Cruddas launches deputy leadership bid

Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas formally launched his campaign for the deputy Labour leadership last night, promising to reconnect the party with its grassroots supporters.

The former Downing Street aide said Labour must return to its roots and concentrate on people’s concerns about housing, jobs and pay, and unequal access to public services.

“It is the ground that Labour has always stood on. Unless we rebuild a movement to do so again the consequences for the party and the country are severe,” he said.

The backbench MP joins Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain and constitutional affairs minister Harriet Harman in the race for John Prescott’s job, and Jack Straw and Alan Johnson are also expected to throw their hats into the ring.

Mr Cruddas insists he has no interest in becoming deputy prime minister, but says the deputy leader should concentrate on reinvigorating the Labour party from the bottom up and improving membership, which has halved from 400,000 to 200,000 since 1997.

“As it stands, the party is not ready to fight the next general election,” Mr Cruddas told an audience at Dagenham and Redbridge football club.

He said: “Change needs to happen across the board – we need a new agenda for involving activists. We need to start being more open when we make policies. We need to reconnect local Labour parties with local trade union branches.

“And most importantly, we need get the party back involved in local communities, campaigning with local people on the issues that matter.”

Mr Cruddas said the Labour government had achieved much in the past nine years, but had to set out a vision for the future that was honest about the concerns of many Britons.

In particular, it must admit that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had “reinforced a sense of insecurity, fear and isolation within some of our own communities”.

He suggested ministers were being irresponsible in their recent criticism of the Muslim veil, saying: “The solution does not lie in an ever more muscular bidding war amongst politicians to demonstrate who can be tougher on migrants, asylum seekers and minorities.

“Nor is it in using racial or religious symbols to create controversy. That only makes the situation worse.

“It is not the role of politicians to play fast and loose with symbols of difference, especially when they drive the political centre of gravity to the right as a consequence.”