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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 September 2007, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
David Miliband interview transcript...
On the Politics Show, Sunday 23 September 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.

David Miliband
You'll see continued competence, but as we go forward, you'll see Labour laying out a very clear plan for the future of the country
David Miliband

JON SOPEL: Earlier, I spoke to the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and I asked him what his message was for those voters in Dartford, worried about crime, education and public services.

Foreign Secretary, we've seen the voters there in Dartford, concerned about schools, concerned about law and order, concerned about immigration, concerned about the Health Service. What can you say to them, that makes them think, actually, you know what, we want more of Labour.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think we've got to say first of all that we understand that people have got tough lives. We certainly shouldn't go to them and say, we think everything's perfect, and you should be very grateful, so we've got to understand and learn the lessons that people want to give us of what they've experienced over the last ten years, but we've also got to show them, not just that we are empathetic, that we understand the lives they're living, but also we've got ideas about how to address the problems that they have perfectly, legitimately raised, and my pitch is always, Britain is richer, fairer, more confident than it was ten years ago, but that doesn't mean we've still got to go further, and that's what we're determined to do.

JON SOPEL: But ten years ago you were saying, twenty four hours to save the NHS. What is going to be the pitch; twenty four hours to save the Constitution.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well take the NHS first. The NHS in my experience has gone from being a basket case ten, ten years ago, people really were feeling that the end of the NHS was now, what they now see is an expanded service, a miles better service, but a service that still has to go further to meet the legitimate and right aspirations that people have got for the Health Service, so I don't think you'll find the Labour Party, short of an agenda for the future: we've had a decade in power, but the whole focus of this Conference, this week, is going to be on the future; it's about the vision that we have but also the practical changes that we want to make in people's lives.

JON SOPEL: A massive speculation about the timing of the next General Election, which I suspect you're not going to add to.


JON SOPEL: Nothing to say on that.

DAVID MILIBAND: Nothing to say.

JON SOPEL: What about though, the general political drain, where a few months ago, Labour way behind the Tories, now the polls saying, Labour well ahead of the Tories, what has changed in terms of policy, or is it just that the voters actually quite like this new guy Brown as Prime Minister, and it's all about personality.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well I think two things are going on. First of all, Gordon Brown represents a clear contrast with David Cameron. I mean I think anyone would agree that Gordon is someone who is man of depth, of values, of real strategic vision and of massive experience.

Now, even David Cameron's greatest fans wouldn't say those are the four characteristics that you'd choose to describe him that way; so there is not doubt in my mind that Gordon's person qualities are very, very important, but there's something else going on as well which I think is deeper and more fundamental. Ten, fifteen years ago, people thought there was no such thing as progressive politics any more.

They couldn't understand how values, progressive values, could be translated in to the modern world. Now, I think there is a crisis of conservatism in this country and what people are seeing is a Labour Party, of course it hasn't got everything right, but it does have clear values and clear ideas for the future. And the Tories, frankly, are all over the place.

JON SOPEL: You've given a newspaper interview where you've talked about a second decade of New Labour. Is Gordon Brown using the phrase, the second decade of New Labour?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I didn't say that because he told me to use that phrase, and I don't tell him what phrases to use, but what I can absolutely assure you, is that the whole cabinet is in exactly the same place. Gordon outlined this on, at our meeting on Wednesday, but the whole cabinet, united by...


JON SOPEL: as New Labour.

DAVID MILIBAND: Of course, let me just make this point though. Gordon is absolutely clear, that competence is the absolute bedrock for any government, and that's something that I think he and the team who've been under real pressure in a whole range of areas over the last three or four month have shown. But it's also about vision of the future and practical changes to achieve that vision and it's that dual focus that I think you'll see. You'll see continued competence, but as we go forward, you'll see Labour laying out a very clear plan for the future of the country.

JON SOPEL: You don't think it's just a touch arrogant to talk about a second decade.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well we, it's a ma (fluffs), it's a fact, it's not a question of arrogance or not, I'm not saying we're destined to write ourselves in to the history books, that's what we'll have to earn. We have to earn the right.

But there's no question in my mind, well it's a fact, we've had ten years of New Labour in government, we've now got to look forward to a second decade.

JON SOPEL: Doesn't it sound like Margaret Thatcher's going on and on.

DAVID MILIBAND: No, completely the opposite. It's saying with real humility, we haven't got everything right. Of course there are lessons to learn, but we now have to recognise that 2007 is not 1997 and 2017 is not going to be 2007 - there are new challenges in domestic policy, in international policy and we've got make sure that we address them.

JON SOPEL: Let's talk about how relations are going to be in Bournemouth this week with the Unions. They're obviously very unhappy over a whole range of policies. A lot of people talking about an autumn of discontent coming over - public sector pay, over employment rights for temporary workers off shore and you can - the list goes on and on.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think that, I think there will always be a restlessness in the Labour Party to do more and in the Labour movement to do more. But government is about choosing priorities and choosing what is possible to do, not just what we'd like to do and so I would never want to be saying that people, it would almost be worse if the membership of the Labour Party and the support of the Labour, weren't saying, we want you to do more. But I think when it comes to our relations with...(interjection)

JON SOPEL: What is your message to public sector workers for example, over the phasing in of the pay deal, which they're furious about.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, the worse thing for any public sector worker or private sector worker, is for inflation to get out of control and for interest rates and mortgage rates to rise. We've got used, in the last ten years, to mortgage rates of 4, 5, 6%. We haven't forgotten though, mortgage rates of 10, 11, 12, 15% and so my message to public service workers is, you and the rest of us have a massive interest in ensuring that inflation is under control. That has meant difficult decisions over public sector pay, but frankly, no one would thank us for dodging those difficult decisions.

JON SOPEL: I suspect where the Labour movement, maybe is feeling a touch more sanguine, is over what appears to be, a more robust relationship with the United States. Are people right to see it in those terms.

DAVID MILIBAND: I don't know what you mean by robust.

JON SOPEL: Well, I mean when Gordon Brown goes to Washington and says he's had a full and frank exchange with President Bush, people will interpret that as a big row; Tony Blair would never have used that phrase.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think that for you to say that the visit to Washington, to Camp David, was a big row in your phrase, frankly is a nonsense.

JON SOPEL: A full and frank exchange is a very particular phrase.

DAVID MILIBAND: I mean I was actually there. I mean the idea that this was a big row is really a nonsense. I mean here are two countries with two leaders, who both said that the relationship with each other is the single most important bilateral relationship for each country.

It's not just us that said that, but at the Press Conference, President Bush said that as well. We are two countries who share deep values and we are also two countries that have got to do work together and that's what we're determined to do.

JON SOPEL: Well, let's talk about another area of foreign policy, last year, widely reported that you were very very unhappy with the British stance over the war between Israel and Lebanon, on the border there. Are we still joined at the hip with Israel, which was the accusation that many made then.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well we are, absolutely clear that Israel's right to exist has got to be a foundation of our policy in the Middle East, but we're equally clear that the hardship of the Palestinians is something that must be addressed through the creation of a Palestinian state. And I think that we are really at a crucial point now.

I'll be meeting the President of the Palestinian Authority on Thursday, the Foreign Minister of Israel, and I think we're at crunch point really. It's forty years since the Passage of Resolution 242 in 1967, which in a way is the foundation of all the subsequent UN Resolutions on the Middle East, that eventually led to the shared idea of a two-state solution between the PLO and Israel, after 1993.

We're at crunch point because forty years on, the window of opportunity, for a two-state solution, will narrow and even close unless we jam it open. And we have to jam it open, first of all by keeping absolutely clear the political goal and giving political momentum to that idea of a two-state solution and secondly, we have to address the short-term, economic and social and security needs of Palestinians and of Israelis and that is absolutely critical over the next few months.

JON SOPEL: I just want to ask you about another aspect of foreign policy and that's with regards to Iran. Certainly, it looks like the French Foreign Minister has changed policy with regards to Iran, where he talked about, we have to prepare for the worst and the worst is war. Do you agree with Bernard Kushner, the French Foreign Minister.

DAVID MILIBAND: I think we have to pursue with 100% of our energy, a diplomatic resolution of a very serious situation, which is that Iran has every right to be a proud and respected member of the international community. It has every right to be responsible player in the Middle East, but it doesn't have a right to set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, of all places and the United Nations has passed two unanimous United Nations Security Council Resolutions about uranium enrichment in Iran, calling on Iran to cease that and that is our diplomatic focus at the moment.

JON SOPEL: But, if you don't make progress, is war an option.

DAVID MILIBAND: I want you to focus on what I do say rather than what I don't say and what I am saying is that 100% of our effort and 100% of the effort around the world, is to make sure that we find a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of this issue.

JON SOPEL: Foreign Secretary, a very quick final thought. A few months ago, you were being touted as the next Leader of the Labour Party, are you pleased you didn't throw your hat in to the ring.

DAVID MILIBAND: I'm delighted that I didn't throw my hat in the ring in your phrase. I think it was on this programme before that I said that Gordon Brown would be a strong leader for Britain, but also a strong leader for the Labour Party and I don't want to say, I told you so, but there is a temptation to do so - I'm very happy doing the job I am.

JON SOPEL: David Miliband. Thank you very much indeed.




JON SOPEL: Listening in Bournemouth, to those comments from David Miliband, is Derek Simpson, Joint Leader of the newly merger Union Unite, which has often been a critic of the government. Mr Simpson, not much change there out of David Miliband.

DEREK SIMPSON: Well again, I think David has put in a very rounded position, you'd expect him to do that, but he did mention a question of priorities for the government and of course, he did that when he was asking him about public sector pay and I think there are some priorities that are not just the priorities of our members, members of the Trade Union movement.

We poll our members and I think we are fair microcosm of society. There are issues like affordable housing, the growth of agency and temporary employment, which devastates sometimes, normal pay rates, and of course, there is also the deep concern which Gordon Brown has identified about the NHS and restoring public confidence, and the workers in the NHS, in Labour, as the promoter and defender of the NHS.

Now, I think that David is speaking about those priorities, rather than any particular pay claim, which at any given moment in time, is always a source of concern, negotiation, sometimes discontent.

But the fundamental basis of society, is going to be affected by whether people have got homes, whether they've got good health, whether they've got security at work and quite frankly, at the end of that as well, whether they can look forward to safe and secure pensions in retirement. Those issues, (interjection)

JON SOPEL: Sorry to interrupt you, but if the government isn't going to move on say the phasing in of public sector pay increases, what then.

DEREK SIMPSON: Well, I think that causes a momentary discontent. But I think if balancing against the problems in the public sector with the pay, is these other issues, then I think that people will be confident enough to give Gordon an opportunity to have the full term, and Labour a fourth term.

And I think therefore, it's these issues that David Miliband and his cabinet colleagues, along with Gordon, have got to show some progress on and convince a lot of people who've still to make their mind up.

Our polling suggests that our members, 38% have yet to make their mind up. Now we believe that the bulk of those would be Labour voters and so the forthcoming period of how we move on those priority issues, will determine the outcome of the next election.

JON SOPEL: So, in other words, he's got to move if you've got to be sure of those Labour voters, but aren't you in a position where you've got to button your lip and open your wallet because there may be an election in the next month or so.

DEREK SIMPSON: Well, we've never been shy of indicating our support for the Labour government and we've done what we can just in terms of money and support at election times and of course encouraging our activists to turn out the Labour vote and we'll do that again. And if that election comes sooner rather than later, we will have to respond to that.

My view would of course be that it would be nice to see the new government, under Gordon, have an opportunity to show indication, lift the confidence, particularly of the core Labour vote and then to go to an election. In my opinion would be the best option.

JON SOPEL: Okay, Derek Simpson, thanks very much indeed.




Liam Byrne MP
We also went a step further and said, it's time now to phase out all those skilled migration from outside Europe
Liam Byrne

JON SOPEL: I'm joined now by the immigration Minister, Liam Byrne. Thanks for joining us Mr Byrne.


JON SOPEL: Would you say that overall too many immigrants have come in to the country.

LIAM BYRNE: Well I said at about Christmas that I thought the pace of change had deeply unsettled parts of Britain and at the time people said, you know, that was a brave thing to say, but actually, I think that it was right. And it's partly why we're taking through some of the biggest changes in the immigration system in its history, over the next year.

So a point system like they have in Australia, single border force to guard our borders and ID cards on a compulsory basis for foreign nationals, to make sure that there isn't fraudulent access to the benefit system. So, we've looked and heard you know, from people up and down the country in designing these changes; they've taken some time to get right. But they are enormous changes to drive through in the next twelve months.

JON SOPEL: Point system though, doesn't apply to people from the EU.

LIAM BYRNE: No it doesn't, and it's important to say that

JON SOPEL: But isn't that where a lot of the problems are coming from.

LIAM BYRNE: Well what I think there is now, is a consensus across all political parties that we shouldn't be rowing back on the deals that were struck in the 1970s about free movement, but you know, there are pressures that are put on public services and so it means that when we introduce the point system, I don't think that we can just listen to the voice of the business community, and we know that migration is good for businesses and it's good for profits, but you know, my point is that business isn't the only voice at the table - the rest of Britain needs a voice too, and that's why the migration impact forum is important, so that when we decide how many points migrants need to come and work and study, we're actually looking at the wider impact of migration, as well as just the needs of the business community.

JON SOPEL: Mr Byrne, you said the open doors policy, taken in the 1970s, the decision was taken in 2004, when the additional members of the EU joined, that we would open our doors, France and Germany, most notably didn't, they've got fewer problems.

LIAM BYRNE: Well no, the directives that are relevant here, go back to the 1970s and of course, it's because of some of the pressures that we saw that when Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, we took a different decision. We not only said, we're going to introduce a quota for Bulgaria and Romania, we also went a step further and said, it's time now to phase out all those skilled migration from outside Europe.

JON SOPEL: Okay and what about that final point, very briefly from Jill Rutter there about some contingency fund for sudden population change.

LIAM BYRNE: I think we've got to get the basic system right and that's why the point system is so important. But it's also why when we're looking at the way local public services are funded, we actually get the population statistics right. Now, I've been amongst others who have said to the office of national statistics, that more work is needed in that area. I think they've accepted that point and they've committed to coming up with a better way of getting the numbers right. But the key thing is to start counting people in and out of the country, which is something that we start next year.

JON SOPEL: Liam Byrne, thank you very much indeed for being with us and that's it for this week. Thank you so much.


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The Politics Show Sunday 23 September 2007 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.
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