As the Labour leadership contest drew to an end David Miliband worked hard to distance himself from Tony Blair — Blair personally, more than the New Labour government. But it was all deeply unconvincing.
In an interview with the Independent (29 August) Miliband accused David Cameron of thinking up policy by way of “positioning”, rather than by deciding what was good for the country. Ironically this is precisely what Miliband did in the rest of the interview.
Miliband’s attempt to distance himself from Blair involved little more than a shameless rationalisation and vacuous rebranding of himself; he was not a New Labour hack but someone who was trying to take the party “beyond” New Labour he said. He was not a man of the “right” of the Party but the man of “unity”. And so it went on...
He thought the Labour Party renewal project (i.e. New Labour) had been a good thing in its time. But the renewal had “stopped on 2 May 1997”.
The old generation had had to fight in the ranks of the party for modernisation (i.e. witch hunts against the left and closing down of democratic structures) but the civil war was now over. A new generation (i.e. his generation) could take things down a different road.
He, David Miliband, was proud of his record as Foreign Secretary. As soon as it was clear that the US was up to no good at Guantanamo and other bad things (torture, rendition), he had stepped in to act against it. We may have been slow (!) to realise what was going on, but in any case, it wasn’t my fault (i.e. it was Jack Straw’s fault). “It wasn’t my fault” has been the collective line of Labour ex-Ministers at the Chilcot Iraq inquiry.
Blair, despite Miliband’s pleading with him not to, has given what amounted to a public endorsement of his candidature. Blair has even sent some of his own staff (he had 150 at the last count) to help out with Miliband’s campaign.
A large number of “old school” New Labourites have endorsed Miliband’s campaign: David Blunkett, Alan Johnson, Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson.
Blair has half-endorsed the Cameron-Clegg line, saying that the Labour government should not have intervened so much in the economy during the banking crisis.
David Miliband differs from such politics only by a hair’s breadth, only by the “accident” of wanting the Leader of the Opposition job as his way to Downing Street. He has to criticise the Tory cuts, but does so in markedly softer tones than other candidates.
And the deep affinity David Miliband has to New Labour was most pointedly demonstrated by the £350,000 he has received in donations — £50,000 from public relations millionaire Anthony Bailey (top client BAE Systems).
But what does David Miliband stand for? It was almost back to Tony Blair’s “third way” (quickly ditched after 1997) when he told the Independent he stood for: “mutuality, reciprocity and community.” Pass the apple pie, mother?