Labour MP and former Foreign Secretary David Miliband visited Norwich and UEA on Tuesday 20 November, during which he partook in a question and answer session with students.
Concrete interviewed Mr Miliband on employment, foreign affairs and the next general election.
David Miliband and News editor, Philip Thomas.
When Concrete interviewed Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green party, she suggested that Labour “isn’t speaking up for” or changing public perceptions of “the unemployed or disabled.”
Mr Miliband challenged Ms Bennett’s assertion, saying: “Since I’ve been doing a lot of work on youth unemployment, I think it’s a bit unfair.
“The truth is that high unemployment is partly a cyclical issue about the way in which an economy is being run in the short term, but it’s also a structural issue to do with the changing nature of the economy, and I think the party’s been trying to address both.”
On pay equality, and his support of the living wage, Mr Miliband explained that: “The argument for the living wage is partly that, pay inequality in the public and private sector is a problem. It a very powerful argument.
“Movement for Change is an organisation I created, and is working with Labour students around the country to ensure the living wage is paid to cleaning and catering staff on university campuses.
“I hope it will come to UEA as well, I think they’ve got policy in that direction and there’s really good leadership from the university authorities. Pay equity refers to the gender pay gap, and that’s an important issue to address as well.”
Mr Miliband chaired the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations commission on youth unemployment. When asked how the Labour party would tackle inequality of opportunity and reduce youth unemployment, he replied: “preparation and motivation for work is not strong enough, and the government’s decision to abolish the compulsory work experience requirement is a step backwards.
“The quality and clarity of options for those not going to university is not sufficient. That’s a big problem, and so the party’s got the idea of a technical baccalaureate as a mirror to A-levels.”
He also stressed that “we’ve got to have a welfare state that intervenes earlier and more effectively when people are long-term unemployed.”
David Miliband was asked what the Labour party would do to create graduate jobs, and ensure that higher education is a viable and economical option despite the debt students incur.
“I don’t buy the argument that we’re over-educating people”.
He referred to the McKinsey study which suggested the developed world would “suffer a shortage of skilled workers in 2020, and a glut of unskilled workers … all of the economics shows it’s skilled people that we need.”
Responding to this claim, Concrete asked him whether the government could nonetheless create the circumstances that produce graduate level employment.
“The key thing is we’re qualifying graduates in the right subjects. We’ve got to make sure that in the sciences, in computer science and engineering, we’re not falling behind.
“In subjects like medicine, chemistry and biology we’ve got fantastic history. We’ve got to make sure that we’re training people in the right areas, but I don’t buy the argument that we’re over-educating people”.
Drawing on Mr Miliband’s foreign affairs experience, he was next asked for his opinion on government diplomacy in the Middle East, particularly with regards to the increasingly volatile conflicts in Syria and the Gaza strip.
“the festering wound of Gaza has just been left”
Speaking on the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip he stated that “the current government have focused on the short-term. I would draw a distinction between the proximate cause (the missile offensive), and the deeper cause that the festering wound of Gaza has just been left. And until you address it, you’re into a situation where every three or four years hundreds of people get killed, but to not particular avail.”
“My differences with the current government on foreign policy are twofold. I think their approach to the European Union is dangerous, and secondly their view that commercial diplomacy can be privileged over all other aspects of diplomacy is disguised if you’re a member of the UN Security Council.”
“If Labour can’t win in places like Norwich North, it won’t be forming the government.”
Finally, Mr Miliband was asked about the prospects for the Labour party at the next general election, both locally and nationally.
He praised the work of parliamentary candidate Jessica Asoto, saying: “I think we will win back Norwich North and Norwich South, because of the politics that Jess represents. That is the politics that is based in communities … and is really honest with people about the nature of the problems the country faces and what can be done.”
He described Labour as “a reforming, modern, progressive and left-of-centre party,” saying that “Jess and Clive [Lewis] are a formidable duo for team Labour in Norwich”. His concluding statement proposed that “as Norwich goes, so the country will go. If Labour can’t win in places like Norwich North, it won’t be forming the government.”