Mehdi Hasan from the New Statesman reminds us:
Here is a politician [David Miliband] who spent the entire campaign saying again and again that he had no plans to quit frontline politics, even if his brother beat him. He told me in an interview for the magazine, in mid-July:
I’m not walking away from the people of South Shields. I’m not walking away from the Labour Party. . . I’m very happy to serve under anyone.
And on the Politics Show on BBC1 three weeks ago, he mocked me as a journalist of “infinite impatience”" for daring to suggest that he wouldn’t be able to serve under his younger brother. Asked by me to give an explicit, on-air guarantee that he’d stay in the shadow cabinet under an Ed Miliband leadership, he said:
Of course. And I am absolutely clear about my intentions, my assumptions, and I answered that very, very clearly.
And yet from the Guardian’s liveblog of the Labour Party conference we have:
1.51pm: Ed Balls has confirmed that David Miliband is leaving the shadow cabinet. This is what Balls told ITV.
I don’t think David Miliband is leaving because of reasons of politics or ideology or policy. I don’t think this is a political divide, I think this it’s a personal decision. He’s decided, and it seems he’s decided in the last few days if he has, that for personal reasons he doesn’t want to serve with his brother. I understand that because it must have been incredibly difficult to have lost to your brother in that way … If as a brother you’ve decided that it’s too difficult I think people would understand that. I don’t think it’s fair to find some big political split or divide here. I don’t think that it really exists.
And yet this paints DM in just the light I’ve always seen him. This is the man who professed he would serve under his brother, who then doesn’t just then not do so, but (as Hasan points out) implicitly snubs him in his initial speech to the Labour Party conference as leader. But then again this is also the man whose Foreign Office fought very hard to prevent details of Britain’s involvement in torture becoming public, and who hasn’t shown any remorse whatsoever for the Iraq War. His departure will be no loss to a Labour Party which wants to reinvent itself and move on from the Blair/Brown psychodrama, nor one which has even the slightest ambition to walk away from its neoconservative and authoritarian recent past. And two faced behaviour like this is just what the public rejected in May. Good bye DM and good riddance.
Didn’t I argue the other day that David Miliband realises his route to power is to cement the ‘pact’ John Kampfner refers to in ‘Freedom for Sale’? He’s now come out in support of the defunct third runway project at Heathrow:
He believes that it could boost London‘s economy and businesses, sources close to him insisted, and it should go ahead as long as the climate change consequences are addressed. His leadership rival and brother Ed opposes the runway.
He has repeatedly said that Labour‘s Heathrow policy was an example of how the party had misjudged the public.
But business groups and trade unions have long lobbied for more aviation capacity for the south east, claiming it boosts jobs and overall trade.
Baroness Jo Valentine, Chief Executive of business group London First praised Mr Miliband. She said: “At last a politician prepared to publicly acknowledge the vital importance of international transport links to London and UK’s economic success, though the critical question is not whether to make Heathrow bigger but how to make it better.”
As Blair before him, he’s putting the argument together piece by piece that he and Labour can & should do entirely as they please for their corporate buddies in the public sphere, then implicitly allowing almost unlimited freedom from government intrusion for the middle classes in the private sphere in return. That’s the ‘pact’ – he’s counting on most people not being bothered enough to put up a fight should he resurrect the third runway project as Prime Minister. I wonder.
Of course David isn’t going to look into why unlimited air growth should be necessary, because he’s fundamentally as wedded to the neoliberal model (another cornerstone of the ‘pact’) as his mentor. Unrestricted wealth creation is much harder if you change the economic system, so best not to ask whether unlimited air growth actually makes economic sense, nor to ask where the growth would come from to boost the economy if it’s not already there…
I hate to say it but I think Andrew Rawnsley is largely right:
There are many things to regret about Tony Blair’s record and he uses his memoir as a confessional in which he owns up to at least some of his mistakes. I don’t share all of his analysis about the rise and fall of New Labour. He goes too far – didn’t he always? – in suggesting that concepts of “left” and “right” have become entirely redundant in the 21st century. His retirement into the world of the super-rich seems to have hardened his more reactionary arteries.
But even his most severe critics surely have to grant him this: he understood how to communicate with the public; he grasped that parties must constantly renew themselves to keep up with events, the world and the voters; and he knew how to win elections.
I think he’s wrong in basing his praise of Blair on his ability to communicate with the public (in his early stages only, surely?) and win elections (he was fighting John Major, William Hague & Michael Howard – not exactly rocket science to beat them at their most reactionary), but he instinctively understood what his successor did not: in order to win elections in the early 21st century a pact needed to be sealed between politicians and the middle classes (who determine the victors). As John Kampfner in ‘Freedom for Sale’ quite rightly points out Blair bribed the middle classes with the promises of extreme wealth, utterly deregulated financial markets and no interest whatsoever in tackling tax evasion. Kampfner’s ‘pact’ depended on the middle classes leaving the public realm entirely alone, and look what New Labour then did with it: ID cards, Independent Safeguarding Authority, super databases, Digital Economy Act, torture, extraordinary rendition, attempting 42 days detention without charge – monstrous authoritarian abuses benefiting them and their corporate buddies. And barely any of it affected the middle classes, but the ‘pact’ in its various incarnations worldwide also depended (and still does) on government not going too far. And Blair, in his disastrous alliance with Bush, went far too far. More than two million people, many of them middle class, went out on the streets, to warn him off from attacking Iraq. His defiance of those whose goodwill he depended on caused his downfall.
Blair’s pact was not a good thing for society as a whole. New Labour’s delight in creating unimaginable wealth (which Blair still advocates) undid most of the good their attempts at poverty alleviation brought about. Their obsession with statist control led to a demented belief that they and not individuals always knew the right answers, and their crazed databases were the result, trying to arbitrate all risk throughout society. But if he hadn’t so misjudged history in 2003 Blair might (heart problems aside) still be Prime Minister now. Sure there was an increasing groundswell against the ‘nanny state’ – a slow-burn opposition to the party’s authoritarian agenda was underway, but it was nowhere near significant enough to destabilise New Labour in and of itself. The Brown administration imploded through incompetence and almost no other reason.
Blair was largely responsible for the drift away from Labour as soon as it became electable (Bernie Ecclestone anyone?), and the myth that he was an instinctive election winner who realised how conservative the former Left needed to be remains just that – a myth. The country voted for him in large measure because he promised social democratic solutions to problems the Conservatives had no interest (or ability) in tackling. David Miliband seems to realise that his route to power depends on correcting Blair’s mistakes – not repudiating New Labour (which he doesn’t). He has to promise crazed wealth creation, imply a continuing exclusive interest in the public sphere and decry the working classes almost as much as David Cameron (expect diatribes against benefits cheats & no promises whatsoever about the Robin Hood tax his brother has suddenly talked up). He knows this, and so does Blair – it’s why he’s tacitly endorsing him instead of Ed. It won’t result in a progressive leader truly keen on improving the social and economic ills in this country, but it’s likely to return Labour to power – sooner rather than later. And in the early 21st century that is all political parties are interested in (that, and the wealth that it brings).
It’s an intriguing question. George Eaton at the New Statesman offers a perspective:
David Miliband has a noteworthy piece in today’s Guardian, arguing for a series of left-wing, progressive policies as an alternative to dramatic spending cuts. It should lay to rest the misleading and unfair claim that Miliband is a “Blairite”.
Here’s a breakdown of the policies he advocates:
- Ending charitable status for private schools.
- Extending the bankers’ bonus tax rather than raising VAT.
- Supporting the mansion tax on £2m houses
- The introduction of a international transaction tax – the so-calledRobin Hood Tax.
- Reducing the deficit through a 2:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises. The Tories propose a 4:1 split.
Diane Abbott’s presence in the Labour leadership race has shifted the contest to the left and Miliband’s piece must be interpreted as a response to that. He is keenly aware that in order to win and to unite the party he must win over many of the centre-left members who currently favour alternative candidates, not least his brother.
Very very interesting. I completely agree with him on ending charitable status for public schools, and have long supported a Robin Hood tax. Would the man whose Foreign Office appeared to defend the use of torture actually put these policies into practice and manage to shift the party back from its nasty, authoritarian recent past? In his Guardian article he says:
The Tories are learning the wrong lessons. The task for Labour over the coming months is to show that we have learnt the correct ones.
Yet they’ve learned that despite other failings they must abide by the rule of law, can’t keep infringing human rights, and should prioritise civil liberties instead of inflaming the public’s paranoia about security for narrow political gain. I’m well aware that the ConDemNation coalition hasn’t budged on control orders, but they have made progress on ID cards, have appeared to understand how iniquitous the ISA is, and are reviewing Labour’s increase to 28 days detention without charge. Miliband in turn hasn’t even acknowledged that the Iraq War was wrong. Some good moves in his article, but it looks frighteningly like he’s still triangulating in a quintessentially New Labour manner…
For years New Labour has been told to stop its authoritarian agenda, with its Extradition Acts, ID cards, ISA, control orders, Digital Economy Acts and more, but they simply wouldn’t listen. They, as other governments around the world like Singapore’s, China’s, Russia’s and others believed liberty and free markets weren’t inexorably bound, and to an extent they were right. As long as most people are able to go about their simple basic tasks and to meet their basic wishes it has indeed appeared that most people were prepared at least to ignore the massive infringments on civil rights and attacks on human rights – just as long as they didn’t affect them.
Except New Labour has now been thrown out of power, admittedly for a number of reasons, but it’s authoritarian project must have played some small part, at least in not showing positives for voters to choose from positively; New Labour ran a thoroughly mendacious election narrative – fight for a fairer Britain (except we won’t treat whole swathes of people fairly at all). Now that David and Ed Miliband are running for the Labour leadership though, let’s take a look at their positions on this nasty little venture. Ed first:
Members of the public who feel the state is indifferent to them: faceless and unresponsive.
Public servants who felt that we didn’t value what they do and micro-managed too much.
And also on issues of civil liberties there was too much of a sense that we were casual when it came to the relationship of the state and the individual.
That needs to change.
It does indeed, and he was told as recently as February that it needed to change. But did the Labour manifesto (which he was responsible for) offer change? No. In fact his voting record shows he never wanted it to. ID cards, the Terrorism Act 2000 (with its insidious Section 44), voting against an investigation into the Iraq War and for ministers intervening in inquests – he was at the heart of the project to realign the relationship between the individual and the state. David though has legions of fans currently falling at his feet, and has said:
“New Labour was a reaction to the 1980s but it was trapped by the 1980s. Anyone who thinks that the future is about re-creating New Labour is wrong. I think we’ve got to use this period to decisively break with that. What I’m interested in is Next Labour.”
But he hasn’t suggested any wrongdoing by the Blair & Brown governments or even apologised for any. It’s unsurprising, because his voting record shows more or less the same (if not greater) commitment to the autoritarian nightmare from which we’re emerging as his younger brother’s. The elder Miliband is cruising on a cult of personality right now, which may or may not be deserved, but noone should be under any illusion about where his sympathies about civil liberties and human rights really lie. Former UK Ambassador Craig Murray alleges David is complicit in attempting to conceal New Labour’s true involvement in torture. Were that true you would really have to hope that his ‘Next’ Labour really did bear no resemblance to New Labour. We shall have to wait and see.
So the man styling himself as our next Prime Minister thinks that modernising our voting system is ‘crazy’. I think it’s quite revealing that he believes that a system genuinely representative of the people’s wishes (or in AV+’s case more representative) is a bad thing. Apparently the people must ‘feel like this is their parliament’, but actually making it more their parliament is out of the question. Cheers Dave, but the only way it can worry about what I worry about is if it represents me better than it does now. My MP is Joan Ruddock, who because she controls a safe Labour (or in her case New Labour) seat doesn’t have to represent my wishes at all; first-past-the-post sees to that. I’ve even debated my wishes with her, and she didn’t want to know; why should she? There’s no constitutional mechanism to make her. Cameron is right when he champions select committees to increase accountability within parliament – no question – but that can only be part of wider constitutional reform which includes a more proportional voting system. And the Commons should have more control over its timetable – the legislature genuinely does need its powers ramped up against the now almighty executive, but if the legislature doesn’t represent the people’s wishes better than it already does, that’ll only do so much good. If the new parliament’s concerns go no further than continuing to placate swing voters in marginal seats, noone’ll notice much difference. Willie Sullivan from Vote for a Change said:
“Under our current system, a nation of 45 million voters will leave it to a quarter of a million in the marginals to decide the outcome of the next election.
“It’s the equivalent of letting only people who live in Brighton decide the government of the United Kingdom. The question of who runs Britain is all our business, and for that we need a vote that really counts.
“Polls have shown time and again that people are prepared to break with the past.
“MPs can stick their fingers in their ears and pretend its business as usual, or they can help make 2010 the last broken election.”
It’s a great illustration of the representational failure at the heart of first-past-the-post. Intriguingly for the post-Brown era beginning in May, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said:
“We’ve still got a 19th century political system trying to address 20th century problems and in my book the whole system – the election to the Commons, the Lords, local government and how it’s organised, fixed terms parliaments – they should all be on a ballot.
“We should have what I would call a reset referendum that would reset the political system in a way that can actually address modern problems by getting power where it belongs, by checking power at the right places, by giving more rights and making sure rights of the individual are safe-guarded.”
Frustratingly though, other members of the parliamentary Labour Party don’t get it:
Labour former minister Tom Harris, MP for Glasgow South, raised laughter as he asked Straw: “Do you attribute the stainless reputation of Italian politicians to the fact that they have proportional representation?”
Of course PR (which wrongly isn’t on the table for this referendum) hasn’t saved Italian politics from total dysfunction, but the reasons for that aren’t down to the voting system. Take a look at Germany, which is also governed by a PR system. Their system has been a model for the Western world since 1949 – fairly representing the people has allowed them successfully to absorb a failed state (the GDR), their 5% representational threshold for parliament has made it hard for extreme parties to get into the Bundestag in the first place, and even when they’ve made it that far they’ve always fizzled out. Coalition politics and a culture of compromise has brought about remarkable stability, not to mention the necessary diversity into Germany politics. Britain, with first-past-the-post, has descended into complete ambivalence, and why not, when our elected representatives do whatever it takes to retain power, not to fulfill their side of the political contract?
The House of Commons voted 365-187 for a referendum on AV+ after the election, but it remains unclear if the bill will get passed before the general election in May.
It’s been clear to me for some time that David Miliband, eager to be liked by all of the people all of the time, hasn’t had the drive needed to become Prime Minister. And as New Labour declines towards its inevitable, ideology-free end in May, it’s also been clear that new thinking and new presentation – a whole new attitude is needed to guide a rump Labour Party to its next incarnation. It should be Ed Miliband, and others are starting to agree:
Miliband Jr has four strengths, goes the thinking. He is a more natural media performer than his brother, as his assured appearances at Copenhagen showed; he connects more easily with the party, which he has been courting assiduously as co-ordinator of Labour’s general election manifesto; and he would find it easier to unite the party, whose left and right wings are warming to him. As a 40-year-old, who has only been an MP for five years, he represents more of a break with the Blair/Brown era.
There is another factor that is being whispered: he may have worked for Brown, but Miliband Jr has not been afraid to stand up to his master. A year ago he irritated the prime minister by wringing out environmental concessions before signing up to the third runway at Heathrow.
“Heathrow was Ed’s coming of age,” one member of the cabinet says. “Ed, who made life quite difficult for Gordon, had a big influence on the decision. But he is collegiate and he has stuck by it.”
He’s by no means perfect. His lofty words about the green economy are rarely matched by deeds (Vestas anyone?), but in my mind he’s the only choice to lead the party away from the utterly discredited Blair/Brown era. Time will tell if it happens, and more importantly if he chooses bring an actual ideological bent to it, the complete absence of which after all is what caused voters to be alienated from it in the first place.
So China did the obvious and executed Briton Akmal Shaikh anyway:
Gordon Brown and other senior British politicians have angrily condemned China for executing a British man said to have had mental problems. Akmal Shaikh, 53, was killed early this morning by lethal injection after being convicted of drug smuggling.
Despite frantic appeals by the Foreign Office for clemency, Shaikh was executed at 10.30am local time (2.30am British time) in Urumqi. Campaigners believe he is the first European in 58 years put to death in China.
Shaikh, a father of three from Kentish Town, north London, was found with 4kg of heroin in his suitcase in September 2007. His supporters say he had suffered a breakdown, was delusional and was tricked into carrying the drugs.
Shaikh learned only yesterday that he would be killed today. He was informed by two cousins, who flew to China seeking a reprieve.
“We are deeply saddened, stunned and disappointed at the news of the execution of our beloved cousin Akmal,” said Soohail and Nasir Shaikh in a statement.
The two men said they were “astonished” that the Chinese authorities refused to investigate their cousin’s mental health on the grounds that the defendant ought to have provided evidence of his own fragile state of mind.
“We find it ludicrous that any mentally ill person should be expected to provide this, especially when this was apparently bipolar disorder, in which we understand the sufferer has a distorted view of the world, including his own condition.”
Amid an angry exchange of words between London and Beijing, the British prime minister said: “I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted. I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken. At this time our thoughts are with Mr Shaikh’s family and friends and I send them our sincere condolences.”
Of course it’s appallling that anyone has been executed for any reason. The state has no more right to take an individual’s life than another individual – it’s barbaric. But consider Brown’s words and then think for a moment about Gary McKinnon – apparently it’s ‘concerning’ that no mental health assessment was undertaken by China of Akmal Sheikh, yet one was conducted on Gary McKinnon – he has Asperger’s Syndrome. For some reason that makes it perfectly ok to extradite him to an uncertain future in the US penal system, despite what effect that is already having on his mental health. It’s a disgusting double standard which says more about Brown and his government’s public support for, and private indifference to human rights, than China’s longstanding disregard for them. Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis said:
it was “reprehensible” and “entirely unacceptable” that the execution had gone ahead without any medical assessment. “This execution makes me personally feel sick to the stomach but I’m not going to make idle threats.
“This morning is not the time for a kneejerk reaction. It’s true we must continue to engage with China but it needs to be clear as that country plays a greater role in the world they have to understand their responsibility to adhere to the most basic standards of human rights. China will only be fully respected when and if they make the choice to join the human rights mainstream and incidents like this do not help the international community’s respect or relationship with China.”
It isn’t even an idle threat – it’s an idle remark. China is now so powerful it can disregard any other’s country’s disapproval of its behaviour. China is currently only concerned about increasing its influence and its wealth, not its international respect – it can easily afford to ignore Britain’s diplomatic attack, particularly considering its desperate, self-serving nature; if the British government really cared about Akmal Shaikh they’d prove it by blocking Gary McKinnon’s extradition, but I assure you that won’t happen. Amnesty International said:
Shaikh’s execution again highlighted the “injustice and inhumanity of the death penalty, particularly as it is implemented in China”. Amnesty estimates China executes at least three times as many people as every other country put together.
Sam Zarifi, Amnesty’s Asia programme director, said: “Much information about the death penalty is considered a state secret but Mr Shaikh’s treatment seems consistent with what we know from other cases: a short, almost perfunctory trial where not all the evidence was presented and investigated, and the death penalty applied to a non-violent crime.
“Under international human rights law, as well Chinese law, a defendant’s mental health can and should be taken into account, and it doesn’t seem that in this case the Chinese authorities did so.
“It’s simply not enough for the Chinese authorities to say ‘we did the right thing, trust us’. Now there can be no reassessment of evidence, no reprieve after a man’s life has been taken.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said of the execution:
“it is a reminder of how different can be our perspective. We need to understand China (and the massive public support for the execution). They need to understand us.”
They’d do that a lot better if we weren’t sending out such a disgustingly hypocritical message. Gary McKinnon’s extradition must be stopped and he should be tried in the UK (except he wouldn’t be because the Department of Public Prosecutions acknowledges there isn’t enough of a case to answer).