Do you want to be leader? The question Miliband can't escape

Donald Macintyre joins the Foreign Secretary on the campaign trail and finds him refusing to look beyond 6 May, whatever the future may bring

The first person this week to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he sees himself as a future leader of the Labour Party was 17-year-old politics student Danny Hopes. Because the question was framed in politely hypothetical terms, David Miliband batted it away with his standard answer that if you think about another job you won't succeed at the one you've got.

But the timing of Danny's question, at a lively Q&A session in the chapel at St Mary's Catholic College in Blackpool, was apposite. When it was put to Mr Miliband that Nick Clegg was now suggesting he might do a deal with Labour even if it came third in vote share, provided Mr Brown was not leader, the Foreign Secretary was emphatic. "It's not for Nick Clegg to choose the leader of our party. We have a strong leader, strong team and strong programme," he told The Independent. "If he wants to [play] fantasy cabinets that's his choice... My job is to focus on my performance as Foreign Secretary. I want to be a successful Foreign Secretary in a re-elected Labour government."

But in the back of his armoured Foreign Office Jaguar between Lancaster and Blackpool Mr Miliband also added: "I don't believe we'll come third – it's something at odds with my sense of how the votes will come down at the end. I just don't think that will be the outcome. So all the commentary – mainly by Clegg and Cameron – about what's going to happen in those circumstances, is a complete waste of time. We have no intention of coming third. We are trying to win the campaign. We are determined to win the campaign."

Mr Miliband shows every sign of doing his best to ensure that happens. He had arrived the evening before in time for some intensive door-knocking in the marginal Lancaster constituency, and seemed to be enjoying himself.

At St Mary's he reminisced about his late father, the Marxist writer and theorist Ralph Miliband, for the benefit of Rhiannon Evans, who is studying for her history A-level. On the day he was demobbed from the Royal Navy, ahead of the post-war election which swept Clement Attlee to power in 1945, Chief Petty Officer Miliband was told crisply by his commanding officer: "Well, goodbye, Miliband. Don't vote Labour."

For a man sometimes seen as the most cerebral, even wonkish, member of the Cabinet, Mr Miliband, who has two adopted sons, had an easy way with the toddlers at the YMCA nursery in Fleetwood, engaging with one four-year-old girl on the vexed question of who is the fourth member of the Wiggles, the Australian singing group for children. He – and she – could only remember three: Anthony, Murray and Jeff. "We'll have to Google it," announces the Foreign Secretary, finally giving up.

On the road, Mr Miliband rejects persistent attempts to draw him into the discussion of post-election deals which has dominated the dialogue between the other two main parties this week. "A hung parliament is not on the ballot paper," he says. "People feel cheated by the expenses scandal and they are going to feel doubly cheated if they get to the end of the election and they are none the wiser about what the different policies of the parties are... The other two parties are attacking the political game but actually playing it, which is why it's right that from the Prime Minister down we are talking why people should vote Labour."

Saying the Tories are "running against a party which doesn't exist – a hung parliament party", he adds: "The Cameron wrapper on the old Tory product doesn't change the producer and when it comes to the [Liberal Democrats] people can see the difference between someone who can win the [TV] debates and someone who can run the country... It is a ruse to avoid any difficult discussion about what they would do in government."

But hadn't his colleague Alan Johnson himself fuelled the debate by saying there was no reason to fear a hung parliament? "Alan is fighting like hell for a Labour victory. You can have Alan Johnson or Chris Grayling as Home Secretary. Need I say more?"

To underline his point on policy, he adds that the Tory theme of the "Big Society" is "born of marketing because the Tories think they have to say they're not against society pace Mrs Thatcher, but underneath the wrapper... their deeply reactionary view on the future of Britain is one in which the strong are able to fend for themselves and the weak are left to sink."

But aren't there many cases where, say, parents on their own initiative do indeed run successful, self-financing, social projects like after-school clubs? Very much so, says Mr Miliband, and they are likely to be based, for example, on state premises like schools which are open from 8am to 10pm "with really good facilities". He adds: "The idea that this group is going to thrive if the government reins back on what it provides is fantasy.

"What will happen is that the voluntary sector will become a source of charity for the poor instead of a source of dynamism for the country. There are three legs of the stool: strong government, regulated markets and dynamic civil society. If one leg is shorter than the other then the stool falls over."

He adds: "More people are volunteering in Britain than ever before." And that, says Mr Miliband, gives the lie to the idea that the "big state" stifles such activity. "Cameron says that big government is the source of our problems. He also says he wants to defend the NHS, the largest employer in the world, and put a moratorium on any changes to it."

Pointing to tonight's final TV debate, Mr Miliband says it is "extraordinary that there hasn't been a question on the NHS in the first two debates. It would be a democratic farce to end the debates without a discussion of the NHS because it's an emblem of what Labour has changed about Britain and a national social care service is an emblem of what needs to be done next."

Mr Miliband is also scathing about the "broken society" charge to which Mr Cameron returned on Tuesday. "The Tories on the one hand try to convince the country that they're the party of hope and ideas, but actually they spend most of the time spreading fear, telling everyone that the country is broken.

"Britain has some broken families ... but it is not a broken country. The Tories tore up the social fabric and we have spent 13 years putting it back together, from cutting crime to helping pensioners and rebuilding social housing. Is it perfect? No, of course not. The lesson of 13 years of progressive politics is that people's expectations are always ahead of what we can deliver, and rightly so. But Government makes more impact over the medium term than people expect. Go to any city in Britain and you see a fundamental change of expectations as well as reality."

Yet wasn't it Labour that was trailing in the polls? "I have been saying that it's always hard to win a fourth election. It should be hard. If it was easy there would be something very wrong with the democratic process.

"A governing party that's been in for 13 years should be tested hard. It's completely understandable that the voters will think hard but I think they will come back to Labour. I think it's a Labour moment in the sense that the problems of market failure, of social inequality, of international insecurity and instability, demand a progressive response."

The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment

Marvel has released the first teaser trailer a week early after it leaked online

Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front end web developer - URGENT CONTRACT

£250 - £300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT** Our...

Health & Social CareTeacher - Full time and Part time

£90 - £140 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: Sixth for...

History Teacher

£95 - £105 per day: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Plymouth i...

SQL Developer - Cardiff - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits and bonus: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer -...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?