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13 July 2010

Ed Miliband says he shared an office with “the forces of hell”

Contender was joking at a banter-filled press lunch. But he was also making a serious point.

By James Macintyre

Ed Miliband has just emerged from a lunch talk in front of dozens of journalists in the (for a politician) not unintimidating surroundings of the Press Gallery restaurant in the House of Commons.

He appeared to impress most of those present with a speech laced with jokes in the first half. One of the most notable of these was when he said that he hadn’t needed to brief journalists when he was working for Gordon Brown because he “shared an office with the forces of hell”, a reference to Alistair Darling’s comments about the hardcore Brownites who briefed against him in recent years.

More seriously, Miliband made the point that while he was “bound by collective responsibility” and “loyalty” while in government, the features of the leadership election which he is most enjoying now are that he is free to speak his mind, and that he was willing to “see where the chips fall” at the end of the contest.

He refused to criticise Peter Mandelson, whose book is being serialised by the Times. But the younger Miliband brother criticised New Labour for becoming “establishment”, referring to “the tragedy” that was the 2003 Iraq invasion, “which we defended rather than acknowledged”, as an example of this.

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On other areas, Miliband:

  • Argued that Labour failed to acknowledge the consequences of the banking crisis and reverted too quickly to “old orthodoxies” and “business as usual”.

     

  • Emphasised that he was “fighting to win” the next election, as well as the Labour leadership contest, but said there is no point in defining what the party is by attacking its values. “We have to define ourselves not in opposition to our party, but in relation to the country,” he said.

     

  • Insisted that there is nothing uniquely “left-wing” about decrying the “excesses of the banks”.

     

  • Said he had come to the conclusion that Nick Clegg had signed up to the Tories’ cuts programme not out of “expediency”, but because he “really believes” in them; Clegg is “an economic liberal and a social liberal”. He envisaged “another strange death of liberal England” in the coming years, said the Liberal Democrat party was “losing its identity”, and said he expected the government not to last the full five-year term. He said he would support moves the government made that he believes are right — such as scrapping ID cards and Kenneth Clarke’s approach to police — but would not attack the government “from the right”, because that was not what his politics were about.

     

  • Asked what lessons he and his brother could draw from Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, Miliband said that the first thing was that it was better for both to run (and that it would have been better if Brown had entered the race in 1994), and the second was that “the minute” the contest is over the party must “unite” and move on. “The minute the election is over, the past is another country,” he said.

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