Miliband–slipping away from South Shields

So, the MP for South Shields, David Miliband, has shuffled off to pastures new.

The media has concentrated on the alleged loss to the Labour project and British politics as a whole.  I suppose it’s a narrative you would expect from a Westminster centric media, where the universe ends at the M25.  I watched an interview on BBC News last week, where the BBC political editor talked to David Miliband and covered his career and his new job at the International Rescue Committee.  The highs, the lows, the bad haircuts.  South Shields was not mentioned once.

In the past I have had what best could be described as a mixed opinion of our MP here in South Shields. Sometimes I’ve been extremely critical, other times praising him.  I’ve tried to sit down and objectively consider his impact as an MP for South Shields.  It’s not easy.

I’ve never needed to rely on his assistance in his capacity as the Member of Parliament for South Shields.  Those who I know who have gone to David Miliband for help have found him to be attentive and sympathetic, and willing to lend a hand if he could.  When I’ve written to him with an enquiry, I have, apart from one instance, received a clear and timely response from his office.  I don’t think I ever liked his answers, but at least he answered.

A criticism often raised is that he didn’t spend a lot of time in South Shields, but then again few MPs do.  At least the time he has spent here has been well planned, with a full diary of events.  He’s been in the right places (mostly) and said the right things.

As an ambassador for South Shields he has, I think, played a positive role.  When he was minister at DEFRA he listened to the concerns of local environmental activists, and sought to bring local government together with environmental groups to exchange ideas.  He did this by holding a conference, here in South Shields, not in London.

He has championed local business and with the likes of Colman’s fish shop, help put them on the map, and deservedly so.  He has supported local charities and social initiatives like South Tyneside Credit Union (now Bridges Credit Union).

Although I’ve never attended the South Shields Lectures (except in a demonstration outside the event), I think they were an inspired idea by Miliband, bringing (albeit Labour) celebrities from politics and entertainment to the town to speak.  I hope whoever is the next MP for South Shields will continue this.

And at least he timed his departure to the favour of the South Shields Labour Party.  The previous incumbent, David Clark, deserted South Shields with such timing that the national Labour Party could parachute Miliband into one of the safest seats in the UK, sidestepping local party wishes.  Reading the comments of South Shields councillor John Anglin, it’s clear that the 2001 fait accompli still rankles:

“We want to make sure we are allowed to choose our own MP, something we have not done in living memory.”

His voting record has been what you would have expected from an architect of New Labour and someone who had served most of his time in government as a minister – loyal.  There have been times when he showed some heart, like his recent speech at the bedroom tax debate, and his liberal voting record on LGBT rights.

But those hints of a bigger person with a genuine vision were sparse.  The loyalty mentioned above has meant he has voted for some of the most shameful policies for a British government in my lifetime.  His support for the war in Iraq, the erosion of civil rights in the ‘War on Terror’.  His voting silence on the NHS devolution risk assessment and Workfare.  There is no way you could convincingly argue that he voted for the interests of the people of South Shields first and foremost.

In education, he championed the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project and has often cited this as a Labour legacy.  Because BSF was a PFI project, it’s the kind of legacy that brings with it a debt to the people of South Tyneside that will haunt our children, with several decades of payments to the corporations that run the schools.  As we’ve seen recently with hospitals close to closing because of PFI debt, we can expect the same to come to our education system unless someone intervenes.

As Environment Secretary, he behind the publishing of the Climate Change Bill, which was what at the time looked like a remarkable and historic achievement: setting targets for the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.  Sadly, those good intentions have now dissipated in offsetting and corporate compromise.  The last ten years have shown that none of the three main political parties really take climate change seriously.

But in his role as Foreign Secretary is where I have the most concern, or rather, disgust.  The treatment of the Chagossian people at his ministerial hands is nothing less than shameful, playing his sordid part in a long government injustice in keeping the people of the Chagos Islands from returning to their homeland.  He was at the helm during extraordinary rendition and torture by our allies, and what admissions he made about the practices were imcomplete.  At least he suspended some arms export licences to Israel during the Operation Cast Lead attacks on Palestine.  Arguably though, those licences should never have been granted in the first place to prop up Israel’s military occupation of Palestine and accompanying land theft.  Nevertheless, you’ve got to admire Miliband’s gall for resigning from Sunderland over the club’s appointment of Paulo Di Canio.  Some lofty principles eh?

Miliband’s stint as Foreign Secretary should have been enough for a humanitarian charity like the International Rescue Committee to think twice about even shaking his soiled hands, not to mention consider him for their top job.  I’m wondering where the ethical compass for IRC is really pointing.

So it’s a bit of a mixed bag; some good stuff, some bad.  Very bad.  Is there a definitive conclusion?

Prior to skipping town, David Miliband didn’t do a bad job for South Shields, and his impact was probably a net positive.  And probably more so than his predecessor, who sat during one of the worst periods of South Shields’ history.  As a government minister, it’s not so rosy.  I’m not sure if I could have done those things, and then try to justify them to my children.  From here it seems that ethics came second to his ambition.  It’s the reason he came to South Shields, and the reason he left.  Maybe that one word, ambition, could define his tenure.

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13 responses to “Miliband–slipping away from South Shields”

  1. Kevin Rigg says :

    A very interesting and balanced post, many of my experiences with Mr Miliband echo yours. At the end he will be remembered as the almost was, for the contest with his brother and his controversial time in the FO. There must be some benefit in having an MP who is a cabinet member and I am sure he assisted many local people in many ways.

    However, this town has historically struggled with a far higher rate of unemployment compared to both the national and regional rate! The crux of any future MP for the town (and therefore by default previous ones) is how they can champion the area, encourage growth, get a far higher amount of investment into the area and create a new deep foundation on which to build a lasting economic legacy. This is what the town and area needs. It will take someone special to do it – alas, I do not see any local politicians up to the task. Those who are seeking to place themselves as our next MP have been in positions where they could have made a far greater difference than they have and for that reason I think that Labour Party members should be keen to ensure that the best person is chosen, not necessarily a local one!

    Our interests may be best served by allowing an economic intellectual with a keen sense of community who has forward vision, pragmatism and a way with people to take the lead. That person may currently be sitting in the wings of the National Labour Party. I am not entirely unbiased, I am a party member. Nevertheless, in reality this is a safe Labour seat so we should be aiming for the very best on offer from that party.

    • Peter W Skevington says :

      Balanced, thoughtful, fair and analytical; also good qualities for a local MP. The “Gaz” posters would “attack” with their usual throwaway lines and the irritating misspelling of Miliband, if this was to appear as a letter in said newspaper. What are your thoughts about Guy Opperman, he seems to me to be a good role model for a local MP, whatever his/her political allegiance.

      • brian paget says :

        Peter, I must admit that I like much of what I see of Guy Opperman – despite him being a Tory. He is really engaged with local people and gets involved in some local issues which many MPs, Miliband included, would avoid. His apprentice scheme is an excellent initiative, something which I think should be rolled out to all MPs, as long as it doesn’t descend into what happens with ‘research assistants’, which can be a way of garnishing a CV for family and friends. I’m uncomfortable with his proposals on payment by results on drug rehabilitation and in the parole system. I’m no expert but I know people who work in this area who are concerned that funding would bounce around from one third sector organisation to another.

        However, he is a Tory, which means he has voted for and supported some of the most divisive and shameful policies ever put before parliament.

    • brian paget says :

      Kevin, your opinion on a replacement is eerily similar to discussions I’ve had with other people. A local candidate would not necessarily be the best. Miliband brought something to the role that most prospective local candidates could struggle with – a network of contacts to draw upon for advice and support. Saying that, even though I’m not a Labour supporter I would like to see Labour put someone of principle forward, and preferably from the left. I was somewhat cynical of Ian Lavery when he was selected due to the union baggage, but so far he has proven to be a passionate MP with a commitment to social justice, and a level of compassion that seems all too rare in parliament at the moment.

      • Kevin Rigg says :

        We are left with the problem of what is ‘left’. If this means embracing all that is good about capitalism and rejecting the culture of greed that generally accompanies it, and adding social justice into the equation then ‘fair dinkums’.

        Many of the population reject what is seen as old fashioned socialism, the very thing that the Condems are advertising e.g. socialism is about supporting shirkers rather than strivers etc. The reality is that Labour need to make it clear that their economic philosophy does not reject people working hard, becoming wealthy and achieving – at the cost of being taxed for those who have no intention of working or contributing to society. The government have done a good job at getting that piece of propaganda out. However, Labour need to also make it clear that support will be provided to those in need AND investment will be made to ensure that social justice and reduction in the polarisation of class differences will be made.

  2. Peter W Skevington says :

    Agree with the comments about Guy Opperman and his engagement with his constituents, something that we would like to see repeated by whoever is elected here.

  3. Peter W Skevington says :

    Today’s “Journal” has a story about the by election, identifying potential Labour candidates; some of whom have had no mention in the “Gaz”. Self proclaimed Conservative hopeful Milburn has a reasonably high local profile, but who will UKIP produce out of Nigel’s hat? Probably some local businessperson, but not a “parachutist” from outside.

  4. Peter W Skevington says :

    UKIP candidate believed to be North Easterner Richard Elvin; trained as a teacher, now a businessman. Has experience of campaigning locally and seems to be a credible individual with no baggage.

  5. Peter W Skevington says :

    Today’s “GAZ” online confirms Elvin as UKIP candidate. “GAZ” has managed to call Labour hopeful Lewis Atkinson ,Mark, in their “voting” section. No comments being allowed on political stories published online; no doubt the Rumpoles have been alarmed by the potential risk of libel actions if some unfettered posters tap dance on their keyboards.

  6. Peter W Skevington says :

    Milburn not standing according to “GAZ”; UKIP have produced a credible candidate with an interesting profile, experience and background. We should know the identity of the Labour candidate by Thursday 11th.

  7. Phil Talbot says :

    You’re kinder to him, Brian, than I would be inclined to be – and probably kinder than he would be to ‘left-wing critics’. Some of his foreign policy decisions – especially supporting the illegal attack on Iraq – were, as you suggest, ‘disgusting’ – and something of a disgrace to the town that elected him.

    By the way … has anyone heard Emma L-B utter anything about foreign or defence/war policy? [I was out when she knocked on my door so I did not get the chance to ask her about Trident, etc]

  8. Peter W Skevington says :

    Don’t think that was on her agenda, more “bedroom tax” than multi billion pound weapon systems, and the crises in Syria et al Phil. Anyone know what UKIP’s foreign policy is, perhaps Nigel would tell us over a pint. Two local by elections pending, will be interesting to see whether or not UKIP candidates have been briefed about issues in the wards concerned, will either of them have ever attended a CAF or PACT meeting, or even know what those meetings are?

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