Ed Miliband addresses Scottish Labour conference. (Image: Getty)
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Ed Miliband confirms he will attend the leaders' debates

Ed Miliband has given David Cameron both barrels as he aims to keep the pressure on the Prime Minister.

Ed Miliband has confirmed he will attend the televised debates. In his speech to the Scottish Labour party, Miliband poured scorn on David Cameron's attempts to get out of the debates:

“This is what David Cameron used to say about TV election debates:

That they were essential to our democracy.

That every country apart from Mongolia had them.

That he wasn’t going to have any feeble excuses to get out of debates.

And now he is doing everything he can to stop them.

And it is on the issue of leadership debates that David Cameron’s duplicity has caught up with him.

He says this election is all about leadership, all about the choice between him and me, and when it comes to a debate between him and me, he’s running scared.

He’s running away.

I say to David Cameron:

You can refuse to face the public, but you can’t deny your record.

You can try to chicken out of the debates, but don’t ever again claim that you provide strong leadership,

You can try to escape the people’s debates, but you can’t escape the people’s verdict.

Today the Labour Party has written to the broadcasters.

Saying with or without David Cameron, I will be at the debates.

And every day up to these debates he will be asked: what are you hiding from?

When all people will see is an empty chair, his claims of leadership will be exposed as empty.”

As I blogged yesterday, Labour's tails are up and they feel that the debates row will strengthen Miliband whatever the outcome. But Nick Clegg is likely to be rebuffed in his attempts to replace David Cameron in the head-to-head. As a senior Labour source told me yesterday: "That debate is between the people who have a chance of becoming Prime Minister at the next election."

Letter from Douglas Alexander, Chair of General Election Strategy, to Sue Inglish, chair of the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group:

 

Dear Sue,

 

We have followed with interest your exchange of letters over the last 48 hours with the Conservative Party, and in particular your reiteration that it is the intention of the broadcasters to stage Leaders Election Debates live on television on the 2nd, 16th and 30th April.

 

We believe these debates represent a huge opportunity to engage millions of voters in the election campaign and they are a rare opportunity for the public to see the leaders of the main political engaging directly on the big issues facing Britain.

 

I am therefore today writing on behalf of the Labour party to confirm that Ed Miliband will take up your offer to participate in all three of the proposed debates.

Like you, we hope that David Cameron and the Conservative party will take this opportunity to conclude that these debates are in the public interest and that not showing up will not just be damaging to the Conservative party but to our democracy as well.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics. 

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Leader: Europe and the long shadow of war

Amid the rancour, it is easy to forget what drove European integration in the first place: the two great wars in the first half of the 20th century.

Amid all the claims and counterclaims about David Cameron’s so-called renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the European Union, it is often forgotten, or conveniently ignored, just how successful the European project has been in helping to create and maintain the post-Second World War peace order.

We support continued British membership of the EU but are sceptical of the imperial ambitions of the European elites. We opposed British membership of the single currency, a decision that the eurozone crisis has vindicated. It is obvious that the Schengen Agreement is unravelling and in all likelihood is unsustainable, as embattled nation states reimpose emergency border controls and the continent grapples with its worst refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. Like the British government, we are opposed to further political and economic integration and to the creation of a federal or quasi-federal superstate.

However, at a time of profound instability in the world, we accept that it would be foolish for the United Kingdom to retreat from our various multilateral peace alliances – whether that be membership of the EU or, indeed, Nato (as some on the left would wish) – all of which involve some kind of surrender of sovereignty.

Amid the rancour, it is easy to forget what drove European integration in the first place. The two great wars in the first half of the 20th century racked the continent, with neighbouring armies slaughtering each other on a scale that still defies comprehension. As Alistair Horne writes on page 22, “the most atrocious battle in history” began a century ago next week in Verdun, France, on the Western Front. The German army hoped to lure the enemy into a trap and then “bleed the French army white” using its superior firepower. Yet the rivers of blood flowed both ways: in ten months, over 25 square miles, pounded by heavy artillery and poisoned with gas, 300,000 French and German soldiers died.

The lessons of the battle were not quickly learned – the carnage of the Second World War was still to come – yet ultimately they were. In 1963, France’s Charles de Gaulle, who was wounded at Verdun, signed a treaty with the then German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, binding two countries that had engaged for centuries in tit-for-tat wars in an enduring nexus of co-operation. The aim, as David Reynolds notes in his article on page 28, was “to free the next generation from the vice of nationalism”.

Two decades later, President François Mitterrand, who fought near Verdun in 1940, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose father served there in 1916, attended a commemoration ceremony at one of the battle sites. In what became an iconic image of reconciliation at the heart of Europe, Mitterrand impulsively gripped Kohl’s hand during their national anthems. The two men were later the architects of the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union under its current name.

These are troubling times for Europe. Confidence and optimism are low. The wars in the Middle East and the rise of Islamic State, Russian revanchism and financial and economic turbulence have dented the morale of even the most committed liberal Europhiles. In addition, the EU seems unable or unwilling to control or police its borders, just as it has been unable to bring an end to the crisis in the eurozone. Nor is it any closer to forging a common foreign policy, let alone forming a common European army that might be necessary in future years to patrol the outer edges of the continent.

“Unless the EU can find solutions to the problems Europe is facing that are acceptable to its members . . . the Union will be on a glide path to collapse,” wrote the historians Brendan Simms and Timothy Less in a recent issue of the New Statesman. And yet, for all its flaws and present difficulties, the EU remains a force for stability in the world. It embodies the liberal, rules-based order without which barbarism and war are never far away, as the centenary of the Battle of Verdun so poignantly reminds us. 

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle