David Miliband can't

April 2007


As the flames of David Miliband's putative bid for the Labour party leadership die down, I find myself with a number of arguments with no home to go to. Except here.

Was he ever a credible threat to Gordon Brown? No. Where his 29 March 2007 Daily Telegraph article is not confused, it is simply empty. In I'm in tune with the 'I can' generation, he wrote:

Creating institutions closer to citizens, open and accountable to their communities, able to reconcile conflicts and competing demands, is the way to tackle the sense of powerlessness that can seem pervasive. That means we need to fight the instinct of bureaucracies and political parties to hold on to power.

What serious candidate would stake his claim to the leadership on the need for the Labour party not to hold on to power?

It's very good of him to try to tackle the sense of powerlessness that can seem pervasive among communities. But not everyone is cut out for kamikaze duty. How many of his supporters would be able to fight their instincts?

He wrote also:

… it is not enough to say that the world would be a better place if people showed social responsibility. This soon becomes a new code for malign neglect, the old Tory idea in fancier dress. An 'I can' society asks new things of citizens, and demands that they acquire new skills. But it also requires very different government institutions. That is why social and economic change today require government leadership and professional innovation, as well as mass mobilisation.

It is not obvious what malign neglect is being referred to here. He doesn't say. We have to fill in the gaps for him. Is it perhaps the Conservatives' culpable failure to help themselves to £5bn a year from our pensions? Or their heartless refusal to computerise our health records and publish them? Certainly it was callous of the Conservatives in the past not to cause local government officers to enter our houses, photograph the kitchen extension, and adjust our Council Tax accordingly.

Nor is it obvious that the attention of the government is always benign. Our mass mobilisation, in the direction of registration centres, where we will be required to give our fingerprints, in return for the professional innovation of an ID card, lends a sinister edge to the 'I can' society which Mr Miliband advocates.

And what are these new skills we must acquire? Home midwifery? Super-roulette? Private tuition? Or is he thinking here more of economic skills? Why are the Office for National Statistics wrong to believe that PFI liabilities should be included in the calculation of the national debt? And how can you run two wars while at the same time reducing the defence budget? That sort of thing.

As we leave the dull old world of social responsibility, as we shed our fancy dress and don the uniform of new government institutions, we are clearly going to miss Mr Miliband's demonstrated leadership skills.

David Moss has spent five years campaigning against the Home Office's ID card scheme.

2007 Business Consultancy Services Ltd
on behalf of Dematerialised ID Ltd