Miliband: We can win the election

Foreign Secretary David Miliband urges Labour to defend its record, be candid about its strengths an

At the next election, foreign policy can be a winner for Labour. But only if we demonstrate why it is integral to Britain’s security and opportunity, set out a clear vision of British foreign policy that draws on our values, and show why progressive ends cannot be delivered by conservative means.

Foreign policy used to be considered enemy territory for the left. It was the realm where national interest had to take precedence over progressive values.

I think that version of foreign policy is out-dated. The promotion of our values are not a distraction from national interests, but the best way of securing them.

By progressive values, I really mean the two traditions that gave birth to this party: the radical liberal tradition that emphasises individual freedom and democratic rights; and the social democratic emphasis on a more just and equal distribution of resources. Both are critical to furthering our national interests.

Promoting democracy and human rights is the best way of protecting Britain. The main threats to security emanate from countries in weak states, with little rule of law, and no democratic accountability; or authoritarian states where power is unchecked.

Reducing inequalities in income, wealth and power are not only desirable things in their own right, they contribute to a safer world.

The Tories now claim to agree with our goals. But David Cameron says that “progressive ends will best be met through conservative means.” And that is the new con, in Cameron’s conservatives. You cannot deliver progressive ends by Tory isolationism from Europe and Tory anti-statism.

Think of the things we want to achieve in the world, and imagine how you do them without a strong European Union. Democracy has taken root in eastern Europe, in large part, because of the attraction of joining the largest single market in the world. When the EU sets new low-carbon vehicle emission standards, it transforms the global car market. Inequality will only be addressed by the EU playing its part in securing a conclusion to the Doha trade round.

The Tories excessive faith in the power of the nation is ill-suited to an interdependent world. But so too is the Tories excessive scepticism in the power of the state. Climate change will not be addressed without incentives to move from high carbon to low carbon technology. Financial markets need more effective regulation. Poverty will not be tackled without large transfers of income. On their own markets, do not produce the global public goods we need; markets have to be shaped by states.

If the Tories were in power. I fear the Tories would oscillate between hubris and fatalism: between thinking they can achieve more than they can with the means at their disposal; and then retreating to a more conventional foreign policy, preserving narrowly defined national interests, forgetting that poverty and authoritarianism will store up problems that will spill over into our borders.

So my message is simple. We can win the next election because it is our party that has the right values to deliver security and opportunity. We must defend our record, by being candid about its strengths and weaknesses. We must set out a bold vision. And we must show why conservatives means cannot deliver our progressive ends.

David Miliband is the  President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee
He was foreign secretary from 2007 until 2010 and MP for South Shields from 2001 until this year. 

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war