Ed Miliband’s anti-war credentials

The truth about his opposition to the Iraq misadventure.

As an outspoken opponent of the catastrophic and criminal invasion of Iraq, yet a supporter of Ed Miliband's candidacy for the Labour leadership, I am delighted to offer this snippet from my column in the latest issue of the New Statesman, which hits the news-stands tomorrow:

. . . the younger Miliband's honesty has also been called into question by his rivals -- especially over the issue of the Iraq invasion, which the shadow energy secretary has described as a "profound mistake" and claimed to have opposed in private. But his brother, David, has stated: "Diane Abbott is the only candidate that can say she was against the war at the time." Ed Balls, too, has said it is "ridiculous" for Ed Miliband to claim he was privately anti-war in 2003. "He says he didn't support the war but I'm not sure I believe him," says a well-connected Labour source, who has decided to back David over Ed.

However, a close friend and former colleague of Ed Miliband tells me that he has no doubt whatsoever that the shadow energy secretary opposed the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. "I know for a fact that he was against the war because it was he who persuaded me of the merits of the anti-war case," says the friend. "I remember flying out to Cambridge [Massachusetts], where he was on a sabbatical lecturing at Harvard, and he argued very strongly that the UN weapons inspectors should be given more time to finish their work."

I have learned that Miliband Jr rang Gordon Brown from the United States to persuade the then chancellor of the Exchequer to resist the drumbeat for war coming from inside No 10.

A former Downing Street aide says that Brown "took Ed's phone call very seriously but, ultimately, other views prevailed".

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.