New Statesman debate: Live blog

Alex Smith

By Alex Smith / @alexsmith1982

MY own verdict, as I’ve tweeted it, is:

“Abbott & Ed M favourites in hall, & had most cogent arguments. David M good on Foreign. Burnham good on populist issues.”


Andy Burnham: “I’ve found this quite heartening. Let’s commit to win next time, because we can win next time, but only if we go through this process and it helps us come back stronger. I think it will. I don’t think anything specific lost us this election, I think it’s more fundmental. People lost sight of what we are about. If you want to put people back at the heart of the people’s party, be part of my campaign. If you’re not New Labour, or Next Labour, but Our Labour – be part of my campaign.”

David Miliband: “I’m passionate about devolving power. I’m serious about climate change. And I’m passionate that we are an internationalist party and an internationalist country. I’m authentic: I will support radical reform. Politics and leadership is not just about what we do, it’s about what you do. I pledge to bring out the best in you, so that we really are a living breathing movement for change.”

Diane Abbott: “I was always told I can’t. In recent weeks, people have said – including the New Statesman – that I couldn’t get on the ballot and that I wasn’t up to it. But I say to you that I have got on the ballot, and I hope that I have proved I’m up to it, and I look forward to debate.”

Very big applause for Diane Abbott.

Ed Miliband: “The question is who can best turn the page from Blair and Brown. We need to change our philosophy – to economics, we need to do our economy in a different way, and through our values. And we need to change our party, and that means more power for annual conference. And we need someone who can inspire, with a different vision of society – a more just, more sustainable society.”

Ed Balls: “Winning is more than just about choosing the leader of our party. We need to make sure every MP, every party member, union member becomes a leader in their constituency. Political parties lose touch with their roots at their peril. There are many people who depend on us. Our party was formed 100 years ago to fight for social justice and to be the voice of the voiceless. We must become this, in our campaigning against a deeply flawed coalition.”

An interesting exchange of head-shaking for the Milibands just now:

21:00 David said:

“The worst thing that ever happened to Tony Blair was George Bush”

Ed responded:

“George Bush was an unfortunate accident for the world, but you have to base your alliances on your values, not base your values on your alliances.”

Big applause for Ed as he says “sometimes you have to get off the train if it’s heading in the wrong direction”.

20:45 The questions have moved from Trident to Iraq. This could be another heated part of the discussion. Balls says “we got Iraq wrong”. Ed Miliband says Labour should apologise for going to war on a false premise (my words), but that it shouldn’t be too much of an issue – it’s time to move on. David Miliband says voting for the war was one of the toughest decisions he ever took; but that he voted to support the war. He says if he’d known then that there were no WMD “of course I wouldn’t have supported the war.” And he says “the idea that we’ll be fighting the 2015 election on Iraq is wrong.” Diane Abbott says Labour needs to find an ethical foreign policy again. Burnham says “of course, with hindsight, there were things we should have done differently; but I do not step away from the fundamental decision.” Burnham also says “we mustn’t forget that as of now, the country has a better future”. Ed Balls says he would have voted for the war had he been in parliament; and questions Ed Miliband’s answer that he would have voted against the war in 2003.

20:30 A question from the floor focuses on Trident and its relative value in the face of cuts. Ed Miliband says he is in favour of multi-lateral disarmament, and it’s right that “we look at the question of Trident renewal”. Diane Abbott says Trident “is not the weapon we need fot the challenges ahead, and a “huge sum of money to defend ourselves against the Tory press”. There are a handful of dissenting voices from the floor as David Miliband makes his case for renewing Trident. He also says “the strategic defence review is beside the point, we should be in the multi-lateral talks”. Andy Burnham says “we can’t take a big step into the unknown”. David Miliband says “I’m campaigning on the manifesto we stood on”. Ed Miliband responds “how can you possibly say we’re going to stand again on every aspect of our manifesto. We lost the election.” There’s laughter from the audience as David Miliband says, spikily, “we hear the word ‘technocrat’ bandied around alot.” He’s losing his patience with this part of the discussion.

20:20 For the last ten minutes, all five candidates have been talking about immigration. David Miliband said that “if you want to go along with phrases like ‘British jobs for British workers’ then vote for someone else. Burnham and Abbott agree in part that immigration concerns are expressed in terms of class and housing. Ed Balls and Ed Miliband are now going mano-a-mano. Ed Balls criticised the pace of movement of migrants from the EU; Ed Miliband can’t get a word in edgeways and quips at the end of the monologue that “it’s like being back at the Treasury”.

20:10 Burnham says: “It looked like we put big business before people. It looked like we were seduced by power, wealth and glamour. ” Ed Miliband says he agrees with Burnham. Burnham says conference should be about proper debates – that he saw Walter Woolfgang and it reminded him conference has lost its purpose.

19:55 Ed Miliband: “This has to be about a different vision for the economy, a different vision of society. This has to be about the type of society we want.” Ed Balls uses the now-classic line: “I agree with Ed.” He says the Tories will demolish the institutions of government because they believe in it, not for economic reasons. He says “in the case of the liberals, I think they’re just naive”. David Miliband says “we were too timid about industrial policy, ironically after Peter Mandelson left..New Labour was about wealth distribution again; we’ve got to be that party again”. Diane Abbot says Labour need to get the balance right between public sector cuts and taxation. She gets a big round of applause for her opposition to Trident. Balls again plays the “I agree with Ed card: “Ed said he supports keeping the 50p tax. I do, I think proabably we all do.” It would be interesting to see if all 5 candidates do actually support the continuation of the 50p top tax rate.

19:50 Ouch! Mehdi Hasan asked Ed Miliband what it is about hist brother David that he doesn’t like, and made him want to stand himself. Ed says he can inspire people to come to the movement, and that it should be a wide debate with many personalities. And he says “I’m not going to denegrate any of the candidates, and certainly not my brother.” David M. says “if I thought Ed would be a better leader, I’d be running his campaign.” Burnham says he wonders who used to win the fights in the Miliband household – “or the debates, I should say”. Burnham is casting himself as the ordinary working class hero – saying it as it is. He just received the first spontaneous applause for saying he’s not factional. Ed Balls says he will support the winner of the election, whoever wins.


19:40 Andy Burnham opened, saying he can put the heart and soul back into Labour. David Miliband opens by talking about Crosland and the meaning of socialism. He said he joined Labour to fight inequality and is standing now to fight inequalities of wealth and power. Diane Abbott says this is a turn the page election for Labour, but that the task is not just to select a leader, but to have a debate about the kind of party Labour wants to be. She seems to have a lot of support in the room. Ed Miliband says, simply, it’s time to move on from Blair and Brown, and that he’s the man to do that. He says Labour became managers and technocrats, and wants to put values at the centre of the labour movement. Ed Balls, smartly, casts himself as part of a hundred years of Labour history. He says Labour should choose not selfishness but solidarity. He talks about the need to defend welfare state and jobs, and says the fightback against the Tories starts “here, tonight in this hall”.

All the candidates applauded each other at the end of each of their opening statements.

19:40 Diane Abbott got a big cheer as she walked in the chamber, easily the biggest, though all the candidates received a warm welcome from the Staggers’ audience.

19:25 Andy Burnham has just arrived. As he did, he told Nick Robinson:

“I can offer something the Tories haven’t got; I can offer a different background – one that people relate to”.


There’s been a long, long queue outside. Evidently Labour’s leadership candidates can inspire the public:


The five leadership candidates are taking part in the New Statesman debate tonight at Church House in Westminster. I’ll be live blogging what they have to say.

Here’s the scene forty minutes or so before the debate starts. It’s a beautiful venue.

New Statesman

There are also forty or so Ed Miliband supporters outside the event holding a rally in support of their guy. They’re singing “Ed for leader! Miliband!” This picture was taken as they were warming up:

Ed M

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