The MP for Dagenham and former Blair aide says Labour has broken its covenant with the working classby David Goodhart / May 14, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
Jon Cruddas is set to play a key role in the post-election Labour debate about the future direction of the party and who should lead it.
The 48-year-old MP for Dagenham—re-elected with a reduced majority of 2,630—has in recent years become a political spokesman for Labour’s disaffected core working class vote in de-industrialised areas like his own constituency.
The BNP, which has also been feeding on that disaffection, has for now been beaten back in places like Barking and Dagenham. But what should be the longer-term policy response to win back the traditional working class to Labour?
Raised in Portsmouth, a Roman Catholic from a working-class background, Cruddas spent several years as an academic before going to work for Labour as a policy officer in 1989. In 1997 he joined Number 10, serving as the link between Blair and the trade unions, and was elected MP for Dagenham in 2001. He unsuccessfully ran for deputy leader in 2007.
Two weeks before the election, David Edmonds, writer and philosopher, and David Goodhart, Prospect editor, interviewed Cruddas in the appropriately de-industrialised setting of a gloomy trade union office perched on the edge of the once giant Ford plant in Dagenham. In its heyday in the 1950s the plant employed about 40,000 people—it is now about 4,000.
Jon Cruddas: The issue of immigration has been so significant in Barking and Dagenham because it is seen to have ruptured a tacit covenant between the traditional working class and Labour—a covenant about housing, work, employment, a sense of neighbourliness and community. Perhaps especially the latter. I’ll give you an example: we were out canvassing with the leader of the council, a guy called William Smith, and there was an 86-year-old woman. We bang on her door and say “We’re from the Labour party, how are you, what’s up?” And she just pointed across the street and there was a mattress in the front yard, just dropped there, and she said, “that’s what’s up.” This notion of someone just depositing a mattress in their front garden was a proxy for a sense of abandonment. Now, partly as a result of that encounter, the council leader introduced a programme called Eyesore Gardens—if you look after your front garden, fine, if you don’t we’ll sort it out and bill you. Under the right to buy scheme in the 1980s, a lot of the houses were bought by local people and then sold on to landlords, often with very short term tenancies. So you’ve got this velocity of change not just in terms of migration but also in terms of housing tenure. So people come in, drop builders’ rubble or whatever in the front yard and move on. Now we are reintroducing norms of neighbourliness a sort of obligation not to disfigure your front yard.