Jon Cruddas has put 5 questions to the candidates for the Labour leadership. You can see them here. No need to repeat them; they are hardly questions at all really. They attempt to frame the debate in much the same way that the Tories framed the debate for Labour. They ask what candidates have to say to a working class that is fiscally and socially conservative. This, Cruddas is saying, is what politics has to be about for Labour as well as everybody else.
An early comment quite rightly offered 5 quite different questions centred on inequality, the irresponsibility of bankers etc., neatly suggesting a Labour breakout from the Conservative discourse. But let us take Cruddas at face value; suppose our questions will not be heard much less answered unless we address this. So, the working class is fiscally and socially conservative. What to do? Labour wins nothing by tailoring its appeal to such prejudices. Cruddas’ questions would have been less dispiriting if he had asked how do we challenge them?
Policies are one thing. There does have to be an argument about welfare (social responsibility), immigration (humanity and labour markets), and state spending (investment, economic stimulus), the things Cruddas can’t lift his eyes from. But much more important is the narrative that frames that argument, the context that makes these questions meaningful. Cruddas has hinted elsewhere that he would like to construct a context from a fabricated ‘progressive patriotism’, and more positively from a re-telling of working class history and experience, but his ‘questions’ reflect none of that. They are too, too crude.
In any case, the larger narrative needs a harder centre. Welfare, immigration and state spending are also about a financial sector dangerously out of control and the underinvestment that powers a low productivity economy; the involvement of the West in wars in the East that drives asylum claims; unregulated labour markets and poorly organised labour that make migration a threat; the right to work and the right to sustain a decent life through work denied by unemployment and zero-hours contracts.
Corbyn’s modest form of left-wing social democracy, whatever its limitations, offers a different narrative and the enthusiasm it has generated something to build on. Cruddas’ crude questions just miss the point.