Sketch: David Miliband does his bit for Project Fear but doesn't quite bring the fire

Donald Trump, Marine le Pen and Vladimir Putin will be the ones celebrating Brexit, he warned, but his speech was just another reminder why the Tories are the ones with everything to cheer about 

Tom Peck
Parliamentary Sketch Writer
Tuesday 12 April 2016 18:39
David Miliband resigned as an MP in 2013
David Miliband resigned as an MP in 2013

“There’s a storm on the horizon,” David Miliband warned. “We can hear the thunder if we’re willing to listen.”

Must be a fairly quiet storm then. Thunder, at least in the popular imagination, tends to be more assertive. When the thunder calls you, from a mountain high, as no lesser lights than East 17 once warned, it’s time to spread your wings and fly.

It’s an appropriate comparison. For popstars and politicians alike, coping with life when the flashbulbs stop going off and the cameras have stopped rolling isn’t easy. And from the moment David Miliband lost that Labour leadership election to his little brother, the fears that he would end up eating too many baked potatoes and attempting to run himself over were entirely real.

A relief then, to see the elder Miliband back in Westminster, full of life, a bounce in his gait, and willing to do his bit to keep Britain in the EU, an undertaking more commonly known by its shorter name of Project Fear. The crowds came, literally in their tens, to a very small room behind the Houses of Parliament. By the time the star attraction arrived, all forty or so seats were long gone. It was standing room only.

His younger brother, you may recall, once sought to divide the world into ‘predators and producers.’ David Miliband went further. “The world is divided into firefighters and arsonists,” he said. Britain has apparently been one of history's firefighters, who now stands on the verge of "an act of political arson" - ie Brexit. Miliband himself, you won’t be surprised to learn, is a firefighter, albeit one who “views Britain through an international lens", taking great care, we must assume, not to inadvertently set it on fire like ant under a magnifying glass.

He was not, he made clear, there to speak on behalf of his refugee charity, the International Rescue Committee. “That frees me to speak with passion,” he claimed, at last liberated from the chore of saving the world’s displaced millions.

The oratory did not, in the end, soar. The wings remained unspread. The thunder did not come down from the mountain. But with Jeremy Corbyn yet to make a meaningful utterance on the matter (not least because he doesn’t believe it), it was at least refreshing to hear the case for the EU made by someone other than David Cameron, and not at least partially in hoc to the Tory loony brigade.

The EU doesn’t diminish Britain’s role in the world. “Europe multiplies British power and influence,” he said. Leaving the EU would leave Britain with “Less power, not more. Less security, not more.”

A large chunk of the population still hasn’t made up its mind on the EU question, and many are the calls for ‘the facts’, for the neutral information, to allow people to make up their minds. But such information is never going to come. It will only be deeply partisan from here on in. To that end, the matrix offered by David Miliband is as valuable as any other.

“If Britain votes leave, who will be celebrating? Not Barack Obama, not Angela Merkel, not Japan or China? It will be Boris, Putin, Marine le Pen and probably Donald Trump.”

There were questions at the end, and a lady from the Gosport Constituency Labour Party put up her hand. “I’m very pleased to see you back David,” she said. “Absolutely delighted.”

To hear a Labour Party voice capable of articulating its own beliefs was indeed a rare treat. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech on the matter is on Thursday. The quiet thunder returns.

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