David Miliband takes a Q and A session at the University of Nottingham

David Miliband visited the University of Nottingham today to give a Q and A to staff and students as part of an initiative run by The Centre of British Politics. Packed into one of the largest lecture halls, with photographers and microphones dotted amongst the audience, the session involved a twenty five minute discussion with Phil Cowley, a Politics professor before allowing the rest of the time for questions from the floor.
Firstly, David explained why he was even there. He gave two reasons: he was there to bridge the gap between large scale discussion by the people and the petty arguments at the top of the political structure; he was there to connect with us. Secondly, he was there to promote the renewal of Labour. During this section, David experienced a lot microphone turbulence which prompted a joke from the professor that ‘whoever took the microphone into the toilet; please return it!’

David said he was most proud of Labour’s work on the NHS, with a 91% popularity rating, arranging peace in Ireland, strengthening relations with the EU and he was especially proud that Labour left office with a lower crime rate than when they entered. On the other hand, he regrets that Labour stalled on politics reform, managing to grant devolution but not going further, such as answering the West Lothian question. A major regret was the Iraq War. David said that if the weapons inspectors had been allowed in and would have found that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, then they would have voted against going in. But he did draw attention to a recent interview Obama gave to Vanity Fair where he said that the majority of decisions he made were incredibly difficult and that most of the time, he only had about 30% of the required information.

Concerning the Labour leadership, David said he wasn’t ready to be leader in 2007 as he had only been Energy Secretary for a few years and ‘didn’t want to make the situation worse.’ In hindsight, was keeping Gordon Brown in leadership the best option? Well, David pointed out that clearly there was some support for Brown as there was no formal attempt to remove him from power.

The discussion then moved onto the Coalition. He spoke briefly about how the Big Society initiative would be the main good policy of the Coalition, he drew laughs from the audience when he joked that the initiative was to show that ‘the Tories cared about people’ but on a more serious note, he said that civil society needed to strengthen. He appeased the students by saying that he would not have raised tuition fees to the current £9,000 level but he would have raised them to some extent, acknowledging that they need to cut public investment in higher education and increase private investment. As a student myself, I agree that the previous level of tuition fees was perhaps unsustainable and that by deferring payment of tuition fees to when we start earning, people should still find encouragement to go to university. However, if the fees are to be raised, then the opportunities for graduates should match the financial investment they ‘gamble’ when they enrol. Of course, the job market can only improve when the wider economy itself picks up.

When asked on membership of the EU, David said he would stay in, and when a poll was conducted in the audience, the majority agreed with him. His two reasons for staying in the EU are that the world is becoming a more interdependent place and so we should want to interact with others on the political stage more. Secondly, he believes that there are some issues which need to be solved together. He dealt with the concern that staying in the EU meant handing over too much power to unelected bureaucrats by saying that there are over 25 countries in the Union and it would be impossible for the EU to exercise such power over so many countries. I came into the talk somewhat Eurosceptic, but David changed my mind slightly by posing the question that if something needs reforming, would you rather leave it and let them carry on or would you get stuck in and reform it? I still believe that the UK needs to restructure its relations with the EU as we currently put in more than we get out of it.
Finally, David spoke about how he thought his best role at the moment was in the front line rather than the front bench, he’d rather leave Ed to lead his party than have a daily soap opera.

So, what did you think of David’s answers?