On the Politics Show, Sunday 20 January 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband MP.
JON SOPEL: You're talking about getting to grips with the new world and talking about the civilian surge, what is it?
DAVID MILIBAND: People want more power over their own lives. That's not just true in Britain, it's true around the world. More bloggers per head of population in Iran than anywhere else in the world. Two hundred million Chinese learn English. People in Kenya, in slums, arguing for democratic rights and demanding democratic rights. I think that is a fundamental shift in the nature of power between the State and Government and Citizens. It's along side a shift from West to East. It's why the Prime Minister is in China at the moment. It's also part of shift of problems from the national to the international level and I think it's important for foreign policy, as well as domestic policy.
JON SOPEL: And you say people want more power and yet you deny the British people a vote on the EU Treaty which is coming back to the Commons this week, having promised one.
DAVID MILIBAND: We are a parliamentary democracy; we have parliament to go through, in detail, amendments to our European (interjection)
JON SOPEL: But he had promised a referendum.
DAVID MILIBAND: On the constitution for Europe, which has been abandoned, not my words, the words of twenty seven Heads of European government, who have abandoned the constitution and declared that this institutional reform is an amendment to the way Europe works, is the end of institutional reform, for the foreseeable future.
JON SOPEL: Can you be clear - you are saying no, never, to a referendum on the EU Treaty?
DAVID MILIBAND: The reformed Treaty is there for parliament to scrutinize and then to pass. Obviously, people will put down an amendment and parliament will have to decide but I don't believe this Treaty meets the bar of fundamental constitutional reform that should be the basis of having a referendum. If we were to recommend (interjection)
JON SOPEL: So never?
DAVID MILIBAND: on this Treaty no, absolutely not.
JON SOPEL: Right. But there's a Foreign Affairs Select Committee Report this weekend, which says, 'we conclude, there is no material difference between the provisions and foreign affairs in the constitutional treaty, which the government made subject to approval in a referendum, and those in the Lisbon Treaty on which a referendum is being denied.'
DAVID MILIBAND: They're only talking about the foreign policy aspects and it's true that there was an inter-governmental of detail of power in the proposed constitution, which has been abandoned, and that remains there in the Reform Treaty but in significant other respects: in terms of structure; in terms of content; in terms of consequence, this is a different, fundamentally different Treaty, than that which was proposed as a new constitution of Europe and it's a big difference. Remember, this is the fifth revision of the Treaty of Rome. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Sure. But the (interjection)
DAVID MILIBAND: Every other one, Maastricht, that was a bigger transfer of power, it was scrutinized and passed by Parliament. If we had a Constitution for Europe, ripping up all previous Treaties and creating a new constitution, that's why there was a case for a referendum on that.
JON SOPEL: But again, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, one of the most important and where the late Chairman says - they accuse you of seriously down- playing the significance of other aspects of the new Treaty too. Doesn't this smack of the arrogance of government?
DAVID MILIBAND: Well no, not at all. I don't know what particular aspect that you're talking about. We've submitted ourselves to five or six meetings with the Select Committee. We've had extensive discussion in parliament, that's right and I think the more that people look at this Treaty, the more they'll see that the myths that are being propounded that we'll lose our seat on the UN Security Council, that we'll give away our power to Brussels, actually, turn out to be myths and the reality is, this Treaty gives more power to Britain, it reforms the European bureaucracy, it prepares Europe to be able to deal with twenty seven countries working together and that's why, whether it's overseas aid charities or children's charities or environmental groups, they see this Treaty as a step forward for Europe and a step forward for Britain.
JON SOPEL: Just, can I go back a bit to when you signed it? Did you feel a bit of a Charlie there, standing there and only shaking - I mean I'm sure she was very nice the butler or servant person whose hand you shook, but wasn't that a rather odd episode?
DAVID MILIBAND: Charlie is a slightly odd phrase.
JON SOPEL: Well, it was rather odd for our Foreign Secretary, the only person's hand who was there to shake, was, was the butler or servant, the steward.
DAVID MILIBAND: Well I don't want to cast any aspersions about the steward and I don't particularly want to go back over the ins and outs of the signature of the reformed Treaty but there was this film in the '80s or '90s with Peter Sellers* appearing in strange events around the world so there was slight smack of that, but the important thing is obviously the substance, and I think Europe raises a profound issue for us, as a country.
Are we an outward looking country, that's determined to engage with others. Remember, twenty seven left of centre parties, twenty seven Liberal parties, twenty six Conservative parties, around Europe, support the reformed Treaty. One Conservative Party in Europe, opposes it. The test of leadership for David Cameron was actually to bring the British Conservative Party back in to the mainstream. What's he done? He's aligned himself with the Portuguese Communists, the Dutch Animals Party and with Sinn Fein, in being the only parties opposing this common sense reform in Europe and I think that says a lot about the modern Conservative Party.
JON SOPEL: But just going back to where we started about the civilian surge and people wanting more power, people want a referendum and you, the Government are saying no, even though - and we can argue about you know, it's a well rehearsed argument, but it just seems, it seems to cut against the grain of what you have been saying to-day, in this speech about people wanting more power, and you're saying, no they can't have it.
DAVID MILIBAND: No, I don't, I don't think it does because I think we have a parliamentary democracy where people have exercised power. They exercise power at the ballot box, and that, in my view is the right thing to do. But foreign policy is being changed by the fact that in countries where rights have previously been denied, in Central and Eastern Europe, also much more widely, they want more rights and the issues impact is in places as diverse as Pakistan and as Kenyan, are about the struggle for political rights by people. I think our foreign policy should be on their side.
JON SOPEL: And on domestic politics, you've spoken in your speech about the need to have a compelling narrative - we've had a lot of announcements since the beginning of the year, have we had a narrative?
DAVID MILIBAND: Well I think that you've had some important common elements. What really seems good that there's a chance to recognize in respect of social care, a major reform announcement by Alan Johnson about putting budgets in the hands of users, in respect of children services, the work of Ed Balls. In respect of health prevention, the Prime Minister himself leading on it. There are (interjection)
JON SOPEL: These are policies (interjection)
DAVID MILIBAND: Yeah
JON SOPEL: where is the narrative of where this government is going?
DAVID MILIBAND: The narrative is that we are committed first of all to build a society that's a meritocratic society. Second, a society in which people have more power in their own hands and third, a key dimension, we maximize the global links that exist for this country, both at the level of the individual, the city and the citizen - and the country as a whole, through not just through the European Union but also more widely. That is the core Labour proposition, an open society, where people rise according to their talents, but they have more power in their hands, and that we are a country that punches its weight internationally, that is the Labour proposition.
JON SOPEL: And has the re-launch succeeded so far this year?
DAVID MILIBAND: What's the re-launch?
JON SOPEL: Well, the flurry of announcements that there's been after a pretty torrid time, that you had at the end of last year. Unless you're saying to me that it was a good period for the government in the run up to Christmas.
DAVID MILIBAND: We're doing the business of government and the business of government is first to implement your programme. No one can say that the Queen's Speech that was presented in November, that the announcements and the policies that we talked about, are anything other than substantive in getting to the real issues facing the British family. But there's a second challenge for a party in government, especially one seeking a fourth term in office, as we will in due course, and that is to make sure we have, not just a record to be proud of, but actually, a future offer that speaks to the Britain of 2015, the Britain of 2020, which will be at issue at the next General Election.
JON SOPEL: And in the Britain of 2015 or 2020, we're likely to have identity cards by then, and yet we keep seeing government losing vital data, appearing today, six hundred thousand personal details lost of men and women who've applied to join the Armed Forces, you couldn't make it up.
DAVID MILIBAND: I think you, you probably couldn't made it up that's true but you've got to be careful in saying government losing data. What we're seeing is a public servant who it seems from the reports left his laptop in his car and the car was stolen and the lap to (interjection)
JON SOPEL: So it's not the civil servant's fault.
DAVID MILIBAND: No. It's not about
JON SOPEL: You're making a distinction between government (interjection) and ordinary civil servants.
DAVID MILIBAND: (overlaps) government. What I'm saying is that this is a case, it's obviously a serious case, the Ministry of Defence is going to be investigating it. Des Browne is going to be making a statement I gather to Parliament next week, let's get to the bottom of it, because obviously people are right to expect their details to be held very carefully by Central Government, but also, right throughout the system.
JON SOPEL: Don't you think it does make it very much more difficult for you as a Government, to persuade people that it is safe to have identity cards. We've seen Child Benefit records of half the population going - we've had this latest incident. People do feel very, very wary and this goes back to your central thesis about you know, how people rather than with authority.
DAVID MILIBAND: I think that's a good point. I think there are two things about ID cards actually. The first is, is it right - people our understandably wary of a culture where they're asked at every street corner to produce their identity card, that's not what we're proposing, and it's important that we're clear about the purposes of identity cards and about how they will work. There's then a second argument, which is could we run the system.
You've got to win both arguments and I feel the argument for identity cards is actually is a simple one: the danger of identity theft that you and I face, is an invisible danger at the moment, whether through our credit cards or our computers, there are people trying to attack those computer systems and get hold of our details, but it's invisible. I think identity cards are an important contribution to fight against that sort of theft.
There's then a second question, which is people have got to have the confidence that it can be run properly. But I would say in respect you know, seven or eight days ago, there was a huge debate about passports. Actually, the passport system, which is increasingly biometric, is run in an extremely efficient way now. We've got to build the confidence both about our intentions and then about our competence to put it in to practice.
JON SOPEL: You talk about competence. Just overall, your reactions when you heard this latest thing about these details
DAVID MILIBAND: Oh no.
JON SOPEL: That's what you thought?
DAVID MILIBAND: Of course, what else do you think?
JON SOPEL: Don't you think it does raise questions competence though?
DAVID MILIBAND: I think that erm, it, it raises concerns, is the way I would put it. But people are also pretty savvy about these things, they want to get to the bottom of the details, we don't know the details yet. But of course, no one wants this to happen whether you're in government or out of government.
JON SOPEL: Foreign Secretary, thank you very much indeed.
DAVID MILIBAND: Thanks a lot.
* This is a reference to Woody Allen's 1983 film Zelig
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The Politics Show Sunday 20 January 2008 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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