David Miliband is having a strong anti-Tory campaign

Join the dots, and a distinct, coherent attack emerges from the Foreign Secretary.

David Miliband, who has his own campaign blog, which I referred to last week, had an eye-catching line in his speech at Labour HQ dismantling the Tories' "big society" rhetoric yesterday, when he said:

The words may be John F Kennedy but the policies are pure George W Bush.

Yet Miliband is about much more than one-liners. In fact, if you join the dots, his latest speech was part of a series of powerful attacks on the Tory party that show the Foreign Secretary has been paying close attention to his Conservative opponents over recent months.

The New Labour moderniser has apparently come firmly to the view that the Conservatives have not, in fact, put in changes equivalent to the ones that began in his own party with Neil Kinnock's 1985 expulsion of Militant and continued under Tony Blair, who symbolically abolished Clause Four.

Yesterday, Miliband rallied the Labour faithful, saying:

The Tory head and the Tory heart are at odds. The head tells them that the world has changed, that they have been rejected at three elections because they were seen as the Nasty Party. The heart tells them something different: that government is always the problem not the solution, that Europe is a threat not an opportunity, that the environment is an add-on at best and a distraction at worst.

When you peel away the rhetoric of the Big Society, what do you find? The message is about self-service, not government at your service; on your bike, not by your side. They say they're empowering you. The truth is they are abandoning you. Why else would they block commitments to 1:1 tuition in schools, offer gambles not guarantees for those needing cancer treatment, retrenchment not reform when it comes to public services?

Their manifesto says they oppose big government but that they support the NHS, the biggest employer in the world; they can believe either but not both.

It's not the Big Society but the Big Gamble.

The major Tory attacks from Miliband began at last year's party conference, when he delighted activists by saying, among other things, that the party's positioning in Europe made him "sick".

And in February he gave a speech to the think tank Demos, about which I blogged at the time here and which you can read in full here, in which he said:

New Labour said the values never change but that the means need to be updated. The Tories want it the other way around. They say the values have changed, but, miraculously, the policies should stay the same

I recognise the Tory difficulty. We faced it after 1994. You need to reassure people you are not a risk; and you need to offer change. But while we promised evolution not revolution in the short term, like sticking to Tory spending limits, we offered a platform for radical change in the medium to long term, from the minimum wage to school investment.

Cameron's got himself facing the other way round. The heart insisted on radical change in the short term -- cuts in inheritance tax for the richest states, a marriage tax allowance, immediate cuts in public spending, bring back fox-hunting. But after that, the head gives the impression that it really doesn't know what to do, other than press pause on reform, offer a £1m internet prize for the best policy ideas, and then go off and play with the Wii.

They have managed the unique feat of being so determined to advertise pragmatism that they have completely obliterated any medium-term vision to their politics, while cleaving to short-term commitments that leave the impression they are ideological zealots. It's the precise opposite of the New Labour approach in the 1990s.

The result is that today's Conservatism looks more and more like a toxic cocktail of Tory traditions. The government on offer from David Cameron would be as meritocratic as Macmillan, as compassionate as Thatcher, and as decisive as Major.

There is a distinct theme here. The Foreign Secretary, who described Cameron's "camera on, camera off" approach to politics in front of millions on BBC1's Question Time last week, is emerging as a considerable force against a Conservative Party he well understands.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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It’s obvious why Thais can’t resist our English footballers. But they want our schools, too

The only explanation is . . . our footer must be great and exciting to watch.

At Bangkok airport, sitting in the Club lounge, as I am a toff, I spotted a copy of Thailand Tatler, a publication I did not know existed. Flicking through, I came across a whole page advert announcing that RUGBY SCHOOL IS COMING TO THAILAND.

In September, Rugby will open a prep and pre-prep department, and then, in 2018, full boarding for ages up to 17. How exciting – yet another English public school sets up a satellite in Thailand.

But I was confused. Just as I was confused all week by the Thai passion for our football.

How has it happened that English public schools and English football have become so popular in Thailand? There is no colonial or historical connection between the UK and Thailand. English is not the Thais’ first language, unlike in other parts of the world such as India and Hong Kong. Usually that explains the continuation of British traditions, culture and games long after independence.

When I go to foreign parts, I always take a large wodge of Beatles and football postcards. I find deprived persons all over the world are jolly grateful for these modern versions of shiny beads – and it saves tipping the hotel staff. No young Thai locals were interested in my Beatles bits, but boy, my footer rubbish had them frothing.

I took a stash of seven-year-old postcards of Andy Carroll in his Newcastle strip, part of a set given away free in Barclays banks when they sponsored the Premier League. I assumed no one in Thailand would know who the hell Andy Carroll was, but blow me, every hotel waiter and taxi driver recognised him, knew about his various clubs and endless injuries. And they all seemed to watch every Premiership game live.

I have long been cynical about the boasts that our Prem League is the most watched, the most popular in the world, with 200 countries taking our TV coverage every week. I was once in Turkey and went into the hotel lounge to watch the live footer. It was chocka with Turks watching a local game, shouting and screaming. When it finished, the lounge emptied: yet the next game was our FA Cup live. So I watched it on my own. Ever since, I’ve suspected that while Sky might sell rights everywhere, it doesn’t mean many other folk are watching.

But in Thailand I could see their passion, though most of them have no experience of England. So the only explanation is . . . our footer must be great and exciting to watch. Hurrah for us.

Explaining the passion for English public schools is a bit harder. At present in Thailand, there are about 14 boarding schools based on the English public-school system.

Rugby is only the latest arrival. Harrow has had a sister school there since 1998. So do Shrewsbury, Bromsgrove and Dulwich College (recently renamed British International School, Phuket).

But then I met Anthony Lark, the general manager of the beautiful resort where I was staying in the north of the island. He’s Australian, been out there for thirty years, married to a Thai. All three of his sons went to the Phuket school when it was still Dulwich International College.

His explanations for the popularity of all these British-style schools included the fact that Thailand is the gateway to Asia, easy to get to from India and China; that it’s relatively safe; economically prosperous, with lots of rich people; and, of course, it’s stunningly beautiful, with lovely weather.

There are 200,000 British expats in Thailand but they are in the minority in most of these British-style public schools – only about 20 per cent of the intake. Most pupils are the children of Thais, or from the surrounding nations.

Many of the teachers, though, are from English-speaking nations. Anthony estimated there must be about five thousand of them, so the schools must provide a lot of work. And presumably a lot of income. And, of course, pride.

Well, I found my little chest swelling at the thought that two of our oldest national institutions should be so awfully popular, so awfully far away from home . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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