Miliband puts on the talk

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
13 June 2009
Like many people I like the amiable David Miliband, but his Guardian interview this morning stretches anyone's capacity to take him seriously:

"James made his decision in good faith, I made my decision in good faith … we all have to live with our decisions."

What has good faith got to do with it? James Purnell said Brown could not win an election. Presumably Miliband calculates that he can. This is not a matter of principle, or even even honesty that calls for one's good faith to be tested. After all, Purnell was brutally honest. Either Miliband is protesting that he sincerely beleives that Brown can win the election, in which case he protests too much. Or he is trying to give Purnell cover for some future return.

The Labour party has a settled view of who should be leader, he said. "This divides people who are close and people feel passionately one way and people feel passionately the other way."

"...one in 20 people voted for us. If that does not electric shock us... then nothing will." Many of us think one in twenty is quite high.

Miliband betrays frustration at the absence of a clear Labour vision, saying: "We need the message to go out that we have got the humility to learn about what has gone wrong."

Is that a clear vision??? Did one in twenty vote for this?

"I know what we stand for, I know what our instincts are, but the voters don't".

To tell the voters. 'I stand for my instincts' is slight of hand. It just means 'trust me'. 

"Actually, I know what Gordon Brown stands for".

You do? Really? Can you tell us? Brown stands for less poverty (but he cheered on financial deregulation). He stands for constitutional reform (but he supported 42 Days). Brown is everywhere and nowhere. 

"We have a responsibility to make sure that, come the election, [voters] know what Labour stands for. We were not being listened to, people felt that they had been forgotten, we neither inspired nor reassured."

"We need to make sure the talents and energies of not just the whole of the cabinet, but the whole of the labour movement are given free rein.." But they would never support Labour's policies!

"The truth is that we are not automatons. We all have to get out there."

But 'Get out there' is just the sort of instruction you would give an automaton

"Labour first needs a period of competent, effective, stable government; secondly, we need to reset our political compass so ministers are no longer locked in their departments, but link their policies to their values; and thirdly, the government has to be at the cutting edge of policy."

This is a gabble of cliches. Resetting compasses to link to values! And how can government be at the 'cutting edge' of policy? Does he mean snip, snip; cuts, cuts? Government should obviously not be at the cutting edge, it should be judicious.

The Guardian's Wintour and Watt wrote: "On the issue of political reform, `Miliband demands a speeding-up of the pace of political reform, saying it is not a piece of middle-class frippery. For the first time, he reveals that he now backs the Alternative Vote for the Commons, saying MPs' legitimacy will be strengthened by being able to say 50% in my constituency voted for me."

AV as speeded up reform! From a man so familiar with the cutting edge he has never before taken an interest in constitutional reform.

They continue, "He says the change cannot be made before the general election."

Speeding up are we?

"He also backs a fresh push on Lords reform, saying "we have got an agreed blueprint".

I have read the 2008 White Paper on Lords reform (and written about it with Peter Carty in The Athenian Option). It projects the final third of elected Senators in 2020 and would see the present life cronies hanging on to the 2040s.

Fast?  I don't think so.

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