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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How gendered are this year’s most popular Christmas present toys?

Meet the groups fighting back against the gendering of children’s toys over the festive season.

You’re a young girl. You go into WH Smith’s to pick out a colouring book for Christmas. You could buy the Girls’ World Doodling and Colouring Book, a "gorgeous gift for any girl". In this, the pictures range "from flowers, fans, feathers, to birds, buttons and butterflies". Or Colouring for Girls: Pretty Pictures to Colour and Complete, where you can colour in "beautiful birds, seashells, cupcakes, pretty patterns and lots more". The counterpart Boys’ Colouring Book has a range beyond buttons and feathers: "Planes, trains and automobiles – plus the odd alien spacecraft".

In the run-up to Christmas, this kind of gendered marketing is rife, particularly finding its way into the predominantly pink colour scheme of girls’ toys.

Take Amazon’s page "2016 Toys for Girls": a pink icecream trolly set, a pink light-up tablet, pink building blocks, pink and purple friendship bracelets and so on.

There are several groups taking action against the "pinkification" of children’s toys. One of these is Let Toys Be Toys, a group that targets large supermarkets with the aim of reducing the gendered marketing used on children’s goods.

The Let Toys Be Toys blog focuses on specific examples of targeted gendering within shops, catalgoues and online. A particularly revealing example of how prevalent this has become in recent years is in two pictures published from the Argos catalogue, one from the Seventies, and one from nowadays. The eye-wateringly pink page from now makes the 1970s page look dour by comparison. The lack of change over four decades of what kind of products are marketed at girls is equally striking:

Despite the efforts of campaign groups such as Let Toys Be Toys, the prevalence of gendering within the highest-rated children's gifts for 2016 is staggering.

Look no further than the Ultimate Christmas Gifts Guide from Toys R Us. One of the most immediately obvious examples is the way in which the pink/blue colour schemes are used to market identical products. This is repeated again and again:

This identical drawing board is uniquely packaged to the binary colour codes that are so common within children's toys stores.

The same applies with this keyboard, where the young girl and boy are pictured almost identically, save for the coordination of their clothes to the colour of their toys.

The message is a hugely limiting one: one that allows little movement away from the binary of pink/blue. The effects of this are longstanding. A recent poll from YouGov shows that "only a third of parents approve of boys playing with Barbies". The data goes on to explain that "while most parents approve of girls playing with toys marketed to boys, a minority of adults approve of the opposite".

Images like this were the inspiration behind Let Toys Be Toys, back in 2012. The campaign began on Mumsnet, the forum for parents, on a section called "AIBU", which stands for "Am I Being Unreasonable?". One parent posted the question: "Am I being unreasonable to think that the gendered way that children’s toys are marketed has got completely out of hand?" The heated discussion that followed led to a sub-section with the founding memebers of Let Toys Be Toys.

This aside, Let Toys Be Toys has made signifcant progess since it began. It targets large stores, focusing on gendered signage both in store and online. In their four years, they have campaigned for signs like "girls' toys" and "boys' toys" to be removed from retailers such as Boots, Debenhams, Morrisons, Toys R Us and TK Maxx. It is the go-to hashtag on Twitter for examples of the often shocking gendering of children’s toys.

"This is ostensibly about toys, but what we’re really talking about is gender stereotypes that shape our children’s worlds in an apparently very unassuming way," says Jess Day, a Let Toys Be Toys campaigner. "It seems very innocent, but actually what we’re doing is giving children very clear instructions about how to be a man and how to be a woman."

These clear instructions work beyond colour coordination: where girls are sold the image of the pink "girly girl", for instance. This is evident in children’s fancy dress costumes. Early Learning Centre’s (ELC) children’s fancy dress range imposes very rigid gender roles. To give examples from the current christmas range:


Credit: ELC

Again, the predominant colour sceme is pink. The roles offered are mainly fairies and princessess: generally make-believe.

“I found it really interesting that there were almost no ads showing girls doing anything," comments Day. "Physically they were very passive. The only physical activity we saw girls doing was dancing. They weren't really moving around much."


Image: ELC

By contrast, young boys are offered the possibility of pretending to be a firefighter, a policeman or a doctor, among other practical, professional roles.

This year's Toys R Us Christmas advert follows on from this, with girls mainly dressed as princesses, and boys dressed as knights and kings. Much like the pink/blue colour scheme that we see all over children's shops, these fancy dress costumes create an unnatural binary. They send out a message that restricts any kind of subversion of these two supposedly polar opposites.

What's more, the subtext is one that is deeply rooted in expectations, building up a picture where careers such as that of a policeman and fireman come more naturally to boys, who have been socialised into these roles from childhood through fancy dress costumes of this type. Instead, girls are later forced to learn that most of us aren't going to become princessess, and none of us fairies – and so the slow process begins to unlearn these expectations.

There are certainly groups who try to counteract this. Manufacturers such as the toy brand IamElemental aims to break down the gendered distinctions between boys' toys and girls' toys, by creating female action figures.

“We always say that we are not anti-doll or anti-princess, but that if you give a girl a different toy, she will tell a different story," says Julie Kershaw, a member of the organisation. "As the mom of two boys, I always say that it’s just as important to put a strong healthy female action figure in a boy’s hand as it is a girl’s”.

Like the campaigners behind Let Toys Be Toys, IamElemental sees children’s toys as the starting point.

“We want kids – both girls and boys  – to internalise these messages early and often,” says Kershaw. “While there are certainly biological differences between girls and boys, gender-specific toys are not a biologically dictated truth. Toys are not “for girls” or “for boys”  – toys are for play; for exploration and creative expression.”

This attitude is ingrained in a child’s early years. Only through reconfiguring the gender sterotypes of the toys we buy for our children can we begin to break down their expectations of how to behave in age. We challenge you this Christmas to avoid these highly gendered products. Below are our three favourite Christmas presents for children this year, for girls AND boys, as approved by Let Toys Be Toys:

Mini Table Tennis (£7.99)


From: The Little Toy Box

Djeco Intro to Origami - Animals (£3.99)

From: Rachel's Toy Shop

Seedling Make Your Own Dino Softie! - Dino(sew)or Kit (£5)


From: Gifts For Little Ones