First off, if you have a vote in the Labour leadership election, you have two days left to cast it (one day if you are a trade union member or member of an affiliated socialist society) and you should vote for whoever you want. I’ve spoken to a range of people over the past few months who are voting for all the other candidates and I respect their choices.
I don’t think I’ve spoken to anyone who hasn’t thought deeply about who to support. I’ve sometimes been saddened to hear of others who have behaved in an uncomradely way towards people who are backing other candidates. This is not a playground game, this is a Labour Party election.
Whoever wins will seek to lead a party unified against the parties we oppose. Whoever wins deserves support across the party to achieve that and win the next election. So let’s have less of the ‘my candidate’s better than yours and you are insane to think otherwise’ and more of the ‘Labour united will be better for the country than the Con-Dem coalition’.
Anyway, in no particular order, my reasons for supporting David Miliband are:
1. Having worked at No 10 at the same time as David (1997-2001, ie the first term) I have observed him close up. I got to know him and I trust him to make the right decisions. He is a team player, a consulter and a gifted political thinker.
2. After any election defeat, there is always a tendency for any party to retreat to a comfort zone, a place to lick wounds. That’s natural, but it’s not going to win elections. The Tories did that after 1997, veering to the right and making themselves unelectable for well over a decade. We live in a centrist country – the votes that win an election are found in the centre ground of politics. David is a politician of the centre left, a progressive. Labour needs to steer to the centre, not away from it. If we don’t win elections, we can’t help the people who need us most.
3. Our most successful Labour prime ministers have pushed reform with vision and vigour. David has the vision and vigour to push reform from the centre ground and is solidly in tune with the aspirations of voters – think, as one example, of the fantastic facilities for learning that have happened as a result of Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, a David Miliband brainchild.
4. He has extensive experience in government – both as a senior adviser and as a senior Cabinet minister. He has operated with confidence as a senior figure. Sometimes departments of state are stricken with inertia when problems arise – David has not been afraid to be challenging for the right reasons – think of the stance he took as Foreign Secretary against Israel, traditionally immune to diplomatic criticism, over the forging of British passports for the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh of Hamas.
5. He’s an expert on creating policy that works, appeals and delivers. Look closely at much of Labour’s most progressive legislation from 1997 onwards and you can find the initials DM carved in its architecture.
6. He is rooted in real life – very human, funny without being unkind, awesomely bright without condescension. He’s open, engaging, honest and optimistic. I believe he will bring those qualities to leadership, listening to party members and making decisions based on that listening. Crucially, he can communicate his qualities to the electorate.
7. He’s Labour through and through, and will take apart the Tories for the charlatans they are. He can also attract Lib Dem voters to vote Labour.
8. He’s serious and credible as a future prime minister. He has walked the world stage and earned the respect of international politicians. He understands, with his Movement for Change, that politics has to be restored as a cause for good if Labour activists are community activists.
9. He appeals. In this leadership election, where only Labour supporters can vote, the easy thing would be to appeal to Labour hearts, not minds. Polls of the wider electorate show David can appeal far more widely to the hearts and minds of voters, Labour and otherwise.
10. He’s utterly passionate about Labour politics, keenly aware of Labour’s history and the values that have been handed down to us over the years. But he’s aware too that it’s not the laurels we rest on that win elections, it’s the challenge we make to the electorate to show we can win in the future that really counts.
And finally, here is a quick movie I made when David came to meet South London members.