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 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.
Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.