Friday, September 08, 2006

I'm a Brown man - really!

Extracts from next Monday's cover story in the New Statesman

South Shields MP and Environment Secretary David Miliband in an interview to be published in next Monday's New Statesman firmly nails his colours to Gordon Brown's mast and almost calls for a coronation of the Chancellor, displaying a dangerous and risky streak of ambition, he virtually pleads for a Brown leadership, abandoning the patronage of his mentor Tony Blair. Let us not forget that young David Miliband was head of Tony Blair's Policy Unit when Labour was in opposition, he was then "parachuted" into the safe Labour seat of South Shields after Blair became Prime Minister and made way for his protoge by enobling the sitting member David Clarke. Since then, Miliband has enjoyed the benefits of a meteoric rise through the political ranks, first as Schools Minister, then entering the Cabinet in 2005 as Minister of Communities and Local Government, before becoming Secretary of State for the Environment. He owes much to Tony Blair and the events of the last week must have provoked serious soul searching and personal questioning over the future direction of his own career.

So let's set about "fisking" his interview with the New Statesman.

On the middle east crisis

Miliband, who had just been promoted to Environment Secretary, was reported as telling a cabinet meeting at the end of July: "Where is this all going to end?"

Until this past week, Miliband has refused to elaborate, for fear of undermining further a leader who has treated him well. But this has not been one of those ordinary weeks in politics. Many MPs saw Blair's refusal to call for a ceasefire in Lebanon in the first weeks of the conflict as the last straw. So how did Miliband feel about it?

"I don't think anyone was relaxed about the situation," he says. He does not deny making the remarks to cabinet. "I felt very worried because, put it this way, I don't think that Israel is safer and stronger now than it was two months ago. I don't think the prospects of a secure and just two-state settlement in the Middle East are closer than they were two months ago."

The Prime Minister's policies on the middle east and his slavish hanging on to George Bush's bandwagon make me sick, but I have a job to hang on to!

On Labour's civil war

As Labour MPs collect signatures demanding Blair's resignation, the generational issue looms large. We put to Miliband Charles Clarke's suggestion in last week's New Statesman that Labour runs the risk of returning to the splits of the early 1980s and to a long period in opposition. He is dismissive: "I think it is ridiculous to talk about civil war in the Labour Party. We are talking about, with perfect confidence, our chances of a fourth term. I don't see a civil war and I think that is inflammatory rancour."

Leave me out of it guvnor, I need to look as though I always supported the winning side, come what may.

On personal ambition

Members of the cabinet are now throwing themselves into the debate increasingly publicly. Miliband was happy to speak openly of the Prime Minister being gone in 12 months. His interventions on the issue are marked by a growing personal belief that, at the age of 41, he has ample time to fulfil his own ambitions. Having ruled himself out of the leadership this time around, he also makes clear he will not stand for deputy leader when John Prescott goes. "I'm neither a runner nor a rider for any of the contests."

Well, who wants to lead a party to an election defeat? I'll be around for the next one!

On the transition

'Either we have a smooth transition or you have a train crash.' Obviously you want a smooth transition. But we want something more. These are people who are ministers, who are party MPs, party supporters; these are people of no party, who are in the voluntary sector or business or the public sector, and they want an energetic, progressive project. So what I believe is that we need more than a smooth transition to Gordon Brown - we need an energising, refreshing transition to Gordon Brown."

The message to cabinet colleagues such as John Reid and Alan Johnson (men in their late fifties) is clear: stand if you wish for the leadership, but you have no chance. Your time is past. His message to Blair's outriders is: stop looking for an alternative and get behind one man. Mili band explains: "The great mass of the labour movement is in a very pragmatic, central position. It is proud of what the government has done over the last nine years. It is excited about the prospect of a Brown leadership. You can keep those two thoughts at the same time and I think that most people do."

We are pig sick of Tony Blair, let him go, I'm with Brown, I'm sure he'll make me Chancellor for a while (at least I hope I'm making the right noises!)

On Gordon Brown

So, amid the frenzy about the Prime Minister's future, shouldn't Brown be speaking out more, or at least setting out his agenda for the future? "It would be a bit cheeky of me to tell him how to do his job. What is incumbent on people like me is for us to stay upbeat, and he can decide when and how he wants to do it. I think he will be a very good leader."

Crikey, I hope you're listening Gordon, I'm starting to get a bit of a sweat on now, am I overdoing it?

Just in case we miss the point

And, in order to avoid any doubt, he names the next leader again. "We can have an energising, refreshing transition and that's why what I would say: the transition to Gordon - just to underline - the transition to Gordon Brown, the smooth transition to Gordon Brown, the energising, refreshing transition to Gordon Brown - not to anyone else - is a transition that is about ideas and values more than about dates."

Come on Gordon, I'm almost shouting it now, I'm your man! Stuff Blair! (Please keep me in your cabinet)

Miliband, in the interview says he is neither a runner nor a rider, looks to me as though he is jockeying for position - does it to you?


The New Statesman

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