Why I am backing David Miliband

He has the vision to change Labour and make us win again.

After 13 years in government we needed a proper post-mortem on why we lost, what went wrong and where we go from here. I nominated Diane Abbott because I wanted that debate to have as many voices as possible. Three months on, we have reached decision time. The question is which of the candidates can forge a credible and inspiring new project for the left.

For me, that question has been answered emphatically. It is David Miliband. He offers change in our party, understanding that Labour must become a movement again. Barack Obama was the first to grasp this in the Democratic Party, mobilising his volunteer force to help victims of the Midwest floods during his own campaign. David gets this, too. Already he has trained 1,000 community organisers as part of his campaign. In time, they will help communities speak with one voice about the things that matter to them.

Political parties can no longer be reduced to tools of mass communication; they must become forces for good in people's everyday lives. This is one step towards revitalising our party. Rediscovering our faith in party democracy is another. Significantly, David has proposed a democratically elected party chair. Members will have their own representative, speaking for them in the media and around the shadow cabinet. David offers a vision of people enjoying politics again, feeling proud to be in the Labour Party.

Alongside a change in party organisation, David offers the hope of a genuinely new political project. This means more than a shopping list of promises to different interest groups. Such a politics can appeal, but never stands the test of time. Instead, David promises a new direction. It was set out brilliantly in his Keir Hardie Lecture last month when he said that "New Labour was too hands-on with the state and too hands-off with the market".

The citizenship thing

Often when we were too hands-on with the state it meant that civil liberties were eroded. And the problem went deeper still. The state can come between people when piles of paperwork stop people volunteering, deny children the chance to go on school trips, or prevent mothers from looking after one another's children. When we try to run society from Whitehall, we show too little trust and respect for people as human beings in their own right. We end up replacing, rather than reinforcing a sense of community.

That we were too hands-off with the market is more than a comment on the credit crunch. It is to argue that the kind of economy we have and the type of society we live in cannot be separated. That was true when children were exploited in the factories of the Industrial Revolution and society chose to set limits on how people made money. It was true when women went to work during the war and rewrote their place in British life. It was true when the Tories wrote off millions of people during the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s.

The same is true today in a country where executives have the power to award themselves outrageous bonuses, where loan sharks exploit other people's poverty, where companies target advertising at children, where parents are made strangers from their children by the longest working hours in Europe, and where clone high streets are draining local identity. David offers change because he understands that a new economic model doesn't just mean more regulation of the banks, it means a market economy built on the values of mutuality, reciprocity and local decision-making. He gets that people should be able to make decisions together as citizens, not just be treated as consumers.

For this vision alone, I would support David. But there is one more vital thing that he will change: our habit of retreating in a comfort zone in opposition -- and staying there while the Tories do great damage to our country's social fabric. The people who depend on us cannot afford us to do this again. They need us to hold the government to account and to provide a credible and exciting alternative. In David Miliband we have one. I, for one, will be voting for him.

David Lammy is Labour MP for Tottenham

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It’s obvious why Thais can’t resist our English footballers. But they want our schools, too

The only explanation is . . . our footer must be great and exciting to watch.

At Bangkok airport, sitting in the Club lounge, as I am a toff, I spotted a copy of Thailand Tatler, a publication I did not know existed. Flicking through, I came across a whole page advert announcing that RUGBY SCHOOL IS COMING TO THAILAND.

In September, Rugby will open a prep and pre-prep department, and then, in 2018, full boarding for ages up to 17. How exciting – yet another English public school sets up a satellite in Thailand.

But I was confused. Just as I was confused all week by the Thai passion for our football.

How has it happened that English public schools and English football have become so popular in Thailand? There is no colonial or historical connection between the UK and Thailand. English is not the Thais’ first language, unlike in other parts of the world such as India and Hong Kong. Usually that explains the continuation of British traditions, culture and games long after independence.

When I go to foreign parts, I always take a large wodge of Beatles and football postcards. I find deprived persons all over the world are jolly grateful for these modern versions of shiny beads – and it saves tipping the hotel staff. No young Thai locals were interested in my Beatles bits, but boy, my footer rubbish had them frothing.

I took a stash of seven-year-old postcards of Andy Carroll in his Newcastle strip, part of a set given away free in Barclays banks when they sponsored the Premier League. I assumed no one in Thailand would know who the hell Andy Carroll was, but blow me, every hotel waiter and taxi driver recognised him, knew about his various clubs and endless injuries. And they all seemed to watch every Premiership game live.

I have long been cynical about the boasts that our Prem League is the most watched, the most popular in the world, with 200 countries taking our TV coverage every week. I was once in Turkey and went into the hotel lounge to watch the live footer. It was chocka with Turks watching a local game, shouting and screaming. When it finished, the lounge emptied: yet the next game was our FA Cup live. So I watched it on my own. Ever since, I’ve suspected that while Sky might sell rights everywhere, it doesn’t mean many other folk are watching.

But in Thailand I could see their passion, though most of them have no experience of England. So the only explanation is . . . our footer must be great and exciting to watch. Hurrah for us.

Explaining the passion for English public schools is a bit harder. At present in Thailand, there are about 14 boarding schools based on the English public-school system.

Rugby is only the latest arrival. Harrow has had a sister school there since 1998. So do Shrewsbury, Bromsgrove and Dulwich College (recently renamed British International School, Phuket).

But then I met Anthony Lark, the general manager of the beautiful resort where I was staying in the north of the island. He’s Australian, been out there for thirty years, married to a Thai. All three of his sons went to the Phuket school when it was still Dulwich International College.

His explanations for the popularity of all these British-style schools included the fact that Thailand is the gateway to Asia, easy to get to from India and China; that it’s relatively safe; economically prosperous, with lots of rich people; and, of course, it’s stunningly beautiful, with lovely weather.

There are 200,000 British expats in Thailand but they are in the minority in most of these British-style public schools – only about 20 per cent of the intake. Most pupils are the children of Thais, or from the surrounding nations.

Many of the teachers, though, are from English-speaking nations. Anthony estimated there must be about five thousand of them, so the schools must provide a lot of work. And presumably a lot of income. And, of course, pride.

Well, I found my little chest swelling at the thought that two of our oldest national institutions should be so awfully popular, so awfully far away from home . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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