David Miliband: You Ask The Questions

The Foreign Secretary answers your questions, such as 'Do you regret voting for military action in Iraq?' and 'Are you dyeing your hair?'
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The Independent Online

As the Brown premiership turns to dust in front of us, how do you expect to turn things around in time for the next general election?

Russell Child

by email

I do not accept the dust point, but the test is to put into practice good ideas that deliver real change before the election, and then go into the campaign with a strong prospectus. The announcements about direct payments of social service budgets to older people, new opportunities for youngsters and the expansion of offshore wind power set a new agenda. In addition, issues like Europe or ID cards, which are seen to be tactical weaknesses, will in fact be shown to be strategic strengths because they are about a future agenda which no party can duck.

Do you regret not running for the Labour Party leadership?

Omaha Schlumberger

London

No. I think Gordon is the right man for 2007-plus, in the same way that Tony Blair was the right man for 1994 to 2007.

Would you like to be the next Labour Party leader? I think you would find many supporters already.

Francis Lindley

Birmingham

Thanks, but I have spent the last three years saying I would not run for the leadership. I have a great new job that I am wholly committed to so let's not start that again.

Now that we managed to bring back Gillian Gibbons, can we send politicians to return the British inmates from Guantanamo?

Rahman Chowdhury

London

All the British citizens at Guantanamo are now home, and last Thursday I was able to announce that three (out of five) British residents still there would be released. Their immigration status will be reviewed following their return and the same security considerations will apply to them as would apply to any other foreign national in this country. We will continue to discuss with the US government how best we can work with them to see the closure of Guantanamo.

As a non-white, working class student not studying at Oxbridge, what hope do I have of a career at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office?

Amarit Bains

by email

Good, I hope. An effective Foreign Office projecting British values and interests needs to be representative of Britain in all the senses of that term. Our application process is fully open and transparent. See www.fco.gov.uk.

Is it true that you are slowly dyeing the grey out of your hair?

Matilda Greene

by email

No no no! Who on earth said that? I think the grey is slowly expanding, not shrinking.

Do you regret voting for military action against Iraq in 2003?

Ian Sinclair

London, N19

I don't resile from my vote. I regret some of the things that have happened since 2003 and the violence and bloodshed. Clearly winning the military victory in war is not the same as building the peace, and the last five years have been very tough for Iraqis and for coalition troops. But as you read this, I am in Iraq seeing the last British province (Basra) transfer security responsibility to Iraqi control. Local leaders [have now] committed themselves to peaceful political processes [and that] is my focus now.

Has the term "war on terror" been banned at the Foreign Office now? Was it ever a useful term?

Paul Sullivan

by email

It has not been "banned" but I tend not to use it. That is mainly because it has come to be associated in a narrow way with the use of force against terrorism, which while sometimes necessary is not sufficient. Terrorism inspired by al-Qa'ida needed (and needs) a military response in Afghanistan; it needs tightened security measures at home and abroad (see the recent bombing in Algeria); but we also need to engage the ideology and grievances which can increase radicalisation and lead to violent extremism. That means, at least a debate within the Islamic world that separates devotion and orthodoxy from violence; the growth of democracy and politics in Islamic countries, hence the importance of reform and debates in Turkey and Pakistan; and efforts in industrialised countries like ours to ensure that our diversity is combined with integration.

Did you watch the BBC's 'No Plan, No Peace' series on Iraq? If so, were you as shocked as I was?

Catherine Meadows

by email

I am afraid not. But if it makes the argument advanced in books like that by Ali Allawi, The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace or George Packer, The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq then I understand your concern. There is still an argument about whether security comes before democracy, or vice versa. The lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan, and other efforts at "nation-building", is you need security side by side with political reform and economic reconstruction.

The blockade of Gaza imposed by the US and Israel is causing immense suffering to thousands of people. How can you collude in such cruel, collective punishment?

Annie McStravick

by email

Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, and I set out our concerns about Gaza after its declaration as a "hostile territory" on 30 October. One thousand or so rockets have been sent into Israel since the attempted coup by Hamas in June, but immiseration of ordinary Gazans will not stop those rockets. I raised this in all my meetings during my visit to the Middle East.

Is the British Government's definition of what constitutes torture the same as that of the Bush administration?

Peter Steadman

Bucks

We never condone or support torture and the UK and the US are both parties to the UN Convention Against Torture, Article 1, which defines torture.

Why are you and the Prime Minister staying quiet over Europe and sneaking off to sign treaties, rather than proudly making the case for the EU?

Susan Procter

Devon

I think that is a bit unfair. If you look at the Global Europe pamphlet, or my speech to the College of Europe, you will see a strong argument that Britain is better off leading in Europe and Europe is better off with Britain leading in Europe. This is the argument we make all the time in the Commons.

Does "a la carte" membership to the EU diminish the union's standing?

John Romer

Ealing

If "a la carte" means that you don't follow the rules of the club then that is not on. But equally, the EU with 27 members needs to have the flexibility to allow different groups of members to work together on different issues. I think that makes sense.

As a former Environment minister, will you use your new role to push for an international agreement on stopping climate change?

Pauline Rowe

Stockport

Yes, the whole Government (and the whole country actually) needs to do that. I will ensure that low carbon/high growth strategies remain a key priority for the Foreign Office. Hilary Benn is leading the Government's negotiations in Bali at the UN conference but we all have a role to play, and in my work I always try to make the links to climate change. The UK is the first country in the world to put into legislation commitments to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We are committed to doing our share to respond to the challenge.

Why should the poorer in society have to pay a bigger part of their income on "green" taxation?

Garry Anderson

Haverhill

I do not think they "have to" and it depends what you mean by "green" tax. In the end the tax system has to be fair (i.e. related to ability to pay).

You have said Iran must realise there will be "negative consequences" if it continues uranium enrichment. Does this mean military action is still a live option?

Milan Rai

East Sussex

I have said many times we are 100 per cent committed to diplomatic resolution of the debate between the UN (through unanimous Security Council resolutions) and Iran over its nuclear programme. The UK was instrumental in developing a big economic and scientific offer to Iran (including civilian nuclear power) if it ceased its uranium enrichment programme. We want Iran to be a proud and respected nation, but it cannot defy the international community and set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

What tighter sanctions do you recommend imposing upon Iran, and what benefit will they have?

E O'Connor

Woodford Green, Essex

There are ongoing discussions, but we will certainly be looking to continue targeting those responsible for the nuclear and missile programmes that are causing us serious concern. As for the benefit of further sanctions, they work as part of a comprehensive approach, including the offer of dialogue in order to negotiate a solution.

You have been described as the "thinking-girl's pin-up" and "Commons eye candy". How do you feel about having a large female fan base?

Anna Sampson

Kent

Really? Nice to hear it. Maybe the hair dyeing is working [see earlier question].

If a Tory Prime Minister had refused to meet the President of Zimbabwe after welcoming the King of Saudi Arabia, would you be saying that it is all because of oil and arms?

David Grinnell

by email

I don't think so. [The Tories] refused to bring in sanctions against apartheid, and we called that immoral.

Can we expect stronger action against Robert Mugabe's government?

David Sylvester

Wapping, London

We have sanctions against regime members that are EU-wide and that focus on President Mugabe and the 130 top people who support the way he runs Zimbabwe. We freeze their assets, impose a visa ban and prevent arms sales to Zimbabwe. But we have stopped short of economic sanctions that would hurt ordinary people. If there are more ways to increase the pressure on those top people or others around them who profit from what Mugabe is doing, we will definitely explore those.

The Bush administration has tried to rubbish the recent CIA report on Iran's nuclear weapons programme. Do you agree with their stance?

Ivor Yeloff

Norwich

I think the administration accepted the findings, which were about "weaponisation", in other words the process of fitting fissile nuclear material for a bomb. If the Iranians have stopped that work, good. But it takes three steps to build a bomb weaponisation, uranium enrichment and missile testing. The Iranians are boasting about the latter two. So I think we and others are right to be concerned.

New figures show 30 per cent of total foreign investment in Burma came from companies based in UK territories last year. Why haven't you banned such investments?

Jonathan Stevenson

London, E9

I am surprised to hear that. The Office for National Statistics' figures for current active UK investment are very low, indeed they have no returns suggesting any UK direct investment in Burma as of the end of 2005. I have seen reports suggesting investments in Burma are being channelled through companies registered in our overseas territories in breach of EU sanctions. I take these reports very seriously and we investigate each one that comes to our attention.

Have the comments you invite on your ministerial blog ever resulted in you doing anything differently? If so, how?

Jim Roland

London, NW11

Yes. On housing when I was Minister for Communities and Local Government the comments about shared equity helped me shape policy. At the Environment department the debate about carbon credit cards helped me develop policy. It is a bit different in the Foreign Office but it gives me some sense of what strikes a chord. See blogs.fco.gov.uk/blogs/david_miliband/

Some commentators have said you seem out of your depth as Foreign Secretary. Do you take any notice of such criticism?

Nicola Attewell

Slough

I think you have to do your best, improve, and trust your instincts. What counts is the reality not the commentary.

Why did you choose to adopt your children from the US, rather than the UK?

Leonard Grahame

Richmond

Several reasons, including the fact that my wife is a dual US-UK citizen.

Do you get bored of people pointing out how different your politics are to that of your father, who was a Marxist academic?

Steve Orton

by email

No. I am very proud of my dad. It is really nice when people say that they read a book of his at university and it made them think.

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