David Miliband calls on Labour to reject 'big state'

Two choices for Labour's future - David Miliband
Two choices for Labour's future - David Miliband

By Alex Stevenson

Labour must shun its ideological heritage of reliance on the 'big state', David Miliband has urged, in his first major intervention about the state of the party now led by his younger brother.

The former foreign secretary used a comment piece in the New Statesman newspaper to attack what he labelled the "Reassurance Labour tendency" of reverting to ideological views about the uses of central government power.

Mr Miliband claimed the 'big state' is a "dead end", writing: "The public won't vote for the prescription that central government is the cure for all ills for the good reason that it isn't."


His critique of former deputy leader Roy Hattersley's assessment that Labour should shun "'news value' in favour of ideology" is being seen in some quarters as a subtle undermining of Ed Miliband, who was vocally supported by Mr Hattersley during the leadership election.

"Reassurance Labour feels good. But feeling good is not the same as doing good - and it gets in the way when it stops us rethinking our ideas to meet the challenges of the time," Mr Miliband wrote.

"And now is a time for restless rethinking, not reassurance. Ed Miliband has shown he understands this with the policy review now under way."

Ed Miliband's narrow victory over David Miliband in the 2010 leadership election was the direct result of union support. The elder brother had won majorities of both the parliamentary party and the broader party membership.

Since then the leader of the opposition has not shied away from confrontation with the trade unions who brought him to power. Last month Unite general secretary Len McCluskey criticised Ed Miliband for not pushing the coalition hard enough on spending cuts.

David Miliband's article is being seen as a response to the trade union leader quoted by former leader Neil Kinnock as saying "we've got our party back", however.

He wrote: "Active government is important beyond the demands of a minimal state. But it will only be effective when it mobilises people, whether as patients or parents or employees or citizens, to make choices and take decisions that reshape their own lives.

"That is why we are enjoined on our party membership cards to put power as well as wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few."

He called on Labour's frontbenchers to be less apologetic about their record in government.

Ed Miliband has openly criticised many aspects of New Labour's policies, despite David Cameron repeatedly pointing out in prime minister's questions that he was a key player in their development.

"Our attacks on the Tories will not work if we are not clear about what we did," Mr Miliband added.

"We should say loud and clear where we made mistakes, but we should also insist that the list of gains far outstripped the mistakes. After all, even David Cameron said on coming to office that Britain was better in 2010 than 1997."

David Miliband acknowledged his brother had done well to achieve "unity" in the party since the 2010 general election.

But his article concluded with the confrontational claim that placed his argument in direct contrast to those of Mr Hattersley.

He finished: "The problem with the definition of social democratic politics by the Reassurance Labour tendency is not just that it reduces our chances of election, but rather that its vision is too narrow, its mechanisms too one-dimensional, and its effectiveness too limited.

"The debate is not whether one side is unprincipled; instead, it is who is right."

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