The election situation is clearly febrile already, but the secret recording of a speech by John Cruddas at a Compass meeting which was then leaked to the media is pretty low stuff even by Tory standards. But the real question is, is it true that, as Cruddas hinted, there is a “profound dead hand at the centre” blocking the radical ideas in his review which would otherwise see the light of day? Is it the case, as he claimed, that “interesting ideas and remedies are not going to emerge through Labour’s policy review”? Well, we shall soon find out at Labour’s policy forum at Milton Keynes on the 18th of this month. But there are already some conclusions that can be drawn. One is that there is a major struggle going on between those who want to say the least possible, just enough to stagger over the line on 7 May next year, in order to offer ‘least exposure of flank’ (as I can remember one very senior civil servant once cynically saying to me) to the Tory and hostile media machine. The other is to project a commanding narrative that pulls together all the many evocative threats that Ed Miliband has been diligently sowing over the last few months in order to enthuse the 1-2 million Labour voters who abandoned the party in 2010 and stayed at home.
Another view going the rounds is that Miliband himself can’t make up his own mind on some issues and seems to swing both ways. It is true that he is bombarded with contradictory advice from within the party on almost all important issues, and in the interests of party unity which is the pre-eminent issue for him he’s reluctant to come down firmly on one side or the other at this stage and risk splitting the party. Cruddas himself is reported as saying: “the fact is that a lot of things haven’t really been reconciled – the different camps”. In one sense this is the price that Labour pays for being a (relatively) democratic party. The Tory party, much more centralist and less interested in policy than in keeping power at any cost, can avoid upheavals over policy (except over Europe) much more easily, but of course only at the price of stasis. It is also true that Miliband is surrounded by advisers in his back office who seem (as is true of all offices of party leaders) ultra-cautious, impervious to influence, unresponsive to external requests, and entrenched in a compound. It is also true that they are heavily weighted towards the centre-right of the party – curiously out of touch with the ‘real’ Miliband. But even there the evidence is that he makes up his own mind when he comes to the point and he will not be put upon by anyone.