It Must Be Gordon, Gordon, Gordon: Interview as Labour MPs Try to Prise Tony Blair out of Downing Street, David Miliband Says Only Gordon Brown Can Re-Energise Labour. John Kampfner and Martin Bright Discuss the Succession Drama with the Cabinet's Rising Star

By Brown, Gordon | New Statesman (1996), September 11, 2006 | Go to article overview

It Must Be Gordon, Gordon, Gordon: Interview as Labour MPs Try to Prise Tony Blair out of Downing Street, David Miliband Says Only Gordon Brown Can Re-Energise Labour. John Kampfner and Martin Bright Discuss the Succession Drama with the Cabinet's Rising Star


Brown, Gordon, New Statesman (1996)


One issue has defined Tony Blair's legacy, perhaps destroyed it: foreign policy, or rather Iraq, the Middle East crisis and the Prime Minister's uncritical support for George W Bush. Over the summer, as Israeli forces swept north across the border into Lebanon, even the most loyal ministers could not take it any more. One of them was David Miliband, a former policy chief at Downing Street and everyone's next-leader-but-one.

Miliband, who had just been promoted to Environment Secretary, was reported as telling a cabinet meeting at the end of July: "Where is this all going to end?"

Until this past week, Miliband has refused to elaborate, for fear of undermining further a leader who has treated him well. But this has not been one of those ordinary weeks in politics. Many MPs saw Blair's refusal to call for a ceasefire in Lebanon in the first weeks of the conflict as the last straw. So how did Miliband feel about it?

"I don't think anyone was relaxed about the situation," he says. He does not deny making the remarks to cabinet. "I felt very worried because, put it this way, I don't think that Israel is safer and stronger now than it was two months ago. I don't think the prospects of a secure and just two -state settlement in the Middle East are closer than they were two months ago."

Miliband's approach to international affairs is based on a different understanding of Britain's role from that of his older cabinet colleagues. His group of politicians--the thirty--and fortysomethings--sees no need to prove his party's credentials towards America or anywhere else. Ronald Reagan's refusal to meet Neil Kinnock in 1987, in protest at Labour's anti-nuclear position, is, to Miliband, ancient history. To others it is not, and this is where the difference lies.

As Labour MPs collect signatures demanding Blair's resignation, the generational issue looms large. We put to Miliband Charles Clarke's suggestion in last week's New Statesman that Labour runs the risk of returning to the splits of the early 1980s and to a long period in opposition. He is dismissive: "I think it is ridiculous to talk about civil war in the Labour Party. We are talking about, with perfect confidence, our chances of a fourth term. I don't see a civil war and I think that is inflammatory rancour."

Members of the cabinet are now throwing themselves into the debate increasingly publicly. Miliband was happy to speak openly of the Prime Minister being gone in 12 months. His interventions on the issue are marked by a growing personal belief that, at the age of 41, he has ample time to fulfil his own ambitions. Having ruled himself out of the leadership this time around, he also makes clear he will not stand for deputy leader when John Prescottgoes. "I'm neither a runner nor a rider for any of the contests."

Train crash

Miliband turns to the generation game. "I think there are many people who are more or less in my position: we weren't scarred by the battles of the 1980s in the same way that the people who went through them were, and we look at the current debate through a different lens. We look at the debate which says, 'Either we have a smooth transition or you have a train crash.' Obviously you want a smooth transition. But we want something more. These are people who are ministers, who are party MPs, party supporters; these are people of no party, who are in the voluntary sector or business or the public sector, and they want an energetic, progressive project. So what I believe is that we need more than a smooth transition to Gordon Brown--we need an energising, refreshing transition to Gordon Brown."

The message to cabinet colleagues such as John Reid and Alan Johnson (men in their late fifties) is clear: stand if you wish for the leadership, but you have no chance. Your time is past. His message to Blair's outriders is: stop looking for an alternative and get behind one man. Miliband explains: "The great mass of the labour movement is in a very pragmatic, central position. …

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