The David Miliband interview

David Miliband: no zombie

Step up David Miliband, the third leadership contender to join us in the Labour Uncut crowdsourcing hotseat. He was bouncy and inquisitive, he had a firm handshake and a busy office.  He even let us take his picture, unlike Diane Abbott who only uses ‘approved photography’.

He’s for votes at 16, feels a personal loss at the ‘vandalism’ of BSF, but he’s definitely not a zombie. In fact, he’s very anti-zombie.

Q. (from Luke Spencer) How do you think we can get back the supporters we lost in the election so we can succeed in wining the election in 2015?

A. Well I think we lost because we didn’t relefct people’s aspirations and hopes and second because we didn’t have a clear plan for the future. The way to get it back is to be on people’s side and get a clear plan for the future. We won three elections because people thought we’d make them better off and make their communities safer, improve their schools and hospitals, or their health and education services. And that must be the recipe for the next election if it’s in 2015, or even sooner. I think that involves changing the way we do politics, because that’s an important part of reaching out, but also because it will help us develop the ideas that actually speak to people’s lives as they are today or tomorrow as opposed to what they were ten or fifteen years ago.

Q. (from Joseph Casey) Ken Clarke said last week that in the past politicians have talked tough on crime without taking the tough decisions. Although dominating the headlines and stimulating much debate, I heard no comment on the issue from any of the Labour leadership contenders. What approach do you think is the most effective route to offender rehabilitation, which ultimately creates fewer victims and less crime?

A. We’ve been asked about this quite a lot at the hustings that we’re having. Remember, crime was reduced by 35-40% under Labour. We’re the first government since 1945 to leave office with crime lower than when we arrived. And on reoffending we cut reoffending rates by 20% overall, 24% for young people…but we’ve got to do more, and better, next time. I think that Ken Clarke is having to come into this with his hands tied because he’s got no investment to make rehabilitation work. I would support as he called it the ‘rehabilitation revolution’. The more you can rehabilitate people, the better. And we’ve got to make prison work better. It’s not a case of does prison work or doesn’t prison work. It’s a question of what’s the best way of keeping crime down, because the best test of a penal system is the amount of crime not the number of people in prison. And I think that we can do that in a number of ways. I think that restorative justice is important, where people pay back to their victims. I think we’ve got to make community punishment mean something, because too many people think it’s a soft option. And we started to do that, but we’d have to go further.

Q. (following sequence initiated by Mike Forster) Have you seen the film Shaun of the Dead?

A. No…

Q. Do you know anything about the film, Shaun of the Dead?

A. A small amount. I’m not a zombie!

Q. Tell me what you know about the film.

A. I know it’s got a lot of zombies in it.

Q. It’s about killing zombies.

A. We don’t like zombies. We’re anti-zombie.

Q. In one of the scenes in the film, Shaun must use his record collection as his only weapon to kill zombies. What would be the first couple of records you’d throw, your least valuable ones?

A. The most killer record we’ve got is Wagner. Wagner’s opera will kill zombies at twenty paces.

Q. What about the least valuable?

A. My son is playing Mamma Mia endlessly at the moment. So that’d be a killer.

Q. That sounds awful.

A. But he’s my son, so I love him.

Q. (from Molly Bennett) Given the rise in crowd sourcing opinion, and social media in general, is it time to re-think the convention that MPs do not interfere in issues raised by the constituents of other MPs?

A. Well we have a responsibility to talk about policies in general. And I don’t think that you want MPs taking up individual cases. I wouldn’t want to feel that I should take up a housing query from my next door constituency, still less a constituency somewhere else in the country. But you know, everyone’s got an opinion on everything at the moment so it doesn’t have to be individual cases. I don’t think you should break the caseload principle. But people can have an opinion on what they like.

Q. (from Mark Grayling) Will you make the excellent Yvette Cooper your Shadow Chancellor if you win?

A. I will make the most of the excellent talent of the excellent Yvette Cooper.

Q. (from Douglas Pretsell) How do you feel about equal marriage rights – that is opening up of marriage to gay people and allowing religious bodies that support gay marriage (Quakers) to celebrate them.

A. I think that religious bodies are allowed to actually. Actually, I was asked this last week by Pink News. The last civil partnership I went to, from two friends, full of…replete with all of the devotion, commitment, lifelong commitment that’s associated with marriage and that puts civil partnerships on a par with marriage. As it happens I haven’t had raised with me this issue and whether or not the particular issue, raising it as some people do. I haven’t got a closed mind about it. But I think we should celebrate what civil partnership is which is, finally, equality for gay people.

Q. (from Gareth Young) In the New Statesman you wrote ‘An “English Parliament” is not the answer’ but you gave no indication as to why it was not the answer.  An English parliament seems like a very good answer to many people, so could you tell me why you think an EP is not the answer and whether or not you support a referendum on the issue so that the people of England can decide (as did Scotland and Wales)?

A. I think they must have edited out my answer! I actually did say why. English MPs are already 85% of the UK parliament and the way to respect the needs as well as the history of England is to build up the civic institutions being launched are local institutions. And actually the needs in South Shields are very different from the needs in the Thames Valley. And the way to recognize that is not through an English parliament that tries to treat the whole of England as the same but through effective local governance that does reflect the different needs of the different parts of England.

Q. (from DB) Since the demise of the left wing in British politics (and globally as well) why is Labour not taking a volte-face back to its socialist roots? If it does not act soon then left-wing politics will soon be extinct as traditional bastions of the left adapt to the demands of the markets and banks. Sooner or later we will have no choice but to vote for a right-wing government if trends continue. What is your view on this matter?

A. Well I don’t agree with that. Because if you vote for a right wing government you get a right wing government, so what’s the point of that? That doesn’t do anything to advance the causes that left of centre people believe in. Yes there’s been a demise of revolutionary socialism, but that’s because it didn’t work, it didn’t do anything for anyone, or at least in the advanced industrialised world. And I think we’ve got to stand up for the causes that made people left of centre in the first place. But think we do that by improving people’s lives, not just by dreaming about them. So I think that the idea that if you’re on the left you’re going to end up voting tory, that’s just paradoxical, not to say perverse.

Q. (from Tony Daly) In hindsight, do you think that if you had challenged Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership and won, that Labour would have won the last General Election?

A. I think there was a settled will at the top of the party that Gordon should lead us into the election and I don’t think there was a market for that sort of effort because it would have made a bad situation worse. A challenge would have made a bad situation worse.

Q. (from Chris) Would you consider lowering the national voting age to 16? They are having a referendum on voting and the AV system, surely the younger people should be given that voice at 16 as well?

A. Yeah, I think it’s indefensible that you can get married t 16, pay tax at 16, join the army at 16, drive a car at 17 but not vote until you’re 18.

Q. So you’d support lowering the voting age to 16?

A. Yeah.

Q. (from James) The co-operative sector is a growing part of the UK economy. What would you do as leader to promote the creation of more co-owned firms in the private sector?

A. I think that there’s a couple of reasons that people are attracted by the co-op sector. One is it gives people more power. I think secondly it reflects a sense of team work that is more important. And thirdly one of the lessons people have drawn from the banking crisis is that markets need morals and rules. And co-ops seem to live by them. I think we can do that in the public as well as the private sector. And the tories are talking about this but they’re only talking about more power for staff not for citizens as well. I think the best forms of co-ops bridge that divide. I think in the private sector the most obvious candidate is Northern Rock where the mutualisation of Northern Rock would be a very big addition to the cooperative sector.

Q. (from Tom King) Will you make it a pledge for the next Labour government to reinstate the BSF programme?

A. Well I invented the BSF programme, so I’m feeling a particular sense of loss at the vandalism of the tories. The importance of BSF was that it was a programme for 21st century learning facilities for all secondary pupils in the country. So we definitely need something like that. It was a national programme with local characteristics. It gave more power to schools, teachers and pupils actually to design learning facilities and schools that would be right for them. And we’re only part way through, further of the way through than some of the tory statistics suggest, but we’ve got too much of a Victorian school estate and we need a 21st century school estate.

Q. (from Tom King) What do you think about a graduate tax?

A. I think students shouldn’t pay fees and they don’t at the moment, which is good. We need… I made a speech about this a couple of weeks ago saying that we should only have taxes on graduates, and they should only be paying them when they’re on a certain income. I think that we should beware of a situation where someone doing a two year degree is subsidising someone doing a four year degree. We have to look at how to get round that issue. But we should only have taxes on graduates for learning, not students.

Q. (from Heath Brown) Would you ever consider re-nationalising essential services such as railways and the utilities?

A. Well I supported the decision to bring East Coast into the public sector. I use the East Coast line when I go up to South Shields and GNER overbid for their franchise. We need to learn the right lessons of the last fifteen years when we’ve got record passenger numbers but fragmentation of the system. So we’ve got to be pragmatic about it.

Q. (from Sean Reynolds) How to you feel about the coalition’s plan, announced in the Telegraph on 10 July inst., to abolish carrying out the national census, which may save money but will also mean an end to gathering detailed information on family life in Britain?

A. When was that? I didn’t read the Telegraph on Saturday, but I think the census is very important. We’ve got a census next year, they’re not planning to abolish that are they? The census is a very, very valuable part of national life, and if we don’t know who’s living here and what their characteristics are we’re going to find it much harder to plan for the future, so that sounds very short sighted.

Q. (from Paul) Do you agree that one of the problems Labour faces, as it opposes the current coalition’s cuts, is that the coalition’s ‘national debt’ narrative which aligns itself to the concept of household debt is actually quite strong and that by setting out Labour’s policy of cutting the deficit later when growth has set in we merely fall into the trap of looking like Tories, but without their courage of conviction?

A. Well yes and no. We have to avoid the trap of looking like because we don’t accept the masochism of George Osborne that we’re in denial. No, I don’t think our plans were simply aping theirs, because reducing the deficit in half was necessary once private sector growth had been properly established. So I think that we have a responsibility to be a party that shows it’s willing to take tough economic decisions. But they have to be in the interests of the country as a whole and they have to be consistent with the growth pattern because unless you have growth you’re never going to reduce the deficit.

Q. So you think that what the coalition are doing, aligning with household debt, is incorrect?

A. Well it’s wrong, to see the national accounts as the same as a household account, because for obvious reasons they’re not. And it’s wrong to believe that deficits are never necessary, sometimes they are necessary when demand in the private sector collapses both here and around the world. And the vast bulk of the borrowing we have at the moment has been used by the collapse of corporate tax revenues and by the global economic recession. And so we’ve got to keep in mind. You have to build back growth consistent with recognition that on the public spending side that we’re not going to be in the same position in the next ten years as we’ve been in the last ten.

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4 Responses to “The David Miliband interview”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by sion simon, Richard Johnson, Liza Harding and others. Liza Harding said: The @DMiliband interview: via @LabourUncut | #DM4leader […]

  2. Harry Barnes says:

    It would help if the candidates published Manifestos explaining the avenues they would pursue if elected as leader. This would provide us with something substanial which goes way beyond the hustings contributions and the bits and pieces they provide via leaflets, interviews and web-sites. Only Andy Burnham has agreed to do this so far. See –

  3. Gareth Young says:

    David, thanks for your partial answer re an English parliament.

    Please could you also answer the second part of the question which asks “whether or not you support a referendum on the issue so that the people of England can decide (as did Scotland and Wales)?”

  4. […] 2010 paulinlancs Leave a comment Go to comments Yeah, yeah, I’m the total dullard in the Labour Uncut interview who asked David Miliband a boring question about political economy, straight after that most […]

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