David Miliband: The least bad option

ONE of the stories of the summer has been just how far the Labour party is moving to the left, as its leadership candidates appeal to grassroot members and trade unionists angry at the perceived betrayals of the Blair years. With the coalition’s honeymoon long since over, and the Lib Dems’ popularity in freefall, who takes over the Labour Party is a critical issue for Britain’s aspirational classes, including readers of this newspaper, as well as for London’s financial and business community. It is in this context that I recommend our interview with David Miliband on p17 – as well as our preview of Tony Blair’s explosive memoirs (see p3 opposite), where he decries his party’s return to hard-core statism.

By the standards of the pre-recession economic debate, Miliband, who together with his brother and arch-rival Ed is one of the frontrunners for the leadership, is way to the left; yet in today’s anti-capitalist political atmosphere, he sounds almost (though not quite) centrist, the closest thing Labour has to an heir to Blair. He believes in some supply side reform of public services, hinting that Michael Gove, the Tory education secretary and one of the coalition’s few truly radical reformers, hasn’t gone fast enough with his support for academies. He backs Alistair Darling’s deficit reduction plan, which would halve it in four years; other candidates, including Ed Miliband, are dangerously equivocal on the matter.

Like Blair, David Miliband understands that if Labour is to have any chance of winning again, it needs to appeal to the hard-working, struggling, striving middle classes won by Blair but lost by Gordon Brown. His brother Ed, by contrast, believes in returning the party to its “roots”, a neo-socialist strategy which would be electorally disastrous (especially in the private sector-dominated parts of England) as well as economically and financially destructive to the whole of the UK. Blair is right to argue in his memoirs, out today, that the previous government “could have gone on, had it not abandoned New Labour”; the only candidate who gets this, however incompletely, is David Miliband.

So much for the goodish news. It remains unlikely that Miliband has the stomach for proper reform of public services – or, for that matter, for any other positive action. He is to the left of Brown’s government, and hugely to the left of Brown’s 1997 incarnation. We gave him ample opportunity during our interview to take positions to the right of the coalition on the 50p income tax rate or on returning capital gains tax to the 18 per cent it was under Labour. He wouldn't bite.

In truth, all of the Labour candidates are flawed. But anybody who cares for the future competitiveness and prosperity of this country should be hoping David Miliband becomes the next Leader of the Opposition. He is the least bad candidate – and that, after all, isbetter than nothing.

KEYNES IS STILL DEAD

Anybody who still believes in Keynesian economics – and is therefore unduly worried about the UK’s public spending cuts – should take a look at Germany and America. The former, which at the height of the recession rejected demands by Gordon Brown to spend uncontrollably, is booming. The latter, under arch-Keynesian Barack Obama, is under-performing severely, despite (or because of) its massive budget deficit. Ever larger amounts of state spending is the problem – not the solution.

allister.heath@cityam.com

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