David Miliband rules out early shadow cabinet return

Former foreign secretary insists: "I made the right decision last year."

As the Guardian's Andrew Sparrow notes, David Miliband has given an interview to local paper The Journal in which he again rules out an early return to the shadow cabinet. Asked if he would take a job on the frontbench, he said:

I say the same thing always to everyone, which is that I think I made the right decision last year. I promised I would give Ed the space to lead the party as he sees fit, I wasn't going to be part of a soap opera. And so I am here to support the party and support the leadership.

But in case you missed it here is this week's New Statesman leader on why the elder Miliband should come in from the cold:

In a moving and poignant interview with Jonathan Derbyshire on page 54 of this week's issue, the New Labour pollster Philip Gould, who is dying, reflects on the fractious relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and the one between Ed Miliband and David Miliband. "Gordon lost to a metaphorical brother," he says, "[but] David lost to an actual brother."

Mr Gould has spoken of his desire for David Miliband to return to front-line politics and to work with his brother to fulfil his dying wish - the election of a new Labour government. He is right to do so.

It was right for Mr Miliband, who served with distinction as foreign secretary from 2007 to 2010, to step down from the shadow cabinet after he was narrowly defeated by his brother in last year's leadership election. In his own words, he feared "perpetual, distracting and destructive attempts to find division where none exists". But one year on, it is clear that the return of the elder Miliband would be a huge help rather than a hindrance to Labour.

His return would encourage a significant section of the party, not least the 104 MPs who voted for him, to lend their unequivocal support to Ed Miliband. So long as their "lost leader" remains out-side the shadow cabinet and on the back benches, some will be reluctant to do so. Moreover, the speeches and articles he has written in recent months have reaffirmed his status as one of the party's best and brightest thinkers. On matters from the NHS to multiculturalism to the crisis of the European centre left, David Miliband has demonstrated a rare clarity of purpose. The talent pool of British politics is far too shallow for him to linger on the back benches and in the directors' box at Sunderland Football Club.

The differences between the brothers are largely of emphasis, not principle. They are committed to the former chancellor Alistair Darling's plan to halve the deficit by 2014 (although Ed has adopted a 60:40 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises, rather than the original 70:30 split). David's correct assertion that Labour should have founded the Office for Budget Responsibility does nothing to alter this.

The characterisation of David Miliband as a "Blairite" is wrong. Many know that he served as head of the No 10 Policy Unit during the Blair years, far fewer that he left because he was considered insufficiently reformist. In a long interview with the NS editor, Jason Cowley, in early 2009, he memorably spoke of the "red thread" that should run through all Labour policies; and in the leadership election he advocated a series of progressive policies, including ending charitable status for private schools, extending the bankers' bonus tax rather than raising VAT and supporting Vince Cable's proposed mansion tax on homes worth over £2m.

It is incumbent on those who call for Mr Miliband's return to pose the question of what job he should do. Having served as foreign secretary for three years, he will have no desire to shadow William Hague. He would make a fine shadow chancellor (and was offered the post after his brother's election) but it would be foolish to move Ed Balls, who has proved an effective foil to George Osborne, at this stage of the political cycle. The solution, perhaps, is to create a new policy-focused role for Mr Miliband, analogous to the position held by Oliver Letwin in the coalition government.

There are encouraging signs that Labour is renewing itself. On page 45, Stewart Wood, one of Ed Miliband's chief strategists, sets out an intellectual route map for the post-neoliberal era and argues that the party must "rewrite the rules that govern how Britain works". Labour is fortunate to have Lord Wood, a recently created peer, in the shadow cabinet.

In ambition and scope, Ed Miliband's political project is potentially as significant and as bold as the reform pursued by Margaret Thatcher and her Hayekian allies in the 1970s. Just as Mrs Thatcher shifted the centre ground of British politics to the right, so Mr Miliband now hopes to pull it leftwards. He will be best served in this endeavour if he has his brother alongside him in a shadow cabinet of all the talents.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.