Sinc e we conducted our interview with David Miliband in early September, the torments of Britain’s Labour party have been eclipsed by the financial meltdown—one of the few things we didn’t touch on in a two-hour tour d’horizon (see Jonathan Ford’s Opinion piece on the crisis). The deal with Miliband was that we would not seek to trip him up or coax out his innermost thoughts about Gordon Brown, and in return he would give us his ideas about the big issues of the day. Intelligent politicians are seldom given space to stretch out in this way, and it was, in the main, a pleasure to listen to him (although I could have done without that Blair-era cant about the “need,” “want,” “can,” periods of postwar politics). He was confident, informed and reasonably open in the face of sometimes sharp questions. Of course, Miliband had his pre-prepared lines and lapses into politician-speak. And there were many things we didn’t have time to press him on: my own regret was ID cards, which must be one of the obstacles to the marriage (in Miliband’s mind) between liberals and social democrats. Reading back over the interview, it is striking how recent Miliband’s frames of reference are—he is a post-cold war, post-baby boomer politician for whom time seemed to begin in the 1990s. Partly for that reason, he does not yet feel like a prime minister-in-waiting. (One might say the same about David Cameron.) In the unlikely event of a coup against Gordon Brown, the beneficiary will surely be Jack Straw. Miliband does not even appear interested in the job at this point—if he was, he would have filled our television screens during the Georgia crisis. To the extent that he is setting out his stall, it must be for a post-election defeat leadership contest. By then he will have had time to add greater political weight (and a more lived-in look) to his intellectual authority.
Elsewhere in this—our annual British politics special issue—we examine two of the Tory party’s assaults on New Labour Britain. First, there is James Fergusson’s analysis of whether hyperactive liberal interventionism has undermined the “military covenant.” Then we have Ben Page’s dissection of the “broken Britain” story. Page concludes that Britain as a whole is in reasonable shape, but that parts of it are indeed in a mess, thanks to the decline of traditional working-class jobs and traditional authorities. More interesting is his analysis of why so many people believe Britain is more broken than it is. It seems it is the very success of rich democracies, in creating secure and controlled environments for most citizens, that makes the outside world appear more frightening than it is.