There are not many MPs who can quote political philosophers like Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, RH Tawney and TH Green. But Jon Cruddas is an exotic political creature, with a reputation for being able to connect with people from all walks of life, equally at ease discussing fuel bills with senior citizens or Antonio Gramsci in senior common rooms. His face is unmemorable, a bit like his Dagenham constituency: flat and featureless. He has neither the looks of a character actor, nor a leading man. Colleagues note that his accent changes depending to whom he is speaking. He is a working-class Catholic boy from Portsmouth, whose father was a sailor. He is also an intellectual with a PhD in political theory and fans in the media and academia. Some people saw him as a future Labour leader. While he announced in mid-May that he wouldn’t stand for the leadership, his ideas on how to reconnect with the traditional working class will remain influential in the coming contest.
Cruddas was the big surprise of Labour’s 2007 deputy leadership race: he scored the most votes in the first round, and ultimately came third, demonstrating support beyond the party’s leftist fringes. He is close to David Miliband, who has already launched his bid for Labour’s crown, and shares some similarities. Both worked for Tony Blair—Miliband as head of policy, Cruddas as deputy political secretary. Both went on to become MPs for de-industrialised areas. Both are animated by ideas. But while Miliband easily held his seat on 6th May, Cruddas came close to being dethroned.
Cruddas hung on in Dagenham and Rainham by 2,630 votes. His race, along with that of Labour MP Margaret Hodge in the neighbouring constituency of Barking, gained huge media prominence because of the involvement of the British National party. BNP leader Nick Griffin attempted to unseat Hodge, but said the real prize was the council. Yet while the BNP’s challenge fell spectacularly short—coming third against both Hodge and Cruddas and losing all its councils seat in Barking—this deprived corner of east London still carries great symbolic significance. It is here that Labour lost touch with its core vote, where it struggled to provide jobs to replace the manufacturing industries of old, and where once unified white communities found themselves suddenly mixing with waves of immigrants. The BNP may have been trounced, but its challenge to Labour—in an area traditionally…