour.”

Speaking at a Westminster seminar on why Labour lost the election, he said: “The genius of early Blair was to reconcile the ethical and distributional models of justice in a quite brilliant way and this is what led to his grip and power with the electorate. He then turned that into a national story based on common endeavour, shared sacrifice and contribution, and that is what we need to return to.”

Cruddas said the key task for Labour was to reclaim Blair, but not the definition of Blair given by his most extreme advocates present at his “political death”.

The politician also urged the party to produce a new statement of aims and values that set out a clear model of justice explaining how society should be organised. This was preferred to than just simply “tipping into a leadership election”.

Cruddas admitted: “In my constituency there is a fundamental question about what Labour is, who does it represent, and what is it for – all compounded by some of those issues of nationhood.”

He said that in the election all the main political parties had been contesting the notion of nationhood in some quite visceral politics. “We were paddling around in the shallow end talking about small money transfers. That is a very different type of politics and one always outstrips the other. At the time the Labour party has gone through arguably the worst defeat since 1918 it is an appropriate moment to think through maybe what this party is for. It is indulgent not to do the heavy lifting now, not to think fundamentally what the party is for, because this is arguably one of the greatest crisis the Labour party has ever faced.”

Cruddas is leading an unofficial review into the reasons for Labour’s defeat, initially using polling information to get cross-party acceptance of the causes of the election loss. The review is likely to be published at the time Labour party does the ballot for its leadership election.

The MP is one of a group of party members, called Blue Labour, who believe the partyneeds to put issues such as community, contribution and responsibility alongside the traditional comfortable Labour issues of social justice, equality and fairness. He said that would lead to difficult debates about welfare immigration, insiders, outsiders and earned citizenship. “That is where the Labour party had to go,” he said.

He added: “The Tories have pivoted out of the election, they have got their Northern Powerhouse, their grittier working-class workers party narrative going, they have got their one-nation framework. You can see exactly what they are doing; they are gaming out the next five years, and we are still hitting the debate about whether we were wrong about public spending in 2007 or 2008.” The narrowness of the current Labour debate could put the party at a serious strategic disadvantage, he warned.

Citing conservative thinkers such as David Brooks, Steve Hilton, Tim Montgomerie, and Jesse Norman, he said: “The Tories are showing an energy and thirst for marrying its various ideas around a new public philosophy. Question: Compare and contrast that with us. End of, really. There is not an equivalent series of debates and pulse around Labour now. Compare and contrast the different sites of debates and energy across the left and right, and this is quite worrying.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Patrick Wintour Political editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 25th June 2015 20.56 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010