David Miliband fears ‘fragmenting’ European left

By Hannah Brenton

Centre-left political parties are “fragmenting” across Europe and losing elections on an “unprecedented scale”, David Miliband has said.

In a week that has seen his return to the political fray, the Labour leader’s elder brother laid out his solution to the recent electoral losses suffered by left-wing parties – highlighting defeats in Britain, Holland, Germany, France, Italy and Sweden.

Speaking at the London School of Economics, he said the left had been “neutralised” by what he termed “compassionate conservatism”.

“After a decade of extraordinary, in fact unprecedented success in the 1990s, under the banner that in Britain was called New Labour, reformist social democracy seems to have been put in check by so-called compassionate conservatism,” Mr Miliband argued.

“Left [wing] parties are losing elections more comprehensively than ever before. They are losing from government and from opposition, they are losing in majoritarian systems and in proportional representation systems.

“Just for good measure they are losing whatever position the party had on the Iraq war, and they are fragmenting at just the time that the right is uniting.”

The former foreign secretary – who appeared on a number of talk shows this week after an absence from frontbench politics since losing the Labour leadership election to his brother Ed – said the left had to reclaim ground from centre-right parties on issues like communities and globalisation.

“The challenge is a really difficult one – to develop a distinctive centre-left vision for European policy,” he added.

“We need to forge an opportunity to be internationalists of a hard-headed and serious kind, or our policy solutions will have no traction at all.”

Mr Miliband was unapologetic about New Labour’s past, arguing the party had a record to be built upon rather than dismissed – although he said the party had not achieved all of its aims in government.

“In other words, only a post-New Labour brand of European social democracy, building on success, not a pre-New Labour stance, can address the weaknesses that were left and exist today,” he said.

“When left of centre parties are able to fight elections as private sector reformers, in the name of efficiency and as well as fairness, they win. When they do so, and make government an ally in wealth creation and a defence against corporate abuse of power, they turn the antipathy of the right to government on its head.”