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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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change