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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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder