The decency of David Miliband

His legacy is the modern Labour Party

Share
Related Topics

David Miliband and I first met on the Isle of Mull in 1988. Neither of us knew Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. It was years before anyone mentioned the phrase "New Labour". A political lifetime later, David is departing from Parliament as he, Louise and the boys begin a new chapter of their lives.

My friendship with David has been forged over the years through politics – but it now transcends it too. In government, and out of it, David and I have witnessed bad times for Labour alongside good.

After John Smith's conference speeches, we would walk along windy seafronts sharing our youthful and impatient critiques of how Labour had to change.

My first sight of Tony Blair's first conference speech as leader was in my law office in Edinburgh, as David sent through pages of fax paper asking for comments. We became colleagues in Parliament and in Cabinet and, amid periodic outbursts between Tony and Gordon, our conversations were a welcome oasis of civility when that commodity was all too rare.

Today, we have adjacent offices in the Commons, and he remains one of my closest friends in politics and life. We share a politics that is fiscally responsible, economically radical, socially liberal and globally aware. We share this because it's the only way for the centre left not only to win but to govern.

But the years and this friendship have taught me something else. Decency matters in politics, as well as in life. Politics is about ideas and ideals – David has both. But it also involves negotiation and compromise. So how you do your politics matters, as well as why you do it. On the first day of Labour's leadership contest, he said: "Our campaign in culture and conduct must anticipate the way we want to lead the party." He added: "And if anyone briefs against my brother, we'll fire them."

That decency was evident on the day he lost, when generosity marked his response to a painful defeat. A contest between brothers was unique. The campaign, the result, and the two years since presented challenges for David and Ed and, on a different scale, for those of us who count them both as friends.

To my mind, politics should not be a spectacle or a platform for individual celebrity. At its best, it's a shared endeavour drawing on shared ideals. But in politics, this endeavour never takes place alone. Politics is a team sport, and working with others relies on having the right temperament.

Tone and temperament matter even more in today's politics when people are anxious and fearful about what our future holds. As an MP for a decade and a half, I've learnt that politicians' moral outrage on its own is little comfort to anyone. I've learned that decency is not simply about manners, but a deeper respect for the electorate and yes, even your political opponents. They are just that, opponents. Not enemies.

Too often today's politics seems too small for the huge challenges we face as a country. The country cries out for a politics not just of anger, but of answers. Competence together with compassion. Principles and passion certainly, but also practical problem solving. That is the work Ed is driving forward.

But as he departs Westminster, David can know that, with others, he has helped shape the modern Labour Party and its politics. It is a politics that must develop and evolve if we are to meet the challenges our generation now faces. We can't drive a car looking only through the rear-view mirror. Our shared task, with Ed as leader, is forging a new politics for new times.

Douglas Alexander, Labour MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, is Shadow Foreign Secretary

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
 

‘They’ve seen the future – and got it for a song’: the unlikely history of Canary Wharf

Jack Brown
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee