The Miliband brothers: a rare joint interview

Snippets from the Jewish press on Israel, being rivals, and family.

David and Ed Miliband have given an interesting joint interview to the Jewish press that features on the totallyjewish.com website. Here are a few highlights:

Ed Miliband confirms he knew David would stand as leader:

Ed, did you consider not standing after David threw his hat into the ring?

EM: No. I knew he would stand when the time came and I had plenty of time to weigh up all the issues and come to the decision that I should stand in order that Labour Party members could have the widest possible choice.

Both brothers comment on standing against one another, with David admitting it is "unusual".

DM: It is certainly an unusual situation. I love and respect Ed as a brother and politics needs to take second place to that. I want this election to be a battle of ideas. I want it to be open, honest and a credit to our party.

EM: It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I love David and nothing that happens in this election will shake that love. Both of us will make sure of that.

Ed gives a more critical general answer than David when asked about Israel:

Would you speak up for Israel and on issues of concern to the British Jewish community if you became Labour leader?

DM: A stable Middle East has a secure Israel at its heart; this is non-negotiable. My trips to Israel show a deep yearning for peace. I think the vision of Israel living side by side with a Palestinian state is not only just but necessary. I have spent a good deal of time over the past three years as foreign secretary making the case for peace and building strong relations with the UK's Jewish communities. In fact, I have done that during this campaign and it will of course continue.

EM: I will always stand up for Israel's right to live in peace and security, and work towards a settlement in the Middle East in which a stable Palestinian state can coexist next to an Israel that is secure in its borders. And I will always be open to issues that concern the British Jewish community, whether they concern issues of the treatment of Jews in Britain or issues to do with relations with Israel. I intend to lead a Labour Party that remains a true friend to Israel. But friendship is both about supporting your friend when they are treated unfairly or victimised, and speaking honestly when you feel they aren't making the right decisions.

But then, conversely, David is slightly firmer on the Gaza flotilla and blockade:

What is your view of Israel's interception of the Gaza flotilla?

DM: I am afraid it was self-defeating. In fact, I have spoken to many in the Jewish community and in Israel who feel the same way. It isolates Israel and strengthens its enemies. I welcome the announcement by the Israeli government to move from a list of permitted goods to a smaller list of banned goods. But the approach to Gaza is not delivering.

EM: I support Israel's right to act in self-defence of its borders, but think Israel's interception of the flotilla was not the right thing to do. It led to deaths and injuries that I believe were avoidable. I support the United Nations Security Council's expression of concern about Israel's action as well as its call for an international investigation. Israel faces a security threat that cannot be met without international support. This incident has clearly made it harder for Israel to win this support around the world.

On the perceived rivalry between them, David emphasises the closeness of their family while Ed points out the age difference.

DM: No. We are a very close-knit family.
EM: With four years separating us, we were never quite in the same age group growing up. That distance meant we weren't in a position to compete with each other.

PS: There is an interesting new line in the Times (paywall) feature on the brothers today, in which it is revealed that Gordon Brown always expected Ed Miliband to "stand against David", saying "Watch him" as early as 2007.

The question that raises is: did Brown encourage him to run in those agonised days following the election this year?

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Leader: Trump's dangerous nation

From North Korea to Virginia, the US increasingly resembles a rogue state.

When Donald Trump was elected as US president, some optimistically suggested that the White House would have a civilising effect on the erratic tycoon. Under the influence of his more experienced colleagues, they argued, he would gradually absorb the norms of international diplomacy.

After seven months, these hopes have been exposed as delusional. On 8 August, he responded to North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities by threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. Three days later, he casually floated possible military action against Venezuela. Finally, on 12 August, he responded to a white supremacist rally in Virginia by condemning violence on “many sides” (only criticising the far right specifically after two days of outrage).

Even by Mr Trump’s low standards, it was an embarrassing week. Rather than normalising the president, elected office has merely inflated his self-regard. The consequences for the US and the world could be momentous.

North Korea’s reported acquisition of a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile (and potentially reach the US) demanded a serious response. Mr Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric was not it. His off-the-cuff remarks implied that the US could launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, leading various officials to “clarify” the US position. Kim Jong-un’s regime is rational enough to avoid a pre-emptive strike that would invite a devastating retaliation. However, there remains a risk that it misreads Mr Trump’s intentions and rushes to action.

Although the US should uphold the principle of nuclear deterrence, it must also, in good faith, pursue a diplomatic solution. The week before Mr Trump’s remarks, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, rightly ruled out “regime change” and held out the possibility of “a dialogue”.

The North Korean regime is typically depicted as crazed, but its pursuit of nuclear weapons rests on rational foundations. The project is designed to guarantee its survival and to strengthen its bargaining hand. As such, it must be given incentives to pursue a different path.

Mr Trump’s bellicose language overshadowed the successful agreement of new UN sanctions against North Korea (targeting a third of its $3bn exports). Should these prove insufficient, the US should resume the six-party talks of the mid-2000s and even consider direct negotiations.

A failure of diplomacy could be fatal. In his recent book Destined for War, the Harvard historian Graham Allison warns that the US and China could fall prey to “Thucydides’s trap”. According to this rule, dating from the clash between Athens and Sparta, war typically results when a dominant power is challenged by an ascendent rival. North Korea, Mr Bew writes, could provide the spark for a new “great power conflict” between the US and China.

Nuclear standoffs require immense patience, resourcefulness and tact – all qualities in which Mr Trump is lacking. Though the thought likely never passed his mind, his threats to North Korea and Venezuela provide those countries with a new justification for internal repression.

Under Mr Trump’s leadership, the US is becoming an ever more fraught, polarised nation. It was no accident that the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer, took place under his presidency. Mr Trump’s victory empowered every racist, misogynist and bigot in the land. It was doubtless this intimate connection that prevented him from immediately condemning the white supremacists. To denounce them is, in effect, to denounce himself.

The US hardly has an unblemished history. It has been guilty of reckless, immoral interventions in Vietnam, Latin America and Iraq. But never has it been led by a man so heedless of international and domestic norms. Those Republicans who enabled Mr Trump’s rise and preserve him in office must do so no longer. There is a heightened responsibility, too, on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, the president. The Brexiteers have allowed dreams of a future US-UK trade deal to impair their morality.

Under Mr Trump, the US increasingly resembles a breed it once denounced: a rogue state. His former rival Hillary Clinton’s past warning that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” now appears alarmingly prescient.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear