The Labour leadership contest catches fire

Miliband brothers clash on Iraq as real differences between the five emerge.

The Labour leadership contest kicked off in earnest tonight in the first hustings since nominations closed, with the five official candidates outlining opposing approaches to issues ranging from Iraq to immigration.

David and Ed Miliband, the two leading candidates, clashed repeatedly on the invasion of Iraq as real differences between the two brothers emerged for the first time ever.

Tensions rose after Ed Miliband said that he felt that at the time of the invasion in 2003, when he was not yet an MP, Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, should have been given "more time". His elder brother appeared to raise his eyebrows at this point, as he did when Ed Miliband implied there had been a lack of "values" in foreign policy under Labour.

David Miliband, who was foreign secretary from 2007 until the general election, admitted that "of course" he would not have voted for the war had he known there were no WMDs, and described George W Bush as "the worst thing that ever happened to Tony Blair", but put up a bold defence of the invasion. He also accused his brother and Ed Balls of "having it both ways" over Trident.

"We cannot fight fight this contest pandering on Iraq and Trident or we'll be like the Tories on Europe," one MP supporting David Miliband said afterwards.

In one of the most animated moments of the evening, Ed Miliband was pressed on why he was standing against his brother, but he didn't take the bait, saying that "David would make an excellent leader and prime minister".

David Miliband, for his part, repeated that if he thought Ed Miliband would make a better leader, he would be running Ed Miliband's campaign. The impression was left that Ed was a little more generous than David about the other.

The other moment that was truly heated came later when, after a long speech by Ed Balls, Ed Miliband said: "It's like being back in the Treasury." Everyone laughed, apart from Balls, who then hit back, saying: "Tell us the answer then, Ed, like you always do."

In the opening statements, Andy Burnham set the tone for his pitch by saying: "I can give people something the Tories can't -- a leader whose background is similar to people."

David Miliband said his key mission was to fight inequality. He said, notably, that "if I was your prime minister", that would be "at the heart" of his agenda.

Diane Abbott highlighted mistakes under Labour including the 10p income-tax threshold and the Iraq invasion.

Ed Miliband said: "It's time to move on from the era of Blair and Brown and I am the best candidate to do that." He said that Labour had become a party of "technocrats", including oversights in the area of -- for example -- civil liberties. He added that Labour will win because of its values, not in spite of them.

Ed Balls attacked his non-Labour opponents and declared that the fightback against the Tories and the Liberal Democrats starts here.

After the first question, from Nicola Ormerod -- on what distinct qualities the candidates offer -- David Miliband emphasised the need to be able to make big decisions with an "iron will". He added that he would consult, but then "make decisions and stick to them".

Ed Miliband said he wants to "inspire" as a leader of a "wider movement", and pointed out that power was not worth it for its own sake.

On the Budget deficit, there was agreement between the two Eds -- not always best of friends these days -- that David Cameron is staking everything on an ideological attack on the state.

Burnham, again playing the class card, said that "we have a cabinet of millionaires" doing the cuts. David Miliband said: "We were too timid about industrial policy after -- ironically -- Peter Mandelson left the DTI." He also said the Tories are wrong to claim that deficits are in themselves wrong, arguing that in some cases they are necessary.

Diane Abbott impressed the hall when she said that David Cameron's claim that the cuts would change our way of life "doesn't mean his way of life". She also called for the scrapping of Trident, to some applause.

At one point, after Ed Balls had attacked those who "dump on our record", Ed Miliband said that was not what was being done in an honest appraisal of what went wrong, "on Iraq or any other issue". Balls nodded.

In a combative moment, after Ed Miliband backed David Miliband's policy of electing a party chair, and discussed party accountability, Ed Balls turned to him and asked him if he would have done the manifesto differently. Ed Miliband said he would have, to an extent.

Andy Burnham said that he was brought into politics by "the theatre" of Neil Kinnock versus Derek Hatton. It sounded a tiny bit glib, and David Miliband shook his head.

Moving on to more specific issues, an audience member asked whether the candidates would be positive on immigration. Abbott kicked off the answers, saying that Labour must not "play the old tunes", making out that all problems are down to immigrants (including eastern European migrants, whom Ed Balls has made an issue in this campaign). She got a huge round of applause.

Burnham took a very different line, saying that immigration had been a big issue on the doorstep.

David Miliband agreed that "immigration was an issue" in the election, but said it must be approached as a "fairness" issue, not a "racial" one. He also said that the Brown slogan of "British jobs for British workers" had produced the lesson that you should not have a "Dutch auction" on immigration, or Europe.

He then used what, for this campaign, was an unusually positive tactic, saying that to play in to such rhetoric is wrong and that if this was what party members want, "don't vote for me".

It echoed a speech by Tony Blair in which the then prime minister said of William Hague: "Asylum: we've got a problem, but ask me to exploit it in terms of race? Then vote for the other man -- I won't do it."

Ed Miliband, too, struck a positive note, challenging the idea that the free movement of labour in Europe could be restricted -- an idea floated in Ed Balls's recent Observer article.

Depressingly for some electoral reformers, none of the candidates backed proportional representation, while Burnham surprised some by saying that whether or not he supported AV would depend on narrow party interest.

Overall, all the candidates performed well. Abbott showed she was worthy of appearing on the ballot paper. Burnham had humour. Ed Balls was as combative as ever. Ed Miliband appeared the most passionate. And David Miliband the most credible.

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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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