Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Unite and lead? I'd bet on Jon. (Cruddas Conference Call)

Last night saw Jon Cruddas’ inaugural telephone conference as deputy leadership candidate. 6pm rolled around and Labour bloggers began calling in and logging on, stating their names to the accompaniment of classical music. It was all pretty civil, with people introducing themselves and giving fellow bloggers the chance to speak and ask questions in the debating session which followed Jon outlining how he thought the campaign had been going thus far.

I’ll kick off my discussion of the conference with the caveat that all “quotes” are not word for word what Jon said but, rather, taken from my rough notes. I do feel a little wrong about publishing this, because of that, without having it checked first. But Jon is a member of the blogging community so I’m sure either he or one of his team can drop by and correct me/develop their arguments more/request that I remove said quotes, should they feel them to be inaccurate. (Scrybe nervously awaits an angry bellowing from Jon).

Jon was, as usual*, very down-to-earth and relaxed, as well as being pretty frank in discussing the issues which came up – unusual for a politician. There is, I think, something about him which allows you to take what he says at face value and trust him. He began by talking about the campaign, and about blogging in particular, saying that he is “interested in the whole phenomena [of blogging] but wary of the language used,” recounting a tale (published) about Tony Blair allegedly trying to sound cool and it failing (circa 1997). He also thought that there is “really effective, lateral, quick communication available here,” describing the blogging world as being “vibrant,” and stating that he was very interested in using it not only for his current campaign, but also as part of renewing a general debate within and about the party, and for future elections. He said, “I’m really interested in blogging as a key component of the party, and its campaigns and debates, un the future.”

He informed us that he did at one stage wonder whether we could rebuild the grassroots of the party when all the indices show us in freefall, and whether the deputy campaign could engender this – a solid reason for not abandoning the election, as some politicians have suggested.

One of his staff mentioned visiting the Democrats and how they had found blogging to be very useful, but that they also found it difficult to link that in with the grassroots campaigning, something which is currently being addressed by several Labour bloggers I could name. Cruddas outlined two different conceptions of the role of blogging, one being to view it as an end in itself, supplanting traditional campaigning methods, the other being to view as one component of a much wider campaign, taking the latter view.

When asked about whether he thought politicians’ could allow the public to appropriate their message, to have a sense of ‘ownership’ of that message by being involved in the creative process, something which blogging, facebook, and similar phenomena tends to do, Jon was very honest, saying “its quite exposed, quite a vulnerable position to be in, when you do it right…that goes against the gain of the standard psychology of politicians.” That said, Jon is no standard politician, and he does seem willing to embrace and adapt to the new forms of campaigning which are now becoming more and more prevalent in British politics.

Others have noted his comments regarding his decision not to accept the deputy prime ministership, should he be successful, so I would be a knave not to mention it. He was pretty clear that he could (constitutionally) and would want to be in the Cabinet, in order to be a spokesperson there for the party, and he would accept the principle of collective responsibility in so doing. He also intimated that we should abolish the post of Chair of the party, since the line of agency did not stretch so far as having an influence on Cabinet sessions (perhaps that point is my own and not Jons? Hopefully he’ll see this, so we can find out) and the post is not democratically decided, hardly in keeping with the idea of having a democratic party. He also said of having the deputy leader fulfilling the role he has outlined, “it signals a much more deliberative method of policy formulation with the party included at an earlier stage,” thus hopefully preventing the party feeling policies are simply dropped on it, like top-up fees.

Throughout he was polite, and generally calmly spoken, except for the occasional betrayal of what seemed a genuine excitement on his part to be discussing these issues with his fellow Labour members and supporters. Having had the opportunity to have met him, I can attest to this affability being an integral part of who he is, a good sign for one who aims to be the link between the party at large and the PLP. It shouldn't worry readers that these traits might make him a weak link, since he can also be quite outspoken and, as I've said previously, formidable in debates. When called upon to describe him, I am reminded of the latter part of a quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which I have mutated to form the title of this post, "Divide and rule, a sound motto. Unite and lead, a better one." The only question which remains to eb answered, is whether the party give him the chance to demonstrate this in practise, as our Deputy Leader.

Okay, that’s it. My report of the conference, in all its glory. Well, almost. There are a couply of other things I could say, but I am just working from my notes and would feel more comfortable about posting the remaining titbits of information after having checked that doing so would be okay. There’s nothing controversial, I just want to check the accuracy of my notes. Enjoy!

Oh, and do head over to his site and read his posts. But go easy on him, he's only just got into this blogging experience, so I'm sure he'd appreciate the occasional kind word of encouragement. He was also very interested to hear our suggestions for how to develop his campaign, so feel free to post any ideas you might have.

* Based on the accounts those who have had the chance to speak to him, or hear him debate/give a speech.

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