As many might have predicted, Professor Philip Cowley’s first question to David Miliband was a direct one. He asked the Member of Parliament for Southshields why he had decided to come to speak to students at the University of Nottingham.
Miliband insisted that he is on a mission to redress Britain’s widespread disengagement with politics. He expressed concern that Britain is descending into an era of political disaffection.
He has a valid point. In 1950, voter turnout was 83.9%. Sixty years later, in 2010, the figure is 65.1%. So why has the British public become so blasé about political goings on?
Miliband talked of a “Westminster bubble” and described the fierce politicking amongst the green benches as “petty” and “stale”. He suggested that this growing “frustration” with democratic politics is paradoxical. Whilst democracy continues to spread throughout the Middle East, its most established practitioners struggle to lure their citizens into the polling booths.
Through university lectures and his nationwide campaign, ’Movement for Change’, he hopes to reinvigorate politics at grassroots level, thereby restoring the political fervour of old.
The answer was unconvincing. Professor Cowley followed it up by pointing out that Nadine Dorries espoused a similarly grandiose argument to justify her appearance on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here.
What was particularly irritating about Miliband’s response was his attempt to sound detached from the political mainstream. The second youngest foreign secretary in history is surely well versed in the duplicity, deceit and bickering to which he was alluding. After all, elite politics is an environment which he has navigated to great effect.
His claim that he occupies a detached vantage point from which he can deride the “petty” activities of his fellow democratic representatives was, at best, insulting to the intelligence of the audience.
Miliband’s brother Ed espouses a comparable line of argument in the House of Commons, relentlessly lampooning David Cameron for being out of touch, despite his palpably moderate stance on most issues.
Both brothers attempt to utilise old prejudices to gain political capital. For Ed, it’s the ‘evil Tories’ and for David, the ‘scurvy politicians’. And perhaps this goes to the central reason for Miliband’s appearance at Nottingham.
The lecture was an attempt to raise Miliband’s profile. Despite lofty protestations of good will, we must remember that politicians are, by nature, highly ambitious. An intelligent, charismatic and experienced 47 year old who has tasted power at the very top of British politics will not be content to loiter on the back benches for the rest of his career.
Miliband has taken a highly calculated position. After his loss in the closely fought Labour Party leadership campaign of 2010, he has assumed a back seat in British politics, seeking to distance himself from the slippery centre stage. He will enter the next leadership election as a minty fresh outsider, ready to launch another attempt at grasping the reins of power. In the absence of major competition, he will be the clear front runner.
Indeed, Ed’s performance as Labour leader has been widely criticised, with many in the Labour Party duly sceptical of his prime ministerial eligibility. When it comes to looks, affability and experience, his older brother holds the trump card.
It would seem that Miliband’s ‘Movement for Change’ is a premature election campaign. Comparisons could be drawn to Barack Obama’s ‘Change We Can Believe In’. The theme is the same: out with the old and in with the new. Ironically, this argument is itself becoming old.
Just like Dorries, Miliband tries to hide his desire for popularity with a purported desire to reconnect politics with the layman. His speech at Nottingham is a sad indictment on the democracy of today. Democratic politics has become like any other business. Votes are sold with the same tenacity as toilet roll, car insurance and lager.
Undoubtedly, Miliband was at Nottingham on business.
Senior News Reporter