David Miliband shows that he’s no Blairite

Labour leadership front-runner backs a series of left-wing policies in Guardian article.

David Miliband has a noteworthy piece in today's Guardian, arguing for a series of left-wing, progressive policies as an alternative to drastic spending cuts. It should lay to rest the misleading and unfair claim that Miliband is a "Blairite".

Here is a breakdown of the policies he advocates:

- Ending charitable status for private schools.

- Extending the bankers' bonus tax rather than raising VAT.

- Supporting the mansion tax on £2m houses.

- The introduction of a international transaction tax -- the so-called Robin Hood tax.

- Reducing the deficit through a 2:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises. The Tories propose a 4:1 split.

Diane Abbott's presence in the Labour leadership race has shifted the contest to the left and Miliband's piece must be interpreted as a response to that. He is keenly aware that in order to win and to unite the party he must win over many of the centre-left members who at present favour alternative candidates, not least his brother.

Then again, the description of Miliband as a "Blairite" has always been a lazy journalistic shorthand. Many know that he served as head of the No 10 Policy Unit during the Blair years, far fewer that he left because he was considered insufficiently reformist. In an interview with the NS editor, Jason Cowley, he memorably spoke of the "red thread" that should run through Labour policy.

It was also Miliband, as my colleague James Macintyre recalls this week, who led cabinet opposition to Israel's bombardment of Lebanon.

I doubt that Miliband's left-wing pitch will assuage figures such as Derek Simpson who, with typical eloquence, described Miliband as "thick" and a "Tory". But it may lead some members to think again. If he is to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Miliband must hope as much.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.