Exclusive: David Miliband denounces "Reassurance Labour"

Former Foreign Secretary warns that the "Big State" is a "political dead end" for Labour.

Among the highlights in this week's New Statesman (out tomorrow) is David Miliband's most significant political intervention since the Labour leadership contest. In an exclusive essay written in response to a recent piece by Roy Hattersley ("In praise of social democracy"), a strong and vocal supporter of his brother, Miliband denounces a faction that he calls"Reassurance Labour".

Of the brand of social democracy espoused by Hattersley and others, he writes:

For some, this will be seductive. It is what I shall call Reassurance Labour. Reassurance about our purpose, our relevance, our position, even our morals. Reassurance Labour feels good. But feeling good is not the same as doing good - and it gets in the way when it stops us rethinking our ideas to meet the challenges of the time. And now is a time for restless rethinking, not reassurance.

We've heard from the elder Miliband on several issues since his defeat - the crisis of the European centre-left, the rise of the British far-right, the government's NHS reforms - but this is the first time that he's directly addressed the future of the Labour Party.

He attacks "Reassurance Labour's" preference for the central state, warning that "the weaknesses of the "big society" should not blind us to the policy and political dead end of the "Big State". The public won't vote for the prescription that central government is the cure for all ills for the good reason that it isn't."

Miliband also argues that Labour needs to do much more to defend its record in government:

One of the jewels in the crown of Labour's time in office was the rescue of the National Health Service. As the Commonwealth Fund, the London School of Economics and the Nuffield Foundation have all shown, health reforms as well as additional investment were essential to improved outcomes, especially for poorer patients. Where reform was missing, in Scotland and Wales, the improvement was far slower.

Research by the Financial Times shows a similar picture in schooling, where the gap between best and worst schools, which correlates with a wealth gap, was narrowed in the context of rising performance by schools in general.

Our attacks on the Tories will not work if we are not clear about what we did. We should say loud and clear where we made mistakes, but we should also insist that the list of gains far outstripped the mistakes. After all, even David Cameron said on coming to office that Britain was better in 2010 than 1997.

He ends with an unambiguous warning to his party:

The problem with the definition of social democratic politics by the Reassurance Labour tendency is not just that it reduces our chances of election, but rather that its vision is too narrow, its mechanisms too one-dimensional, and its effectiveness too limited. The debate is not whether one side is unprincipled; instead, it is who is right.

To read the full version of David Miliband's essay, pick up a copy of tomorrow's New Statesman, available in all good newsagents.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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