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17 May 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:19am

Interpreting David Miliband’s official launch speech

Former foreign secretary pitches as candidate who can win -- and lays down a challenge over negative

By James Macintyre

I’ve had my head in a feature about the abortive Labour-Liberal talks, and only just caught up with the latest Labour leadership news.

Following David Lammy’s thoughtful contribution, which includes a call for the public to be brought into the process, and a piece by Ed Balls, who is surely about to enter the race, David Miliband has formally launched his campaign with a fresh and lengthy speech.

The main focus was on his own roots, values and policy positioning. Miliband indicates he is trying to implement his father Ralph’s legacy with practical politics.

I am part of a modern generation. Idealistic, not dogmatic. But traditional in this regard: I believe above all else in the power of progressive ideas to make the world a better place. My parents came to this country having fled persecution. They saw the power of ideas to cause suffering on a monumental scale. But their response was not to close down debate. They championed new thinking. I listened and tried to learn. And I have spent my adult life trying to turn ideas into practical policies that improve lives.

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And he gives an unprecedentedly blunt assessment of why Labour lost:

The essential problem was simple. In a change election we were perceived to be defending the old order. Future is the most important word in politics; but we looked out of time.

Understand this, and we can rebuild. Be brutally honest about it: for too many people, we were not the people’s party that was created 100 years ago, but the politicians’ party. We were perceived by too many voters, our people, as out of touch.

So why did it happen? Because our challenge after three terms in government was renewal. We all agreed on that.

Renewal in policy, renewal in culture, renewal in organisation. But we did not manage to make it real. We needed a renaissance of progressive thinking; people thought we had tried to reboot New Labour.

* On policy, we were neither proud enough of our record, humble enough about our mistakes, clear enough about our offer. We saved the NHS but it was not an issue at the election. We lost focus on education and antisocial behaviour. We were playing catch-up on political reform, immigration and housing. We had many policies which made sense, but they did not convince the electorate we had a coherent vision for the future of the country.

* Let’s be honest about culture, too, and organisation, too. We did not symbolise today’s requirement for openness, participation and dialogue. We talked about new politics, late in the day, admittedly, but we did not escape the image of politics as a game not a calling. We drew on our deepest strengths come the election. But an electoral machine is only replenished when it is a genuine social and political movement in the community, able to effect change. That is what many of our MPs have taught us. That is what the whole party needs to be geared to achieve.

The result is that our conversation with the public broke down. We need to restart it with our most precious asset: our idealism for a better future.

Idealism is the lifeblood of our party. Not that we think we will build heaven on earth; but that we should try. And that when we create the NHS or legislate for a minimum wage or deliver free nursery education or triple overseas aid we live out our commitments to the brotherhood of man.

The beating heart of progressive values in Britain has not been stilled. In fact, the other two main parties spent most of the election trying to steal them from us. What we lost was the sense that the Labour Party could be the vehicle for the implementation of those values.

Miliband concludes:

The task before the party is simple to state and hard to achieve. To select a leader who can fire the imagination, unite different talents and be a credible candidate for prime minister. Above all else to win the battle of ideas. I have the beliefs not just to win an election, but to lead change in the country. That is the basis on which I am launching my candidacy today.

But Westminster insiders will be most intrigued by what he says about how the campaign is conducted:

The country will not be looking at us carefully in the next few months, but they will notice us; they will be quietly judging our character; they will not follow the details of what we say but they will notice how we behave.

So this campaign needs to be a credit to the party. I propose to run my campaign in the following ways, to bring credit to the party:

* there will be no negative briefing about other candidates; it’s not my way and I won’t be starting now;

* we will tackle unattributable briefing through my named spokeswoman Lisa Tremble.

This will be interpreted as a challenge to other candidates to follow suit. To be fair to David’s brother, Ed, he has banned his own team from engaging with the leadership issue, and shares a hatred of negative briefings. Over to the others.

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