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11 June 2011

David Miliband: the speech that never was

What the elder Miliband would have said if he'd been elected leader.

By Jonathan Derbyshire

The Guardian has got its hands on a draft of the speech David Miliband would have given at the 2010 Labour conference had he, and not his younger brother Ed, won the party leadership in September. Patrick Wintour and Allegra Stratton’s report carries the following standfirst: “Draft of speech shows divisions with Ed Miliband on deficit reduction and support for Office of Budgetary Responsibility.” But that seems to me overstate things rather. Indeed, I agree with a leading expert in “comparative Milibandism” who argues that “differences between the brothers have often been exaggerated”.

For a start, there are decided rhetorical similarities between the speech David Miliband would have given and the one his brother actually gave. And some of these similarties reflect the fact that Maurice Glasman, now the Labour leader’s principal intellectual consigliere, gave advice to both brothers during the leadership campaign last summer. For instance, it’s easy to discern Glasman’s hand in the early paragraphs – in David Miliband’s appeal to a “moral economy and a good society” and “the common life we forge together”. Those communitarian cadences made it into Ed’s victory speech, too, and they’re echt Glasman.

Of course, Kremlinologists may want to parse as an attack on the “Brownites” David Miliband’s assertion that “When you know what you are for and why you are needed, the electorate calls on you”, but that “in [the] 2010 [election], we defined neither the question nor the answer, neither what we are for nor why we were needed”. But it’s clear he thinks the responsibility for that failure was collective. And it’s hardly controversial to suggest that Labour failed to offer a coherent account of what went wrong in autum 2008 nor indeed to defend properly the conduct of Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling in the aftermath of the near-collapse of the global financial markets. (The problem was that the Tories had a story to tell about fiscal rather than financial crisis – a misleading story, needless to say, but one they’d been telling consistently and remorselessly in the 18 months leading uo to the general election.)

Indeed, it’s on the question of the deficit – and the Tories’ story – that, according to the Guardian, David Miliband seems to come closest to breaking with the strategy subsequently pursued by his brother and the shadow chancellor Ed Balls:

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George Osborne says we are in denial about the deficit. Because he wants us to be. So let’s not be.

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It is a test.

I profoundly believe the Tories are wrong in their economic judgment. As they push up unemployment and push down confidence, the pain will be severe and real …

The issue is not Labour’s policy; it is the Tory policy of adding to Labour’s plans [£666] of spending cuts and tax increases for every man, woman and child in the country.

Don’t try to blame us Mr Osborne. We had a clear plan for reducing the deficit. You chose to go a lot further, a lot faster. Your choice. Your cuts.

It is not us in denial Mr Osborne.

It is you in denial – about jobs, about growth, about the lives and livelihoods that depend on a growing economy.

You are in denial because no country can cut its deficit unless it grows its economy. You prattle on about Canada in the 1990s. But Canada has a 3,000 mile border with the US which at the time was going through the Clinton boom.

You have taken the biggest economic gamble in a generation….with other people’s lives.

But Sunder Katwala is surely right to argue that there’s nothing here to suggest that David Miliband would have taken a different course on deficit reduction to that subsequently adopted by his brother and Ed Balls. And Katwala is right, too, to point to a passage in which Miliband reminds us how the bulk of the deficit was accumulated in the first place:

[I]t was not immoral to incur the vast bulk of the deficit to prevent recession turning into Depression; it was necessary; to protect your savings and rescue the economy. And when the history books are written people will admit Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling did lead the world.