On the Politics Show, Sunday 14 September 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.
David Miliband insists he does not want a leadership challenge
JON SOPEL: Well joining me now is the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband and you heard what Fiona McTaggart said there. Could you do a better job than Gordon Brown.
DAVID MILIBAND: I'm determined to do a really job as Foreign Secretary, supporting Gordon as leader of the party and leader of our country. Fiona is right, there is a huge task for the Labour government, a huge task and it needs all of us. It's a huge task because we're in a third term but also we've got this very, very difficult economic situation that we're grappling with; the toughest in a generation, says the Chancellor and I think our focus has got to be on how we develop a new sort of politics and a new agenda to meet what are radically different circumstances.
JON SOPEL: And I want to talk about that in a moment but I want to deal with the whole leadership question now. They are saying there should be a leadership contest. You say what.
DAVID MILIBAND: I don't agree with that. I don't support that.
JON SOPEL: Not at all.
DAVID MILIBAND: I don't support that no, I don't support it. Their argument is we should trigger a leadership contest, I don't support that. They're saying
JON SOPEL: Is it that their timing is wrong or is it that there should be no leadership election between now and the next election. That's a very clear question.
DAVID MILIBAND: And I'll give you a very clear answer. I've said I expect Gordon to lead us in to the next General Election. I will support him in doing so. We are trying to take forward a difficult agenda at a very important time for the country. And I think what's interesting, in the end is that when you talk to Fiona, she raised issues and in the end it's not just about personalities, it's about issues. I wrote my article last July in the Guardian, because I wanted people to be proud of being Labour and I wanted them to have a sense of pride in the agenda that we were setting for the government. Gordon has said that's something all of us should be doing and I think we should.
JON SOPEL: And a lot of people interpreted that article as being the starting gun being fired for a leadership contest. Aren't a lot of these people raising this issue now because they sense you, David Miliband has bottled it.
DAVID MILIBAND: No. I totally disagree with that. Gordon himself has said he could have written the article. I said to you I wrote that article because I want people to be proud of Labour in government. It's difficult in government because you're dealing with your departments, the administration can take over. What's important is that we keep our political sense of direction, that's something all of us has to do. Gordon does it every day of the week, I have to contribute to it like every other member of the Cabinet and the truth is, the test of our conference, actually it's the test of all three party conferences, but the test of our conference is about how we respond to very different circumstances, and that is what we have got to develop, a political agenda that is adequate to the changed circumstances that we face (overlaps)
JON SOPEL: Are you saying, your Guardian article and the interviews you gave immediately afterwards on Jeremy Vine, on Radio 2, where you said, you know, I had always wanted to support Gordon Brown, not that you do support Gordon Brown
DAVID MILIBAND: I do support Gordon Brown (overlaps)
JON SOPEL: rather than will lead Labour in to an election, next election, that you said it can, he can (interjection)
DAVID MILIBAND: Let's address that because this is Kremlinology gone crazy. Let's address this point about Labour can win the next election. If I sat here and I said Labour will win the next election, people will say, what sort of predictive assertion is that. What people want to know is that you've got the determination, the Party has the determination and the drive. I always say we can, cos you don't take the voters for granted. So this idea that because you say we can win the next Election, not we will win the next Election - it's this big piece of Kremlinology, is nonsense. I always say, we can because I don't want to take the voters for granted.
JON SOPEL: So Ed Balls was right then when he said that David Miliband, I don't think he would ever do anything so crazy, destructive and divisive to challenge (interjection)
DAVID MILIBAND: Well I'm certainly not doing crazy, disruptive and divisive things. I wrote the article because (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Is it helpful for your cabinet colleagues to speak in those terms.
DAVID MILIBAND: Well, it's helpful for all cabinet colleagues to be rallying to the absolutely key point that there is a new political agenda to be created. Remember, let's be honest, a year ago, the credit crunch was only just coming in to view. The idea that Russia would be invading a neighboring country, would have seemed ridiculous. There is a new political agenda that needs to be developed. It's a test for us, it's a particularly difficult test if you're in your third year in government. But it's a test for the other parties too and in the end, what I said in my article was, we've got to defend the record in an honest way. We've got to establish a clear vision and our conference is an important opportunity to do that and we've got to show the contrast (fluffs), with what I believe is a hollow and empty Tory party.
JON SOPEL: So not matter what the polls say, no matter what happens, you're saying, come what may, even if it means Labour going down to its worst ever defeat, Gordon Brown has to the lead the Party in to that election.
DAVID MILIBAND: I'm saying that Gordon Brown can win the next election, with the strong support of his Cabinet colleagues. And we've got to take that through our conference and beyond and in the end, this isn't about predictions, it's actually about us doing our job because the key to the next election, which you've raised, is are we a good government and have we got good ideas for the future. And that's the test. It's rightly a tough test but it's one that I'm determined to contribute to us meeting
JON SOPEL: But now that this is out there, now that this whole subject has been opened up, don't you - you can't just let this continue with a few more backbenchers, maybe the odd member of the NEC, maybe the odd Union baron coming out and saying, Gordon Brown has got to go because frankly, that is going to be the focus of your conference, not this agenda that you're saying, has to happen. Don't you need something that either says, right, let's clear the air, Gordon Brown has to challenge himself for the leadership, a la John Major in 1995 or something else has to happen whereby the issue gets clarified.
DAVID MILIBAND: Well I think that I've made my position very clear. I don't know what other people are going to do. I think it is about the agenda. The minute we forget about the country and start talking about ourselves, we get in to difficulty and actually, the country is facing a very difficult economic situation. Interestingly, underneath the surface there's big positive change happening in our country. There's big, positive change on crime, on health, on education. Not that everything is perfect, but actually, if we can deal with this economic challenge, I think that we will get a focus on the real agenda for the country.
JON SOPEL: Okay, well let's talk about that then - just talk about the past couple of weeks where there's been a series of initiatives but what a lot of people would say was not a joined up strategy. Would you say that's fair.
DAVID MILIBAND: No, I wouldn't. Let me tell you. I saw a headline this week about the energy package which people, you know people are expecting two, three, four hundred pound increases in their electricity bills and the headline said, Labour's energy package, long term, no razz-matazz, boring, but right. And in the end the test is not whether you give a one-off payment of fifty pounds for one year's electricity bills, the test is, do you help cut people's bills over the long term and that's what we're going to help people to do.
JON SOPEL: But what we had was, I mean for example on the housing market that there was going to be a massive stamp duty holiday for everybody. It turned out to be much smaller than that. You talk about the package for central heating that it was going to be a windfall tax on the utilities, it never arrived. It was going to help every pensioner Gordon Brown proclaimed. It would only help those over seventy. You're over-selling what you're doing. Then you measure it against the reality and people think, that's disappointing.
DAVID MILIBAND: Well you'll know that I've always said the government is better at substance than at spin, contrary to what has always been said about us for eleven years, that somehow it was spin over substance. I've always believed that Labour's strength, the government's strength is substance and that remains our strength. So in the end it's substance that changes people's lives, the headlines don't change people's lives.
JON SOPEL: Well then do you need to change the way you're spinning these things.
DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I am the last person to start giving spin advice. That's not my, I'm not the - that's not my department.
JON SOPEL: But does it frustrate you
DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think that it, anyone in the Labour Party is frustrated that we're fifteen or nineteen points behind at a time when we believe that we've got, we're developing a good agenda for the government. We've got some good things that we're doing and we believe that there is an empty Tory party. We've got to clarify that as the choice.
JON SOPEL: To put you on a soap box for a minute. You've got (interjection)
DAVID MILIBAND: Soap box is John Major's (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Oh well, whatever, you've got a platform now. What is the radical idea, why should people give you a fourth term.
DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think there are radical ideas about giving people more control over their public services. There are radical ideas about how you protect people in an economic downturn, but actually prepare for an upturn, with the jobs and the industries of tomorrow. I think there's also a radical agenda about how we create a stronger sense of belonging in this country because that is going to be the absolute key: the respect, the sense of equality that exists in our country. It's critical for whether the Olympic spirit, that you saw last month is actually carried forward, cos in the end, it's that sense of optimism that's important.
JON SOPEL: Okay, I just want to talk about a couple of foreign affairs issues because you obviously cover an enormous brief. Pakistan. Are the Americans justified in taking military action inside Pakistan with all the consequences that flow from that.
DAVID MILIBAND: Well there is an agreement between the government of Pakistan and the US government about the conditions under which the Americans do take action in Pakistan. It involves Pakistan giving their agreement to different actions. I'll be meeting President Zardari, the new democratically elected President of Pakistan on Tuesday and obviously, we'll want to get to the heart of this issue because it's a danger to us. Ungoverned space in Pakistan that allows terrorism to develop, is a direct threat to about 70% of the terrorism operations against this country. And also, tragically as we've heard today about another solider lost in Helmund, it's a danger to our troops in Afghanistan. We need good security in Pakistan, for our own good and for Afghanistan.
JON SOPEL: And a brief word on Zimbabwe. The power sharing agreement comes in to place tomorrow. How significant, how durable.
DAVID MILIBAND: Well it's potentially very significant. We don't know the details yet. The critical thing is whether or not it really is the beginning a shift in power from President Mugabe to a new leader, Mr Tsvangirai.
JON SOPEL: Okay, David Miliband. Thank you very much for being with us.
DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH DAVID MILIBAND
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The Politics Show Sunday 14 September 2008 at 1200BST on BBC One.
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