Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband has admitted that watching the situation in the Labour Party today was “frustrating”, mixed with “admiration for those fighting an incredibly good fight”.
Speaking to an audience of more than 300 at the Jewish Labour Movement’s one-day conference, Mr Miliband, who is now chief executive of the New York-based International Rescue Committee, took part in a wide-ranging discussion with journalist Jonathan Freedland in a conversation he had designated “The Age of Impunity”.
By this, he said, he meant “the abuse of power to the extent where crimes are not punished… the power balance has got out of whack in war zones around the world. And that is linked to the retreat from democratic values, where countries have suffered a reduction in domestic political freedoms. At the international level there has also been a retreat from democratic norms”.
Mr Miliband noted that in America, “a re-elected President Trump would have been given impunity to take things further”. But he warned that “while Trump may have been defeated, Trumpism has not”, suggesting that there were still elements in the Republican Party which supported Trump’s policies.
Turning his attention to UK politics and the most recent election defeat of his former party, Mr Miliband emphasised the importance in politics “of an attractive candidate. My party lost with the worst results since 1935. You shouldn’t need a Biden victory to tell you that you are more likely to win with an attractive candidate rather than one who pushes away the voters: Jeremy Corbyn repelled voters left, right and centre.”
Politics of the left, he said, required people to be “both radical and credible. Unless you get both, you’re not going to get people to put their faith in you”. He believed “a broad coalition” was “absolutely key to being able to govern.”
You shouldn’t need a Biden victory to tell you that you are more likely to win with an attractive candidate rather than one who pushes away the voters: Jeremy Corbyn repelled voters left, right and centre
He said that “never in my wildest nightmares, in any of the arguments I had with the hard Left, did I ever dream that we would argue about antisemitism. Maybe I was naive. I don’t think people ever looked at me and said, oh, there’s a Jewish Foreign Secretary: I think they said, oh, there’s a Labour Foreign Secretary who is Jewish, which is different. So the idea that this has become the hill on which the hard Left wants to fight is repugnant.”
Mr Miliband declared: “People say to me, we’ve got to deal with antisemitism because it’s offending the Jewish community. No! we’ve got to stop antisemitism because it’s offending everyone. Never did I think the words ‘Labour’ and ‘antisemitism’ would be in the same sentence”.
On Brexit and the choices facing the Labour Party, Mr Miliband said he thought there would ultimately be a deal, but that Labour could only vote in favour of it, or abstain. “Brexit is not going to be done [with this vote],” he warned, “there will be negotiations between Britain and the international system for a long time to come.”
Asked by Jonathan Freedland if he could predict circumstances under which Labour might seek to re-join the European Union, Mr Miliband said this was “a frog-boiling situation, not a leap off a cliff situation”. But, he added, Labour could not accept a future “where the Tories winning four elections on the trot is business as usual. It’s our fault that it’s business as usual” — but that it was possible to change that dynamic.
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