Okay, I suppose it time I had my say on the Deputy Leadership contest and, in keeping with other bloggers, make it known where I stand on the candidates.
I should say, right from the off, that my general take on the position has been all along that a new Deputy should attend cabinet but need not, necessarily, become Deputy Prime Minister, a role that I see as an unnecessary appendage with no real constitutional status, so what I’ve been look for most has been a sense that a candidate has a clear view on what the role should be, from a party standpoint, and how they’ll go about undertaking that role.
That alone ruled out both Alan Johnson and Hilary Benn, both of whom has said little more than that they’ll do whatever job Gordon asks them to do. Sorry guys, I did want a bit more than that, and in case, Benn in particular should conserve his time and energies for the senior cabinet position I hope he’ll be getting. He’s done a good job at International Development and looks a potential Foreign Secretary, the one cabinet role that definitely could not be combined with the Deputy Leadership of the Party.
Peter Hain? No, sorry, just not for me - one of those visceral things, I’m afraid. Can’t really explain it, it just feels wrong.
Harriet Harman? I do like Harriet, but the ‘I’m the women’s candidate’ shtick was a complete non-starter and, well, horribly outdated. I’d have actually taken here more seriously as a contender without it, because just as an individual she has some merits.
Hazel Blears? What do you think?
A position paper full of the same old managerialist bullshit I’ve been raging at for the last couple of years and a list of supporters - John Reid, John Hutton, Ruth Kelly, Joan Ryan, Andy Burnham - that reads more like an announcement that she’s contracted Death Watch Beetle and Dutch Elm Disease.
And that means… yes, this ascerbic and occasionally potty-mouthed blogger is declaring for Jon Cruddas, who’s been consistently impressive throughout and has a clear sense of the job he wants to do as Deputy Leader. I’ll no doubt have more to say on Jon as the campaign develops - and out of deference to B4L, play fair and don’t recommend this post because I’m backing Jon, I doubt I have that much sway amongst other bloggers so don’t make more of deal out this than it is.
On to other matters, and far be it from me to offer suggestions for the next Labour cabinet but I do have a few thoughts.
Benn at the Foriegn Office would do me nicely.
Jack Straw is rumoured to fancy a crack at the Treasury, and why not - he has had a run at both the other great offices, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary - but for me I’d prefer to see him make a return to the Home Office, where we need a safe and considerably more diplomatic hand at the tiller than we’ve had for quite a long time. It’s long past time we had someone in there who, when Paul Dacre says jump, responds with ‘go jump yourself’.
Treasury? After 10 years there, Gordon knows better than anyone what the job needs, so I’m happy to take his judgment on it. Let’s face it, it hardly as if the Tories have much of challenger in Osborne anyway.
Johnson’s doing okay at education - I was a bit miffed with the climb down on Catholic schools but he’s been pretty steady in the role and deserves more time to carry it forward.
Health is major priority - we need someone in there who can talk and listen to doctors and nurses not lecture them in the fine arts of managerialist bullshit, and we need a coherent narrative for where we’re going with the NHS. Harriet Harman might be a good choice here as she’d bring a somewhat more human touch to the role, but with some serious backup for sorting out the structural problems… Liam Byrne springs to mind as he’s frighteningly intelligent and seems adept at cutting to the root of problems pretty quickly, and he’s one of the few ministers who understand IT well enough to pull some of the recent technology cock-ups out of the mire.
The new Justice ministry needs to come over to the Commons for the sake of accountability and Mike O’Brien’s been solid in the role of Solicitor General, so could step up.
As for the Attorney General, we need to do something radical in the face of the extent to which Goldsmith has been compromised over the advice on Iraq.
One approach could be to split the Attorney General’s role in two and hive off his prosecutorial responsibilities to an independent barrister under the aegis of the Supreme Court, leaving the AG roles as the government’s legal advisor intact.
The other would be to appoint someone noted for their independence of mind and attitude. Baroness Helena Kennedy is one possibility, the other would be - and this is radical - Michael Mansfield QC, although whether we could afford his services is another matter.
You might guess from this that other than the NHS, my main personal priority is to get out approach right on justice and civil liberties - we’ve moved too far to the right here, so far that the Tories can talk tough and still appear less authoritarian than we are. That has to change.
That’s as much as I want to say for now - more thinking aloud than anything else - except for one thing.
Is anyone sure exactly what it means?
For a long time it looked like all it was was a coded reference to Gordon’s eventual ascension to the leadership.
More recently its become tied in with the parlous state of our membership and local structures.
What it means to me - and what I want to see it come to mean for the Labour movement - is the rediscovery and reinvention of the intellectual foundations of the Party and the Labour Movement.
Nye Bevan once observed:
The Tories, every election, must have a bogeyman. If you haven’t got a programme, a bogeyman will do.
We’ve spent too much time on bogeymen in recent years and need to get back to having a programme, one with real intellectual foundations.
As a party and a movement we have a broad canon of radical though to draw upon, which we need to revisit, reassess and perhaps reinvent for the 21st century. Our starting point must be to exclude nothing. And yes, that does mean Marx as well…
Old style state socialism may be rather a busted flush, but much of Marx’s economic work holds valid, especially his work on the structural instabilities of capitalism which even right-wing economist accept, much as they disagree with his prescribed solutions - one might say that he was a far better diagnostician than a doctor.
Orwell argued on many occasions - never more so than in ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ - for the necessity of developing an ‘English Socialism’ - or rather a British Socialism as it would be these days, something that would be distinct from the state socialism of the Soviet Union. His vision of what that might look like was sketchy and, from today’s perspective looks very dated indeed, but the basic idea - that by drawing on the many different strands of radical thought, we may be able to define a form of socialist philosophy tailored to the unique characteristics of Britain and the British people, is one I think remains valid today.
What shape this might take and how it might look is not something on which I have clear thoughts at the moment, just the general thought that somewhere in there will turn up Marx’s analysis of capitalism’s weaknesses, a fair chunk of Mill, Isaiah Berlins’ thoughts on the nature of liberty - that’s a must - and a whole raft of other things beside.
The older I get the more I learn one thing for certain - no single philosopher or political theorist has all the answers but in many they are ideas and partial solutions to problems that, if approached with an open mind and a willingness to think creatively, may provide ideas for the way forward.
That’s what I’m looking for from this idea of renewal - a real sense that what it means is an desire for and effort to rebuild the intellectual and philosophical foundations of the Labour movement.
What politics has lost over the last 30-40 years, and which accounts for some of the current problems we face due to disengagement from the political process - is the sense that it provides people with something to believe in - a narrative understanding of society and the world around them.
It’s that we need to rediscover. A sense of purpose.