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British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Labour, the election and the Lib Dems

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British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Labour, the election and the Lib Dems

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There is not long to go now until the UK election on May 6 and the battle is heating up. This is being described as the closest race in years. Latest opinion polls suggest that neither the incumbent Labour government nor the Conservative opposition are going to get the absolute majority they need to govern the country, and they may have to search around for some kind of coalition partner. So what are the chances of Labour getting re-elected? euronews reporter Seamus Kearney spoke to British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

euronews

“Mr Miliband, what’s happened to Labour’s strategy about turning around these opinion polls? Where’s that strategy?”

Miliband

“Well, our plan is one that we have set out at the beginning and we must stick to, which is to offer a positive vision of Britain’s future based on two priorities: first of all to secure the recovery, to nurture this fragile economic recovery, to build on the right decisions that we’ve made over the last couple of years. And secondly, to renew the country, to build on the public service investment and reforms that we’ve made to keep crime falling, to make sure that Britain is a strong voice in the world. That dual offer, to nurture the recovery, to renew the country, is at the heart of Labour strategy and it’s one we’ll continue to pursue, whatever the other parties are up to.”

euronews

“But you haven’t gone up in the polls so far.”

Miliband

“I think there’s only one poll that counts, and that’s on election day. I think the election campaign is only just getting going. But I also think that Labour is just going to stick to our strategy. We are clear about the record we want to fight on and above all, we are clear about where we want to take the country, and I think that’s the distinguishing feature between us and the other parties.”

euronews

“But on the recovery, for example, you mention that, there’s one new report out that says that the recession was worse because Gordon Brown had overspent before 2007.”

Miliband

“Well no, it doesn’t say that, to be fair. What’s very, very important is that the prime minister defied the conventional wisdom, he defied the advice of the opposition and took dramatic steps in September and October 2008, that saved the economy. Without that intervention you would have been going to your cashpoint and not being able to get the cash out.”

euronews

“But huge debt before 2007 makes the recession longer perhaps?”

Miliband

“Well no, not huge debt. I mean it’s important to choose our terms carefully. Britain has one of the lowest debts of any of the G7 countries, lower than the G7 average, lower than many of the European countries as well, and the government has reduced the debt in its early years. Yes, it’s gone up in the last couple of years because of these extraordinary set of circumstances, but our debt is still lower than Germany, France and the US.

euronews

“Because some people may look at Labour and they may say: 13 years, you’ve had long enough to sort out the economic, the social, political problems, and you have failed on many points, and it’s time for a change.”

Miliband

“Well no. I mean Britain is a much richer economy than it was in 1997, our public services are better than they were in 1997, crime is down on 1997, and Britain is strong in the world, compared to being on the edge of Europe in 1997. We are not complacent. We’re proud of the changes that have been made to this country, but we’re not satisfied. And that’s why I say to people watching this programme: look at how Labour will make you better off in the future, look at how Labour will secure your public services in the future, look at how Labour will build on the drive to create a stronger community and a fairer society.”

euronews

“We saw a lot of divisions in Labour, within the party, Gordon Brown’s leadership challenged. Can you really expect the public to believe that’s been healed and you’re now one big family ready to lead the country?”

Miliband

“This is the least ideologically divided Labour party in two or three generations. It’s a party that is united behind its leader, and united around its programme. And I think that the message has gone out very, very clearly, that we have the strength and the values to take the tough decisions that are necessary on the economy, but we also have the vision of the fair society.”

euronews

“And people just want a change perhaps. How do you answer that?”

Miliband

“Well, change to what? We say we should change to improve things, not change to turn the clock back. And I think it’s very important that this is not an election between change or no change, it’s what kind of change. Do you want to take the risk of going back to failed economic policies of the 1980s that the Conservatives offered, do you want to go back to the underfunding of public services, do you want to go back to Britain being weak and isolated abroad. I don’t think British people want that. They want change for improvement, and that’s why we say yes we do have to invest in different parts of the economy.”

euronews

“The leadership, though. Gordon Brown, even within your own party, people had been calling on him to be replaced. How can this …”

Miliband

“No, I don’t accept that. I don’t accept that. The prime minister has led the country very, very strongly over the last three years. He’s shown what it means to have the values and the judgement at the most difficult times, and he’s shown himself to be right on the big calls, in very stark contrast to the opposition.”

euronews

“But there had been plans to have him removed, to be replaced, in …”

Miliband

“Well no. I’m sorry, I don’t accept that. We have a very clear platform and a very clear leadership.”

euronews

“And his personal popularity ratings. They’ve always been lower than the other parties in previous months. Perhaps you would be performing much better now if Gordon Brown had been replaced, maybe even a year ago?”

Miliband

“No, I don’t accept that. And look this election is about the future of the country. And the Labour party is very, very clear about both the leadership and the platform on which it is standing. People have a very clear choice.”

euronews

“But quite a few of the promises Labour is making now on political reform, for example, electoral reform, people say you’ve had 13 years to carry that out, why now just before the election?”

Miliband

“We’ve done a significant amount of reform. But just before an election’s the time to set out your programme for the next parliament.”

euronews

“But not enough. Not enough reform.”

Miliband

“I think that’s fair. We think it’s important to go further. That’s why I say we’re proud but not satisfied, and the political reform needs to be thorough going. It needs to get to the roots of the issues. I mean we still have – this will be astonishing to some of your foreign viewers – there are still hereditary peers in the House of Lords. 92 of them.”

euronews

“Why didn’t we change that 10 years ago?”

Miliband

“Because we were blocked by the Conservatives, in the House of Lords. I mean you have to get constitutional reform through both parliaments, and through both houses of parliament. And so you have to ask them, why were they voting against reform? We’re absolutely clear that we should have a directly elected House of Lords, it should be much smaller than it is, and it should bring Britain into the 21st century.”

euronews

“What about the expenses scandal? The disillusionment in politics in Britain seems to be enormous. Has Labour really tackled that during these last few terms?”

Miliband:

“Well I think that has reflected badly on all parties. After all it’s not government that regulates parliament, it’s parliament that regulates parliament. And you’re right that there is a lot of disillusion, a lot of scepticism, and we have to overcome that by really having a conversation with the voters about the big issues, about the challenges that the country faces.”

euronews

“And what’s the story now with the Liberal Democrats? This is quite confusing for voters. We have Gordon Brown seeming to support the Liberal Democrats, saying “I agree with the Liberal Democrats’ leader” but at the same time criticising the Liberal Democrats. Is this …?”

Miliband:

“Well, we’re running on our own platform. And we’re running on a positive manifesto that we have. We have differences from the other main parties. The truth is there’ll either be a Labour government or a Tory government come polling day and that’s why it’s right that we explain the choice that people face between Labour and Conservative …”

euronews

“But you may need the Liberal Democrats after the election?”

euronews

“Well we’re fighting to hold on to every seat that we hold at the moment which gives us a majority in parliament. And frankly I think it does a disservice to the voters to swing away from discussing the issues, to discussing what happens after the election.”

euronews

“But these gestures towards the Liberal Democrats. That could be a risky game for Labour because it may mean that you lose votes to the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives gain.”

Miliband

“I’m sorry. We’re not making any risky gestures to anyone. We’ve laid out our platform. And we’ve said what we’re standing on. We’ve explained the decisions we made and we’ve set out the decisions we want to make.”

euronews

“And could you work with the Liberal Democrats if there was some kind of coalition after the election?”

Miliband

“We’re aiming for a majority Labour government.”

euronews

“Of course, but if there was a hung parliament, for example?”

Miliband

“I plead with you. At a time when there is a lot of cynicism and scepticism about politics. One of the things that fuels it, is people who are inside the political game spending all their time on hypothetical questions about who’s going to do what to whom after people have voted. Let’s spend our time talking about how people should vote.”

euronews

“But you must be thinking about that?”

Miliband

“No I’m not. I’m thinking about how we nurture the recovery, how we improve our education system, how we take forward the reforms in our national health service, and as foreign secretary, how we make sure Britain is strong and influential around the world. I’m not spending my time thinking about the Lib Dems, I’m thinking about Britain.”