Jon Cruddas launched his bid for the deputy leadership last night with a sideswipe at Gordon Brown for pre-empting the party's debate about the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapon system.
Mr Cruddas, 44, said the Chancellor's decision to commit himself to a full replacement for Trident before the party or the Cabinet had properly discussed it symbolised the authoritarian leadership that his campaign is designed to challenge.
"You can't just slam-dunk the party into this," he said. "The lack of a Trident debate is symptomatic of a general malaise in the party about policy development, and the role of the party."
Mr Cruddas's campaign for a more open post-Blair Labour Party will win widespread support among the delegates who were angered at the refusal of the leadership to allow a Trident debate at the Manchester conference. He was one of the 40 Labour MPs who signed a letter calling for a Trident debate that was ignored by the leadership. He said Mr Brown's commitment to replace Trident was "emblematic of our problem - it encapsulates a lot of it".
The MP, who used to work in Downing Street as a trade union go-between, is basing his campaign on a commitment to restore power to the party by relaying the views of MPs and party members to the Government.
His campaign manifesto includes a commitment to make John Prescott the last Labour Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Cruddas said the dual roles should be abolished, and the deputy leader's job should be merged with the role of party chairman.
"I do not want to be a minister in the Government," he said. "John Prescott has done a fantastic job. He has tested the ability to keep spinning a lot of plates at the same time. I don't think anyone else can carry that off any more. He was the brilliant unifier in getting this show on the road, with the 'heart and the head' and all of that. I don't think you can do that again. I think the job of deputy leader should be enough."
He said he was not criticising Hazel Blears as party chairman. "Hazel is a friend of mine," he said. "But the job has been contaminated in the minds of the party. It has been used to put forward the position of the Government to the party rather than the party to the Government."
Mr Cruddas, who went to a Catholic comprehensive in Portsmouth and studied at Warwick University before completing a PhD at the University of Wisconsin, is an articulate campaigner, who is quickly collecting support from Labour MPs to challenge the front runners for the deputy leadership.
As the MP for the east London seat of Dagenham, Mr Cruddas has led a campaign against the growth of the BNP among working-class white voters. He wants to use his campaign to rebuild the "hollowed out" nature of the Labour Party by reactivating pavement politics to recruit more supporters.
He said he would not want to run the country when the Prime Minister was on holiday or if he fell under a bus.
His views on policy could lead him into direct conflict with Mr Brown, but could help the party to hold the Chancellor to his promise to devolve more power in the party and the country. However, Mr Cruddas rejected the suggestion that without cabinet responsibility he would have no authority over the next Prime Minister to say he was wrong over Trident. "I would have the authority of the party," he said.
He intends to demonstrate his commitment to the grassroots with a campaign rooted in the constituencies and unions, rather than Westminster. His campaign bid was launched on a blog site and he will be issuing a full manifesto of policies, in addition to plans for restructuring the party.Reuse content