In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

David Miliband: Laboriously Bland Blairite (Part 1)

Posted by seumasach on February 20, 2009


Luke Mansarpour


19th february, 2009

While attempting to track Tony Blair’s descent into madness is a bewildering task, shrouded as it is in Christian mysticism and an unpredictably gluttonous appetite for destruction, there is something inevitable about David Miliband becoming the latest smug face of “post-ideological” New Labour Britain. 

In many respects the British foreign secretary personifies the sorry culmination of the last three decades of the mainstream left in his country. The son of a distinguished Marxist political philosopher, he started his intellectual life with leftist leanings, writing in support of the Miner’s strike of 1984-5 and working for socialist MP John McDonnell at then-lefty Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council. 

However, after graduating from that academic mainstay of British politics – Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford – he was snapped up by what was destined to become the harbinger of New Labour – the corporate-fuelled Institute for Public Policy Research. In the reifying air of the think tank, Miliband was instrumental in reinterpreting leftist thought in the light of Thatcherism, moving up the ranks to make it to head of Policy in 1995. 

The 1997 election of Tony Blair’s Labour Party was perceived as a moment of triumph for the left. Many were hopeful that trains would finally run on time, the National Health Service (NHS) would be cleaned up, privatisation would be rolled back and trade unions might be able to restore some of what was lost to Thatcher. 

It couldn’t have been predicted at the time that the new British government would come to play a major role in two devastating wars of aggression, its leader going AWOL on a Messianic power-gorge, with rich and poor cleaved further apart than under the Iron Lady and civil liberties trampled on. In the side-lines during the sorry betrayal of a nation’s hope was Miliband – the protégé of the latter-day Blair. 

Blair’s national socialism saw in erosions of free speech and free thinking, with ‘hate speech’ legislation just the tip of a mountain of political correctness directives ultimately intended to undermine ideology critique. Like Adolph Hitler, Blair presented his movement as transcending left-right dynamics in an intense aesthetisisation of politics – divorcing signs from their original referents until only their power was left. Rejecting coherent ideology, the interests of various groups were compiled in a mishmash of earnestly proclaimed obscurities, much like Hitler’s accumulation of the interest various groups of Weimar Germany. The reduction of contradictions to absolute relativism, for absolute control. 

The Miliband persona perfectly befits these ‘postmodern’ politics of New Labour-rhetorical platitudes, doublespeak and tautology over substance and rejection of class consciousness in favour of moralising on fragmented identity politics issues; 

“We liver richer, freer and less constrained lives. But the evidence suggests we are no more happy. And I believe the roots are a sense of powerlessness: the pensioner worried about anti-social behaviour, the parent juggling work and family, the second generation immigrant well qualified but suffering an ethnic penalty in wages, the disabled person still struggling against low expectations, all these people are in one way or another disempowered, the residents dissatisfied with the quality of a local service,” he disgorged in 2006 as local government minister. 

Despite his bland grandiose declarations, it is hard to find any substantial action in anything he says. Instead we’re treated to vision. His “vision for the future and how we achieve it” of late last year spoke of the need to “win the peace in Iraq, not just win the war” – trite drivel that could apply to any war in history. 

Public services meanwhile need “the imagination to distribute more power and control to citizens over the education, healthcare and social services they receive.” What is needed is “real change” while “pursuing traditional goals.” This citizenempowerment is New Labour spiel for good old privatisation, the latest examples of which are a Tory ‘Private Finance Initiative’ for the NHS and the marketisation of legal aid. 

“The world can be a scary place” 

David Miliband, 2007 Labour Party conference 

The superficiality of his marketing approach to foreign policy was epitomised by his recent rejection of the phrase “War on Terror” (the major effects of which he supported at the height of its fashion through his votes for the Iraq war, “anti-terrorism” laws and rejection of an investigation into Iraq): 

“For a couple of years now, the British Government has used neither the idea nor the phrase ‘war on terror’. The reason is that ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken. Historians will judge whether it has done more harm than good.” 

Historians, surely, will judge whether reducing Iraq and Afghanistan to rubble “did more harm than good,” not the wording of the propaganda. Miliband is apparently convinced that his sales pitches are of some great historical significance beyond fooling people into doing what he wants. 

This ‘shift in narrative’ is consistent with new marketing strategy of US foreign policy that precipitated celebrations of the pseudo-historic event of Barack Obama’s election, something Brown’s cabinet are eager to associate themselves with. 

Elsewhere Miliband has made more explicit attempts to associate Brown’s Britain with Obama’s ‘change.’ His website oozes lackyism: 

“President Obama’s interview on Al Arabiya sets out in clear terms the foundation of his Administration’s approach to the Muslim world(s). 

The watchwords are clear: respect for difference, smart use of power, building a coalition for social change. The Prime Minister and I have made similar arguments.” 

The Americanisation of governance in Britain, which New Labour in general inherited from the Thatcher-Reagan years, was a formative force on the majority of New Labour playmakers, including Miliband. A former Kennedy scholar at MIT, Miliband now enjoys membership of what John Pilger considers “by far the most influential transatlantic network of politicians, journalists and academics” – the British American Project (BAP). Spawned of Reaganite concern with moves from the likes of Tony Benn and the CND to distance Britain from American foreign policy, BAP has successfully courted up-and-coming left-of-centre Brits for over twenty years, impressing on them the importance of the “special relationship.” 

Miliband is also speaker for the Managing Global Insecurity (MGI) Project, a joint venture of such peddlers of the American agenda as the Washington-based Brookings Institution, the Centre on International Cooperation at New York University and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, all of which enjoy varying degrees of CIA involvement. 

The special needs of the special relationship with America compel this glorified upstart to assume the role of mediator: 

“It is not going to get any better than this. It’s not going to get better than an American administration saying we want normal relations with Iran” he instructed the Islamic Republic from Germany last week.” 

Similarly sly is Miliband’s Guardian article from last December ‘A world without nuclear weapons’, in which he proclaims that “Iran’s leaders have a clear choice: dispel all doubts about their country’s nuclear programme and work with the international community to develop the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy for their country, or face further isolation and sanctions if they continue to defy world opinion.” 

Putting aside the fact that Iran has been bending over backwards to “dispel all doubts,” Miliband’s solution to the nuclear proliferation is ludicrously lopsided in ignoring his own government’s proposed £20bn replacement Trident nuclear submarine fleet, which the MP for South Shields consistently voted in favour of. 

Yet brushing these minor inconsistencies aside, the foreign secretary continues to assume the moral high-ground on Iran, at times acting less as the lackey of the new US administration, more as goader: 

“We in Europe, while applauding the determination of the United States to stretch out a hand to Iran, have got to realise that the United States will be far, far better off in reaching out that hand if they’re able to say: if we’re not met by an outstretched hand from Iran, very serious and very tough sanctions will follow,” he preached earlier this month. 

So for Miliband, Obama must stick to the old Bushite ‘pre-conditions’ of full subordination and not change America’s aggression; and Europe should accept it. 

But while the Obama administration and Europe in the main may well be sticking the course set by Bush, it seems unlikely Miliband’s little opinion has anything to do with the decision. Indeed from ‘warning’ Iran, to urging Syria to be more “constructive,” to instructing India to settle the Kashmir issue, to pontificating to Russia on Georgia (“The sight of Russian tanks rolling into parts of a sovereign country on its neighbouring borders will have brought a chill down the spine of many people, rightly”) Miliband seems to have overlooked the fact that Britain’s place in the world no longer affords the opinions of its foreign ministers much consequence. Rather than ‘punching above his weight,’ Miliband merely comes across as delusional in his sanctimonious grandeur – “Who are you to f****** lecture me?” came the apt response from Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

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