Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Live-blogging David Miliband

OK, here we go. Apologies for the massive block of text.

I've posted the photos here, or you can click on these samples to enlarge for your erotic pleasure. If you want to compare the brothers, here are the pictures I took of Ed when he came to The Dark Place.

He's here on stage, wearing a Silk Cut shade tie, white shirt, no jacket - the standard sartorial grammar of the Third Way. Intro from the Dean (which mentions his candidacy for the Labour leadership but not the result!), then 'in conversation' with Keith Gildart, Reader in Labour History (as in work, not the Party) and all-round good egg. After that, the floor opens. To reveal the Hellmouth.

Ed likes to use his hands. Like A Muppet On A String.

Turnout very impressive - c. 290 in a 300-seat lecture hall.

Foreign policy questions:
Straight in with 'intervention/nonintervention': was the balance right, with reference to Iraq and Afghanistan.

WTF mate?

A. 'Central feature of the modern world is interdependence: economically, ecologically, public health and security. We have to intervene, there's no question. We just have to understand our rights and responsibilities with regard to abuses of rights and responsibilities elsewhere'. Mentions Anne Frank and calls the 1930s a tragedy of non-intervention, (OK, when are we going to invade Saudi Arabia, say I: one of the worst human rights abusing countries on earth)?

'What if you're attacked by a non-state actor - Al-Qaida, hosted by a state? I argue you have a responsibility to do something about it. Winning the war in Afghanistan was easy: winning the peace was more difficult. Military action no use without political understanding'.

OMG! Whateva!

Q. Given the outcome of Iraq, will the balance between intervention and non-intervention change?
A. The break-up of Yugoslavia without intervention was wrong. We had migration issues even if you're not concerned with moral arguments. Later Yugoslav intervention over Kosova was right. There's been a swing away from intervention after Iraq.

Q. What are your thoughts on the future of Europe?
A. I feel strongly that this is an interdependent world, a global village. Your immediate neighbours are where foreign policy starts. We have a strong interest in strengthening the EU and solving the Euro crisis. Small powers can't survive without a stable neighbourhood. IN respect of the Euro crisis started as a €50bn Greek crisis - a small problem which blossomed because it wasn't solved: now a global slump is looming because the markets think that if the EU can't solve Greece's problems, it can't solve Italy's, Spain's or France's problems. Answer: the ECB must fund to prevent market speculation. Debt-holding countries must take some responsibilities, and so must debtor countries. Greece only has olive oil and tourism: the other countries have more resources. We're a European country, and the EU and Britain are stronger when they're both strong. Cameron didn't veto anything: he walked out without stopping the other nations continuing. We look weak and we've said we can insulate ourselves from EU economics and politics - a tactical and political blunder which he thinks is a master-stroke in political terms. He feels the EU will be less important when India and China come through, whereas being in the EU will help us when that happens.

Q. What about the 'special relationship' with the United States? How will US foreign policy develop with an election coming up?
A. Obama is likely to win, but it's not certain and it will be close. The money involved is corrosive but both sides have enough to be competitive. Obama understands that the US has to make alliances and engage these days: a multipolar war. I'm very concerned about Iran and military intervention would be disastrous - as would Iran breaking the Non-proliferation Treaty. The EU needs to contribute its fair share too. The Americans will think less of the UK if it loses credibility in Brussels.

The Americans use the term 'special relationship', but only to keep the British media happy.

Look guys, y'know, c'mon… Very Blair pose.

Q. How should Labour respond to the Austerity argument?
A. We should say that this austerity programme has crossed the line and is actually a masochism programme. Govt. spending is down, exports are under pressure, business investment is low and consumers are too scared to spend. Put those together and it's not a surprise that the economy has shrunk. We need to tackle the deficit, but if we kill off growth, the deficit will grow, we'll have to reduce public spending even more… we have a fundamental quarrel with the way the government has gone about it.

We also have to be honest about our role. The crisis was born on Wall Street, not Downing Street. But claiming to end Boom and Bust was wrong because that can't be done. We shouldn't project spending based on expected earnings.

Q. Do you see ideological battles coming up, like after the 1979 defeats? Does Labour have a coherent ideology?
A. We'll get one without a civil war. Labour is a specialist in long-term opposition. Under Ed, we aren't having a civil war. New Labour was culturally open. It didn't confuse idealism with doctrine and dogma?

Q. Social mobility: didn't Labour lose touch with its electoral base?
A. No. We got our best result ever in 1997. We didn't foresee the global forces impacting social conditions. Equality, yes - but of what?
Q. Education?
A. No. Educational inequality actually diminished under Labour. We didn't defend our record well enough. If we don't, the Daily Mail or the Guardian will do it for us [I think he means they'll criticise Labour].
Q. Where do you disagree with the coalition?
A. They'll make social mobility much worse. Youth unemployment and long-term unemployment is very high. You students need to work hard. But those 250,000 long-term unemployed may never work again. The trebling of tuition fees and abolition of social sciences/humanities subsidy hasn't been done anywhere in the world. In South Shields, there's no university campus or culture. The danger is that too many young people will see university as not for them. The gains may be thrown into reverse.

Questions from the floor compered by Andy Cooper, Associate Dean.
Q. Will you run for Labour leadership again?
A. [Groans] I don't know. No vacancy for along time anyway.
Q. You were favourite to win the leadership. How did you come back from that psychologically?
A. I've never gone! You should never try for anything if you don't really want it, but you shouldn't run if you think it's the end of the world if you don't get it. I've got a chance to reflect, which is important after 15 years at the top of politics. I've got room for new things: the Movement for Change Community Leadership Academy, which you might think is odd for me to run! I'm doing grassroots politics, for the people and by the people. I still feel strongly about the stupidities and injustices I see about me, but I'm trying new ways to do things about them.
Q. Would you describe yourself as a socialist?
A. Yes, though other people might not describe me as one. There are 2 traditions: one as an economic system of public ownership- not my tradition. The other is about values: social justice, equality, common endeavour - ethical socialism. I'm a social democrat in a better description: shared goals with socialists. Socialist values are good values, but economic socialism can be very oppressive.
Q. What definition do you give for international students? What role do you think international students play in British society?
A. Where are you from? (Cameroon). The internationalisation and expansion of universities have been inspirational. Universities have transformed our cities. Internationalisation was key to this. 85,000 Chinese students. Very pleased you've come to the UK rather than to a French university (Cameroon is francophone). International students educate home ones. The Tory reduction of student fees is 'idiotic' and 'stupid', economically and culturally. It hands advantages to other countries. I'm really very clear that internationalised education has been a  really good thing.
Q. In the last election, the Greens won seats in Parliament. Is Labour's under threat from minority parties?
A. They're a warning that people feel you're not taking their concerns into account. Our electoral system keeps 4th/5th parties out, unlike Europe, which practices PR. Postwar Holland used to be a beacon of multicultural life, but it's now riven by ultra-rightwing politics. On Green politics, this is the defining issue of our generation. We're serious about it - unlike the US. Obama's do-nothing Congress holds him back and the Chinese have overtaken the world in technical and regulatory solutions! The Greens are a healthy warning - but don't vote for them.
Q. It's a year since the Egypt protests. How does the Arab Spring affect foreign policy?
A. Where are you from? (Pakistan). Heritage? (Pakistan). The Arab Spring comes from the Arab innate demand for dignity. Brought about by corruption and kleptocracy on behalf of the Mubaral regime, and from the global village, which introduced ideas of democracy and freedom via technology. [This is v. unconvincing]. Tech enabled organisation too. I call it the 'civilian surge', happening in Russia, parts of China. What do we make of the rise of political Islam? These are people in democratic politics inspired by the Qu'ran. Some in the Muslim Brotherhood would say they're the same as Christian Democrats, like Merkel. Others would take a different more sectarian view. My view is that this will play out in a way the West can't decide. We should engage strongly with the Muslim Brotherhood, not demonise it or push it underground. We should be clear about our own values of non-racist respect, and in foreign policy, we've got to see that Arab democratisation is a force for long-term stability whereas dictatorships are short-term stability not long-term. In Pakistan, Islam has either been used to beat up democracy as under Zia, or as an alternative to democracy, neither of which is good. Pakistan was founded as an Islamic democratic state. It needs the debate of ideas within this space. Its failure was to fail to reconcile Islam and politics.
Q. Possession of nukes by some countries will always be a threat to someone: don't we need to be more serious about disarmament at home?
A. You're right. 2 years ago it would have been harder to answer that question. Disarmament looks more likely. The US and Russia are disarming very fast. We should be very serious about multilateral disarmament. The NPT has 3 parts: non-proliferation, rights to civil nuclear, responsibility of nuclear states to disarm. Israel, Pakistan and a couple of others haven't signed. We should disarm. We're down to a minimum deterrent now.
Q. Foreign policy: Your party went to Iraq to disarm a dictator. There are other countries still under dictators. People think Libya was an economic intervention. If you are a party leader, is it possible to dispel this suspicion that England goes to war for self-interest?
A. Our wars weren't for economic gain. No country puts its own country at risk for economic gain since the 19th century. Wars are too expensive in treasure and blood. People voted for war for other reasons. Honestly, I promise you. I was there. You don't have to believe me.
Q. As an MP, what's the hardest ethical conflict you faced?
A. Er… easy to answer: how to protect the country, who you co-operate with, what tactics you use. We are committed to public safety and national values. How you resolve that… The hardest thing is when not to commit to actions when security is compromised.
Q. During your time as Foreign Secretary did you have anything to do with North Korea and what do you think of the new leader?
A. Basically no. Outside UK sphere of interest. USA and China led on that. I don't know about the new guy. He's a mystery. He's got a very tough job and it's unclear what tools he has: mental and other resources.
Q. What do you think about CSA charging lone parents?
A. It's really important. The saddest cases I have as an MP, the most frustrating, are family break-ups, when women and men tell me heart-rending stories about money not coming, property grabbed, visiting rights infringed. There are problems with the CSA. It was going to be wound up - the residual CSA leaves parents faced with the courts or a charge on the parent chasing their money. Because the CSA had such a bad reputation, there was no alternative to closing it - it became a bureaucratic nightmare dealing with incredibly complicated families, liars etc. I haven't a better alternative but I don't like it. Have you? (Questioner: charge the fathers - negotiation is impossible when a man walks out). A. Charging the father was the idea - but it hasn't worked. Where the route to the father is blocked, state support and welfare is essential.
Q. With unemployment so high and £9000k fees, what are the remedies for youth and fees alternatives?
A. The easy answer is fees = terrible. But it's not an honest answer. It's right that graduates pay for some of the cost. I supported the introduction of tuition fees. But there isn't a fee - what we have is a system of loans paid back if you get a decent-paying job. Maintenance is a separate issue. Where the current government went wrong is tripling fees with no concept of the consequences for students and universities. The original fee wasn't popular, but non-university training isn't subsidised. Taxpayers AND graduates should contribute. But it's not a fee: you pay back when you earn £21,000. No party promised to triple fees - this brings politics into disrepute. But I can't say we should scrap graduate contributions. The taxpayer should be a partner with the graduate. I fear we'll throw away the UK HE system.
Q. Aren't people being taxed twice? Tax often at higher rate + fees.
A. In a way, a graduate tax is problematic: courses have different lengths and costs. You aren't paying twice. Just a bit more.

[Running out of power - don't be surprised if I conk out].

Q. Is it time the British public had a referendum on EU membership bearing in mind other countries have had them since 1975.
A. I don't think that's right. Ireland's had 2, but that's because their constitution says any treaty requires one. We should have them when fundamental changes are proposed, e.g. joining the Euro. I don't see referenda are the answer in parliamentary systems unless major constitutional changes are proposed, which they aren't. Don't confuse the EU and the ECHR/Council of Europe. We should be in there shaping the EU to our advantage. You're proposing to revisit our original terms? I can see the argument but I'm not persuaded.
Q. Is there enough self-doubt in your political life, Labour and the political sphere? (My question)
A. Self-criticism or self-doubt? (Me: both). Self-criticism is public, self-doubt is private. I've reflected a lot on my own politics. Labour needs to understand why people voted against it and respects it. We need to understand why we're perceived as out of touch and statist. Self-doubt is a different area: you've always got to have the humility to know you might be wrong and be open to see how other people might see you, without getting buffeted by how the media see you - don't follow fashion, you might not be wrong.
Q. Scottish independence?
A. I'm not for Scottish or English independence. More devolution gives the best of both worlds. It's up to the Scots. Independence would be bad for Scotland and bad for Britain. The bailout of RBS cost 4 times the GDP of Scotland: a potent argument for pooled sovereignty.
Q. Movement for Change: will it expand internationally?
A. We're linked to an Egyptian group. Go to the website and see what's there. I'd love there to be community leaders across The Dark Place. We map power, explain how to organise power and make it felt. Labour Students in this university are campaigning on a living wage on campus.
Q. What would you say to Michael Gove about education?
A. Stop worrying about 100 or so schools - look after the thousands of schools.
Q. You fraudulently claimed hundreds on expenses including a £450 bed. Are you going to give the money back and can't you pay for your own bed?
A. I didn't like the expenses system, but you can't accuse me of fraud: that's a criminal offence.
Q. Something about Islamophobia - Miliband answers that even the day after the London tube bombings, the British people and press behaved well. The questioner then claims that 7/7 was an inside job and Miliband points out that one of Britain's strong points is that he has a right to claim such things. This receives a round of applause.

I totally pwned your ass. 

Overall: I'm nowhere near his politics, and never will be (the Labour Party is a broad church), but beneath the slick professionalism of a career politician, Miliband comes across as human, likeable, thoughtful and decent. He converses well and doesn't pander to his audience - and deals with the mad quite effectively.


ed said...

10 free seats? They told me there weren't any bloomin' tickets left. Tut.

Lovely photo captions though Vole.

Anonymous said...

Mr Miliband was a bit smooth in some areas ("I know because I was there") but I couldn't help but think that he's a decent chap. God love the student who accused him of fraud. More front than Beattie's and will be duly cut from the televsion recording! So much for free speech.

Good work on blogging so quickly; I saw you beavering away like a madman!

The Plashing Vole said...

I was quite impressed too. I wouldn't vote for him because being nice isn't as good as being ideologically sound, and he's also done some bad things while foreign secretary - but he's intelligent, personable and interested.

I think his new strategy is directly derived from the American liberal tradition his clique loves so much. Obama's route into politics was community organisation along the lines of Saul Alinsky - a sharper version of the Big Society, if you like: Miliband's Movement for Change (a good thing, I think) is clearly modelled on the Chicago original.

neal said...

Yes, impressive note taking Vole, good work.
Did he really say we should disarm i.e. get rid of Trident, or did I misunderstand what you meant?

The Plashing Vole said...

Thanks all.
He did say that he wanted a serious push for disarmament, and pointed out that the NPT makes nuclear weapons states legally committed to disarmament, but he was very careful to use the term 'multilateral' every time (to avoid the usual Tory attacks), and he did uncritically use the phrase 'minimum deterrent'. So I think he sees it as a nice thing to oppose nuclear holocaust, without necessarily having to do much about it. Still, it's better than defending them.