Vibrant, vital, attractive and smart. Well, I have to confess to plagiarising Hillary Clinton, but I could only agree with her assessment of David Miliband as he deftly answered some tricky questions from author and DJ Dave Haslam, including the ones we all wanted ask. Just how did he feel when he lost the leadership to his brother and will he stand for Labour Party leader in the future? But first what were his views on the political landscape?
On the current government
It is dementingly frustrating to see what the government is doing to the country and it is a tragedy that it takes a Tory government to remind people why they should want a Labour Government. Darling’s plan was working in 2010 but we lost because people think we weren’t prudent enough. The recession was made in Wall Street not Downing Street. Let’s be clear Osborne’s austerity package is not working. This government has had three growth downgrades in one year. It’s shockingly dreadful. Although they are brilliant at spin.
Cameron is a paradox, he seemed to have everything going for him; quick witted, a money machine behind him, a lovely family, plenty of things to aim at but people did not vote in huge numbers for him. There has never been a bigger car crash than NHS reform. Gove is playing a much cannier game than Lansley. The danger Britain is facing is a rolling back.
On Trade Unionism
We have to recognise that trade unionism has changed fundamentally since the first Trade Union Congress here in 1868. Now two thirds of their members are in the public sector with a roughly even gender split. In the private sector trade unionism no longer represents the small crafts, it is dominated by large industries and big unions. We can’t save jobs and increase pay at the same time.
The Tories are eradicated here because you played politics well here- something we didn’t do nationally. There is complacency and skeptiscm about politics in the UK. Westminster politics are a long way from the people. We need to draw MPs from wider backgrounds. Cities in the nineteenth century were engines of the economy and politics. We need to ensure people see our local politics make a difference, but it’s really tough to convince those who are culturally alienated and have rejected politics that they should be engaged. Civic leaders should be as well known as Boris Johnson and become part of the national conversation, yet leaders like Richard Leese and the leader of Birmingham City Council are rarely represented in the national media.
On the Labour Government
We were not tethered to US foreign policy but the latter took some bad turns. Winning wars is not difficult but winning the peace is.
The greatest mistake in government was Iraq. There is a list of negatives and a list of positives but history has not yet been finished. You should never condone torture or mess around with definitions and objective facts, like the US have done.
We mistook good times for a good system and did not insulate ourselves against a crash.
On the Arab Spring
Political Islam is a great advantage over the global jihad of a decade ago.
On the future
The real enemies are the Tories, the Lib Dems are their human shield. We need to understand why we lost and present our vision for an alternative future. The gravity of issues facing the economy is fundamental. Climate change is the great generational challenge. The way we make our living in the future is going to be different. We need to elevate the issues at a strategic, not tactical level, and be honest. We need to talk about the issues that matter. Gordon Brown would not talk about immigration. We need to. But the Labour Party will not be able to undo what is being done now. We cannot bring an end to boom and bust because that is impossible in a market economy.
People wanted Labour out and we need to respect the reasons people turned against us. We need, (borrowing from the Swedish Socialists) an approach based on empathy, analysis, vision, policy and implementation. We will win the argument by getting the first three right yet we often the focus us on just the last two, which is the icing on the cake. For example, we have empathy that youth unemployment is a crime, we understand its structural causes, and our vision is that all youth should have a job within six months but at the same time they also have to accept their responsibilities as well as their rights. We need insight and then a team to deliver.
But we can do things for the people only if politics is done by the people at the same time. We need to turn Labour party outwards into communities and empower communities. That is why the movement for change is so important. The next election is completely open.
And the answers to the questions we all wanted to know.
Leaving high office is like the end of a love affair, it leaves a great void he reveals. There is a space for the children, a depth of time, a time to reflect, to think, although it was not something he sought. He does not touch directly on his feelings when he failed in the leadership bid but this analogy to a love affair must surely be our clue to his state of mind. But he is not one to give up and hide away. David Miliband is a winner. Why does he think Labour are not resonating with the electorate despite the abysmal government performance? There is a long searching for an answer, as he makes it clear he must be diplomatic in his answer. The closest he can say is that the long Labour leadership campaign enabled the Tories to seed the argument that Labour had made the UK the potential next Greece. Yes, and we know that the winner of that campaign is not effectively contesting that argument. He doesn’t have to say it but we all know.
He had an hour after being told the leadership result to the public announcement. A time when he decided to look forward not back. He decided he could help best by getting out of the way of the media soap opera. Now he finds himself in an unusual situation. If he was in the shadow cabinet as soon as he took a slightly different stance to his brother the soap opera would start again. He says he doesn’t know if he will stand for the leadership. One thing that everyone in the hall seemed to share, however, was the unspoken assumption that, before the next general election, there would be another Labour leadership contest. And this was the man we wanted to win it.