by Daphne Liddle
UNION leaders who failed to support John McDonnell in his bid for a chance to challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party have finally stopped shuffling their feet and whispering in corners and declared their support for John Cruddas’ bid for the deputy leadership.
And the Dagenham MP is definitely looking the most promising of the handful of candidates that include Hilary Benn, renegade former union leader Alan Johnson, Hazel Blears and Harriet Harman.
Cruddas has identified three main, linked issues to campaign on: the shortage of affordable housing, large scale migration flows and the increasing economic insecurity of the working class.
He is the long-standing MP for Dagenham in Essex, lives in his constituency and has a good relationship with his local Labour Party and the voters. He has worked tirelessly in local broad ant-fascist campaigns which have succeeded in minimising the British National Party vote in his part of the borough. Cruddas’s approach is to acknowledge that the BNP in the past have made gains by concentrating on the issues that Labour has neglected – especially housing. He said: “The lack of affordable social housing units is the outstanding public policy failure … For years in our constituency we’ve been arguing that if we had 6,000 extra council units, we could deal with the pressures in terms of housing and transfers.”
Some of his rivals have also just discovered that there is a housing crisis in Britain now and that the working class are suffering because of it. Education Secretary Alan Johnson, who seems to be moving to the left in order to win support, is calling for councils to be enabled to build homes again – a measure that has been ruled out by the Governments of Thatcher, Major and Blair.
Hazel Blears wants cheap mortgages and more private home-ownership – which would push house prices up even more – while Benn is calling for a mix of rented and private homes to be built.
But the housing shortage has not come about by chance or neglect. It is a policy to suit landowners and speculators that pushes up rents, land values and house prices and has led to a boom in new private landlordism. Brown’s economic policies have fuelled this process.
Cruddas blames the policy that forces council to pay millions every year from council house rents into the central government’s housing revenue account. He said: “If central government said the council could retain this rent, we could purchase on the private market buy-to-let properties at a rate of 100 a year, and then we could use the rent money to reinvest and borrow against this stock. So it is not a case of waiting for new build, it is a case of being creative now.”
He rightly condemned the recent remarks by Margaret Hodge, which called for “native families” to be given priority over migrants in the allocation of council housing. This shameful call is a sop to BNP supporters. It divides the working class according to how long their families have lived in Britain and sets one part of the community against another while the shortage of housing is a deliberate ruling class policy that is hurting “natives” and migrants. Cruddas pointed out that the problem was “purely one of supply”.
Cruddas also addresses the issue of migration and accepts that the figures are larger than the Government acknowledges. He blamed both Tory and Labour leaders, saying: Both parties collude in ignoring what is happening … if the population is growing faster than the state finances public services, then you have got a problem.”
He called for an amnesty for illegal migrants “who have become the cornerstone of our flexible labour market” and for the £11,000 that each deportation costs to be invested in improving services. He has also called for a moratorium on new private NHS contracts, in line with the demands of the public sector unions that are backing him.
Derek Simpson, general secretary of the Amicus section of the newly merged union Unite, has said: “John Cruddas’ stated policies mirror our members’ desire for better job security, decent pensions, affordable housing and public services provided by the public sector.
“Jon is unlike any other candidate standing for the Deputy Leadership - he alone is calling for a change of direction in order to reconnect with the Labour Party’s core supporters.”
Unfortunately Simpson then added: “We have the pleasure of being able to announce that our political committee have taken the decision to support Gordon Brown as leader of the Labour Party and Jon Cruddas as Deputy Leader.”
London Mayor Ken Livingstone is also backing Cruddas.