Today we at Latymer's JS Mill Society had the honour of welcoming one of those politicians who give the profession a good name to talk to us. Jon Cruddas MP has built a reputation as someone with the rare attitude in UK political discourse that if someone disagrees with you they are not wicked, just merely wrong. Such is his appeal across political lines that the Times, right-wing house paper of the Conservative Party though it is, endorsed him during the recent general election as just the sort of politician who should be in the Houses of Parliament.
And yet, despite his cross-party appeal, he resisted loud calls to stand in the recent Labour leadership election. I took the opportunity over lunch, and a student did during his talk, to ask him why. His answer was instructive about where politics is in this country today.
His basic answer was "but I might have won". Cruddas believes that his personal politics would make the Labour party unelectable so he stood aside so that they might elect someone that would help them back to power. This is an admirable sacrifice for someone who clearly loves his political party and he explained it well in terms of what they need to happen.
When there is a political vacuum, it gets filled. Cruddas believes that during the 1980s, when Labour retreated to the left, it left a vacuum filled by the militants and rioters we see in films of the era instead of genuine political discourse. He feels that Labour needs to come from the centre-left as the left won't be elected and he can't move the electorate on that. He felt that going on a self-indulgent journey to the leadership would not be in the best interests of the Labour party and therefore of those he wants to see represented, given he does feel Labour government is the best route to social justice.
How sad. Is it really true that Tony Blair's victory in 1997 over a crushed and dysfunctional Tory party was purely because he found a centre-left (nearing centre-right) ideology that the electorate would vote for? Isn't it more true that an opposition party led by a bunch of incoherent Giraffes would have knocked the Tory party out of power in 1997, so weak were they.
Before the 2010 election Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, opined that whichever party won the election would probably be unelectable in 2015 because the chalice they would be picking up was so poisoned, and the measures they would have to put in place to clear up the economic mess so divisive that the opposition of the time would almost certainly win.
So far, King has been right. The chalice is poisoned, and the measures are divisive. This means that a Labour Party offering a credible alternative should get elected. Surely no time would have been better than now for Jon Cruddas to have been party leader. He is credible, he has an alternative and he is someone the electorate can and would relate to.
The words of Hillel come to mind..""If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?"
For Jon Cruddas, it was now.