David Miliband, live and uncut
Matt Chorley and I interviewed David Miliband for The Independent on Sunday today. Here is a full-ish transcript. We started by asking what his mother really thought of her two sons fighting each other for the Labour leadership:
I think my mum just is completely devoted to her kids and her grandchildren and nothing is going to come in between that. And that’s the simple thing.
But is she “dismayed”, as has been reported?
I think she wants the best for us and the best for the family and I said on Wednesday that part of politics is about protecting the people you love and that’s your family. That’s obviously your wife and kids but it’s also your mum your brother. That’s really important to us. We are not a big family. And that’s why I think it’s such a strong bond that we have got.
It has been said that the gloves are off — is it going to get worse?
No. I’ve got a very clear of where I think the country needs to go and where the party needs to go in order to take the country there. We’ve got five candidates who have been going through this long process in a warm and comradely way and that’s a good thing. The civil wars have not been repeated and that’s made it quote unquote boring but its actually meant that it has been politics as it should be practised.
You should know: did your brother say that he was opposed to the Iraq invasion at the time?
I’m not going to go through any of the private conversations that we have as brothers or as politicians not least because I haven’t got a diary, I don’t keep a diary, and I’m not going to start doing selective memory quotations of what I think, not least because I cant prove what was around at the time.
You would remember, though?
The truth is you have a whole melange of different memories of what is going on at different times. If you don’t keep a diary you rely on your memory and even if I did remember with the exactitude of a diary I wouldn’t tell you but since I don’t its better not to.
Since I want this to be an election about the future of the country and the future of the Labour party, I will tell you what I think, very openly and very clearly, and others can say what they think and the principle I would say is lets take everything at face value and lets look at whether or not its right or wrong at face value.
What I’ve said and done is on the record. And in all the jobs that I have held, you speak publicly. One of the things about the modern world is that the public and the private – which is not the same as the public and the personal – but the public and the private… it’s very, very much harder than it used to be to have things that are private and things that are public. And that’s why consistency between the private and the public is very important.
But the case that I’m making is about the argument I am making about the future of the country and how we meet its challenges and how the Labour party is part of the country’s future. That’s what I want to persuade people of, that there is a chance of building a Labour party that can live up to the dreams of its founders and the values of the people of this country. And that I have got the best chance of making it do so.
It’s not about what happened in the past. We can learn from the past but we don’t live in it, to coin an old phrase. I believe the party wants us to be more proud of the good things that we achieved. There’s a palpable urging in the party, people say to me, “Is New Labour dead?” New Labour is alive in SureStart centres, in neighbourhood policing teams, in gay rights, in the Human Rights Act. Those are all living memorials, those are the good things and we learn from them and we build on them.
And we also learn from the things we did wrong. I highlight the 10p tax as something which cost us more votes and more credibility than many other things, certainly in the 2010 election as opposed to the 2005 election where Iraq was obviously a very big thing. Iraq cost us a terrible toll in lives and in trust and whatever position you took on Iraq, it’s a fact that there was a terrible toll of lives and a terrible toll in trust.
What I think the party wants is to move on, and that’s what my candidacy has been about. And from the first words I uttered in May, I have been talking moving on and I have stuck to talking about moving on. My campaign has been about the future of the country first and how the Labour Party plays a part in that. Because it should be a very sobering fact that after we have lost previously we have gone a very long way to writing ourselves out of the script for very long periods. It was only in the period after 1974 that we bounced back and it was a very half-hearted bounce. Political parties need to make themselves relevant agents of change in the modern world, otherwise the modern world takes a pretty dim view of them.
Your brother says that he favours a foreign policy based on Labour values.
The alternative to an ethical foreign policy is an unethical foreign policy, and I don’t believe in an unethical foreign policy. When the foreign minister of Iran says he wants to smack me round the chops quote unquote because I keep on going on and on about human rights in Iran, that is me doing my job as a Labour foreign secretary.
When people with relatives in Sri Lanka come up to me in the street and say, “I really thank you for what you have tried to do for the Tamils in Sri Lanka,” and I say the real tragedy is how little difference I made, and they say, “But you did try”. And it’s their mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers who have been slaughtered or have ended up as refugees. That is an ethical foreign policy.
What do you say to those who accuse you of complicity with torture?
Binyam Mohamed is only in this country pursuing a case against the Government because I got him out of Guantanamo Bay. That was my decision with Jacqui Smith to get him out. And so I feel we have lived out not just our legal obligations but also our moral obligations.
Were you responsible for a cover up?
I wasn’t. I’m very happy to go through facts as opposed to the myths because the myths get halfway round the world before the truth gets its boots on.
The facts are that bad things were done by the Americans after 2002 and they didn’t tell anyone else. Slowly the pieces of the jigsaw were put together and when they were put together the British government acted. Should we have been faster to put those pieces of the jigsaw together? Yes, the ISC [Intelligence and Security Committee] said so and the government agreed.
But is it true that Britain’s secret agencies act without ministerial or legal oversight? No. Is it true that serious allegations are swept under the carpet? No. They actually end up with police investigations, which is the strength of our system not the weakness of our system.
Were you surprised when David Cameron announced an inquiry?
Anyone who has worked with me in government knows how seriously I take due diligence. Processes and systems that do real due diligence on the decisions that people make. And they are especially important on matters as serious as this when you are talking about the security of the nation as well as the human rights of people around the world whether they be British citizens or not.
And the hardest decision you can make in government is to turn down an exercise on the grounds that there might a substantial risk to human rights abroad, in the knowledge that by turning it down you’re forsaking the chance to do something to achieve greater security for people here. And that’s a very difficult decision.
I have made decisions like that. There are two great responsibilities for anyone who holds high office. One is to defend the security of the nation and the other is to uphold the values of the nation. And I believe those two things go together. Sometimes you have to think very, very carefully about how you meet those two goals and they are very difficult decisions.
Do you feel you always made the right call?
Yes I do. But they are judgements and history will tell, but I know that every decision I made was done upholding our commitments both to the values of the country and the security of the country. It’s not the moral maze of the ticking timebomb on the Underground and torture, because you never ever have anything to do with torture. You never do. Under any circumstances. Because it is wrong.
It’s the lower order violations, which are nonetheless violations of legal and moral obligations, that pose the most difficult challenges because the security risks are real, but not always as direct as the ticking timebomb on the underground.
But can you understand why people think you tried to suppress information in the legal battles?
I can only understand it if they are not given the facts. The fact is I insisted on giving those documents to the legal representatives on the people involved so that justice could be done. That is different from publishing, because they weren’t our documents. Its not just that I wouldn’t want, you wouldn’t want me to give permission for other countries to publish documents we had given them. So for perfectly obvious reasons they don’t want us to publish documents they have given us. But they do belong in the judicial system.
What do you say to those who say your brother has shown courage by taking you on, but that you ducked the challenge against Gordon Brown?
I did not seek to persuade Ed not to stand. He is completely entitled to stand. But the issue is not who can beat me, the issue is who can unite the party to beat David Cameron.
It seems to me that the breadth of support that I have pulled together, all wings of the party all strands of the party all levels of the party, 1,000 councillors announced today. That speaks to important aspects of leadership. It’s not been about splitting the difference between all the different people supporting me, its about saying we have got shared goals, and we have got to pursue them in radical new ways which adjust to Britain in 2015 or 2020 not a Britain of the past.
Everything about my politics has been about the future. I think I have united people not just with a vision of the future, although I think have broken new ground in this campaign – talking about the redistribution of power as a Labour value, in talking about a moral economy, in talking about resuscitation Labours traditions as a party of mutuality and reciprocity and community. There is a distinctive vision we have set out.
We have been distinctive in some of the policies we have advocated but above all in the way we have gone about them and the sort of politics we believe in, which is politics which isn’t just in the old cliché bottom-up as well as top-down, but is genuinely about a movement not just a machine.
It’s a movement that understands in the 21st century, politics is about action not just press releases. That’s a lesson that we have to learn from our time in government. That building sustainable change isn’t just about the press release that the government issues or even legislation that it passes.
It is about the social, economic and cultural change that you build in the country and how you mobilise people behind that.
Do you think Tony Blair failed to do that?
Yes. I said in my announcement speech that party renewal stopped on 2 May 1997. and I said on Wednesday that sadly I think Tony in his own way did love the Labour Party but too often he defined himself against the Labour Party. I think he still does love the Labour Party actually but, as he always used to say, he hates losing, which is a different thing.
There are simple things that are structural. He appointed the chair of the Labour party, I say the chair of the Labour party should be elected by the members of the Labour party. I think he underestimated the importance of constitutional reform. Devolution stopped at Scotland, Wales and London and he thought, “Oh, its just a middle class issue.” It’s not, it’s a major issue for progressive politics because it’s about a redistribution of power.
It may sound prosaic but the leader of Labour in local government sitting in the Shadow Cabinet every week doesn’t just mean there’s an extra voice. What will happen I believe is all of Labour’s 3,000 plus councillors will start organising in a different way because they know their voice could be heard at the Shadow Cabinet every week.
It’s also a deeper thing. Tony and Gordon’s politics was forged on the anvil of ’92. that wasn’t where my politics was forged really and they had to learn the lessons of the 87-92 period or the 83-92 period.
That called for discipline to replace civil war. But as Robin Cook very powerfully said, the Labour Party went from a culture of debate, by which it meant civil war, to a culture of discipline, by which it meant dictatorship, without going through a phase of debate and dialogue, and that’s the problem.
I think we have got to recognise that some of the seeds of our downfall were in that and we have got to put that right and I think all of the candidates recognise that.
Do you think that, towards the end, the party was too obsessed with staying in government?
It was quite a big obsession in the first years of the government as well as the last years. There was a whirligig of activity even in the last months of the government, so I don’t think that’s quite right.
An obsession with staying in power rather than changing the country …
That’s interesting. Gerald Kaufman wrote that book, How to Be a Minister, and the last two chapters are about departmentalitis and governmentitis. Those are quite chronic diseases. In opposition there’s no government and there’s no departments so you can’t fall victim to that. Things caught up with us in the end. The key now is to leapfrog. The Tories were asking some of the right questions, but I think they have come up with the wrong answers. We have got to recognise that simply opposing those answers is not going to do the trick. You don’t bounce a government out without an alternative.
Do you expect to form a government within the next five years?
I think it’s more likely than not that the Government will run for five years, but far from certain. So there’s a lot to play for. British politics is open. They could be knocked out at the next election but I don’t think it is going to come sooner rather than later. I think we are in for the long haul but only if we play out cards right.
History is a great teacher. The Tories have knack – if you go to tea with the alligator, you get eaten. And the Lib Dems have gone to tea with the alligator and in history the Tories come out as a bigger, fatter alligator. Now, we have got to be very, very conscious of that because the puppet masters in this government are the Tories. Talk about power, that’s their game. Let’s be absolutely clear, that’s what they are in it for, to hold on to power. Anyone who looks at the history of the Conservative Party should not underestimate what they are wiling to do to achieve that.
If we play our cards right, I think we can challenge them above all because it’s a coalition of convenience but also a government where the major party the Conservatives did the opposite of what New Labour did in the Nineties. They started with political positioning and then tried to develop some policies. We started with the state of the country and what it needed and then how to get the Labour party into shape.
The Tories have started out by trying to embarrass the Labour party of 2005-2010 rather than change the country of 2010-2015. They shoehorned a set of policies into a bit of political positioning, that’s how austerity was born, that’s how Big Society was born.
What do you think of Nick Clegg? Could you work with him?
We haven’t got a leader of the Labour Party at the moment so I am hardly going to start choosing leaders of other parties. It is up to the Lib Dems who their leader is. I have strong criticisms of what Nick Clegg got for giving the Tories 56 seats. I don’t think he got very much at all. He got an AV [Alternative Vote electoral reform] pledge in a poison pilled bill. I don’t see what else he got.
We have got to be trenchant in our criticisms in the fact that 56 Lib Dem MPs are making possible shock therapy for our economy, they are making possible shock therapy for our health service, but we have also got to be very, very respectful of millions of Lib Dems voters who chose to vote against us.
I think that spirit of respect for people who voted against us, whether they went to the Lib Dems or the Greens, some chose to vote for the Tories. In a democracy you have to respect when you are given a kicking, because if you don’t, voters will come back and give us an even bigger one next time so that we get the message.
When I say I have been going round the country listening to people, I have been listening to lib Dem voters as well. They want to know do I really get it about why they were hacked off by the government. They want to know that I know that just being against the current government isn’t enough to get them back.
My rallies are open to people who support me and don’t support me, to members of the Labour Party and non-members. It is very refreshing actually. It cuts though any cant and insider baseball. We talk about immigration, we talk about housing, we talk about crime. That’s real politics. People are quite angry about the fact that they felt the Labour Government left them but they didn’t think anyone came to really meet them. That’s why the Tories and the Lib Dems didn’t win. No-one won the election but we lost. It’s a very challenging time in politics. The traditional answers of left and right don’t answer the most difficult questions we get asked.
What did you say to Gillian Duffy [described by Gordon Brown as a "bigoted woman", who endorsed David Miliband at the end of July]?
We talked about how the immigration system has to be fair for the people who are here as well as fair for the people who want to come here. But we also talked about the fact that often in areas where there is low immigration, often immigration is a big issue. The fact that issues of housing, employment, lack of it, opportunity, lack of it, crime presence of it, were real. I think that it is a political system in a lot of flux, not just in terms of ideologies but in terms of where the voters are.
What about the Lib Dems?
In opposition, you don’t show all your cards before you play them. It is important this distinction between trenchant criticism of the leadership, real respect for the voter.
Secondly, the Tories would love it if we spend the whole of the next period ignoring them. So we obviously can’t do that. We have got to do “both and”, not “either or”. We have got to be trenchant in saying if you don’t like what the government are doing, there is an alternative, because the most dangerous thing in politics is there is no alternative. And we have got to appeal to people who are ex-Lib Dem voters, ex-Tory voters, ex-non voters, ex-Green voters.
That’s a challenging thing to do. We are going to have to attack the government from a range of angles, on fairness, efficiency and productivity and wealth creation, and we are going to have to attack them from a communitarian perspective. I think they are vulnerable on those issues.
We are going to have to attack them on international policy. I think they have a shrivelled notion of Britain’s role in the world. That has been borne of positioning as well. They say because we’re not grandstanding, the alternative to grandstanding is to talk about trade and become a mercantilist foreign policy and we close down reports on human rights around the world and we withdraw. I think that’s bad for Britain and bad for the world.
When you remind people that the last Tory government didn’t just halve overseas aid it stood on the sidelines while there was the slaughter of tens of thousands of people on the edge of Europe, people say, “Yeah, that’s a good point.”
Bevan said go to where the power lies, and he meant Westminster. But it is not only Westminster where power lies. It resides locally but also internationally. We have got to be the party that makes internationalism work for Britain.
Can we clarify where you stand on a graduate tax?
I support the use of the tax system to get payments back from graduates once they earn a decent income to pay part of the cost of the higher education they receive, the other part being subsidised through the general tax band. I don’t support upfront fees and they have been abolished.
Should the pay-back be more progressive?
We should always be looking for progressivity. Should graduates be paying through the tax system for part of their higher education? Yes. Should it be on a progressive basis that recognises that you don’t want to penalise women who start families? Of course. The Browne review is looking at higher rates at higher income. I haven’t pegged myself to one version of the system that’s right. We have got avoid perverse incentives — what we don’t want is for people who do two year degrees to be subsidising people who do four year degrees.
In what way are you the unity candidate?
I am the unity candidate in this election. I am the candidate who has shown how to build a coalition across the party. I’m the candidate who has united different traditions.
Why is Jon Cruddas backing you?
Because I think that he believes I can reinvigorate Labour thinking and Labour organisation. He thinks that I can genuinely draw on different talents but also different traditions in the party. He thinks that I can access the rich seam of Labour history in terms of its commitments to mutualism, to responsibility, to the dignity of work while also making sure that Labour is a party of the future, not the past. And that understands the way that our society is being reshaped by big global forces.
He knows, because we have worked together for 20 years, that I am not a factional politician, I am a unifying politician. I am a politician who is not scared of where ideas come from, I’m a politician who is interested in where ideas take you. I’m a politician who knows the best of New Labour was not born from the right of the Labour Party, it was born from fusing insights from the right about crime, and anti-social behaviour, and Europe which was associated with the right of the Labour party, with ideas from the left of the Labour party, about individual rights, about internationalism. It was the left of the Labour party that understood the limitations of the central state. It was the left of the Labour Party which stood up for social rights and public spending.
There’s obviously no future for Labour in simply just moving to the right. The answer is to develop a modern Labour politics that really does take seriously what it says on our membership cards: “Power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few.”
That would be a transformation of our society. Take that seriously, really make sure it’s understood throughout the country, really say that we are going to hold ourselves to that, hold the government to it because they have been forced to move on to our ground, and you are in business as a party which is thinking in new ways. That is a really exciting prospect.
Or are these people backing you just because they want a winner?
We are a political party not a debating society. We exist in a very imperfect political world to gain political power in the service of our values. I think there is a will still to win in the Labour party that is profound.
In a way it has been heightened in the last three or four months because of the government we have got. People thought the government would cleaving to the centre because it’s a coalition government. Actually that’s not what happened. It is a serious situation and we therefore know the price of losing power – not for us but the people we serve. When we lose, they lose.
What do you fear most if you do become leader?
We’ve got a big mountain to climb. It is very hard to buck the historical trend that when the Labour party loses it loses for a long time. I feel a profound sense of responsibility for not just preserving the gains but building on them for the country.
What I do feel though, and this is why the campaign has been energising and inspiring, by God if we harness the talent that exists in the parliamentary Labour party, thought the Labour party in the country, in local government and amongst our membership, and in the wider country that is actually sympathetic to what we believe in, we would be a hell of a team. That’s what doesn’t give me fear, it gives me real, real hope.
Is Ed Balls’s streetfighting quality going to be an asset to your Shadow Cabinet?
We need all the talents. It’s not fight them on the beaches, but we are going to have fight them out on the streets, we are going to have to fight it out in the boardrooms, we are going to have to fight it out in House of Commons, we are going to have fight it out in local government chambers, we are going to have to find it out in community halls, we are going to have to fight it out on the shop floor. And we are going to have to fight it out with ideas and with organisation. We are going to need every conceivable talent to win this thing because the people we are up against are well-funded, clear in purpose and absolutely determined to keep us out for a generation.
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter