Still a toe in the water?
Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s speech today gave off the air of the prodigal son returning to our shores, as he warned that Britain should remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) once the UK leaves the EU. As he stood alongside more recent Cabinet members – Conservative Nicky Morgan and former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – the fact that Miliband was the more reported upon strikes the onlooker as slightly odd. Miliband departed for New York, having famously lost the leadership of the Labour Party to his brother Ed, which in turn set in motion the events that saw the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
For Labour moderates, sympathisers, and troublemakers alike, Miliband’s return to the political fray is almost more interesting than the subject he was commenting on. His story feels unfinished, and the public are left with the impression he feels unsatisfied by his time in politics, keen for another bite at the apple. But Miliband has lived his exile as he lived his political life – never quite prepared to take the plunge. Supporters and opponents alike took his reluctance to sink the knife into Gordon Brown’s back during his darkest days as evidence that he lacked the killer instinct required of a Prime Minister. His continued ‘toe in the water’ approach to British politics suggests he hasn’t learned his lesson, and the public may be unforgiving of such indecision.
Can he win back the nation?
There is always the chance that Miliband will return and try for a seat in a by-election; Lewisham East the obvious immediate opportunity. However British politics – and the Labour Party – have moved on, and there’s no guarantee that a man who has spent a decent chunk of time abroad would have the common touch necessary to win over first Labour members and then the British public. Indeed if he ever did – critics accuse the elder Miliband of arrogance and pretension; qualities that don’t go down well with your average British punter.
And what of the topic he and his erstwhile political foes were in Essex to promote? Despite their earthy backdrop, their message will not appeal to many of those who voted for Brexit. Remaining in the EEA – effectively remaining in the single market – would require the UK to retain the free movement rules that contributed so much to the eventual referendum result, without any of the say over the rules of the single market; hardly the stuff of dreams. But that’s not really what’s happening here – such are the salami slice tactics of Remainers.
EU membership debate
None of the troika who spoke today have suddenly become Leavers – the idea is to softly get to a point where momentum is in favour of remaining in the Customs Union and in the Single Market, and then to suggest leaving the EU while still a member of its core aspects would be a waste of time, so better to stay in the EU. It’s not altogether unlikely, but the argument has still to be won, and it’s not clear that the three who chose to give it today are the best spokespeople for that particular position.
The fact that we are still having these arguments today only reinforces the point that the debate during the actual referendum campaign did not really touch on the most important aspects of EU membership. Some will argue it’s too little, too late; others will say that this is the real campaign, and that another referendum – or election – is on its way. The question is: is David Miliband up for it?