Monday, May 15

Miliband, is he up to the job ?

Meeting with the Minister
by Peter Troy

The first in a series of weekly comments on Ministers that I have met over the years and their present day roll in British Political Life. As an undistinguished observer in the shadows of British Politics for over 5 decades (I started when I was at Prep. school) I have met every Prime Minister since Harold Wilson; as well as numerous Cabinet Ministers both past and present.
I guarantee that in keeping with this blog's style my recollections will be frank and controversial; after all I do have my reputation to consider.


The first subject in the series is, The Right Honourable David Miliband MP.

My encounter with David Miliband at the BBC's Radio Studios in Newcastle during the run up to the June 2001 General Election left me under impressed. The occasion was a 'phone in programme focused on ''Europe'' (meaning the EU of course).
Miliband or 'laggyband' as I prefer to call him, owing to his undoubted ability to stretch a point, had been parachuted into fight the safe constituency of South Shields in Labour's North East heartland. He had obviously impressed his boss after three years as the Head of the Number Ten Policy Unit (a spin Doctor).

Miliband's hand shake was limp his eye contact policy was to avoid one, his manner was clinical his gait was self conscious and his suit was crumpled.

As the questions flowed in the BBC studio it was quite clear that Miliband's knowledge of the actual workings and structures of the EU was fairly superficial. He trotted out the favourite and unsustainable line about job losses if ever the UK were to leave the EU as well as Blair's then often used line of how we export more to the EU (quite incorrectly) than we import from ''Europe''.
Millband's on air opponent was UKIP's candidate who was standing in the Durham City constituency, one Chris Williamson (a small business owner and mother of two) whose political experience was somewhat less than the soon to be MP. However, Chris very much upstaged Milliband.

On every EU question that was put to the pair Chris dominated the answers and indeed the entire live on air programme, Miliband was vague and very week on detail. Chris, the inspired political newcomer skilfully interrupted the experienced 'Number 10' man. Mind you, Chris had been exceptionally well briefed by her Campaign Manager, no false modesty on this blog.
Anyway my point in recalling the event is that as I left the studio I recall being amazed at Millband's apparent shallow grasp of the fundamental details on his party's core subject plus his general lack of skill in front of a microphone.

Having watched and listened Miliband on air many times since I remain unimpressed. His vocabulary, it would appear, is not as extensive as his reputation suggests.

It has come to pass five years after my brief encounter with David Miliband that he is now the newly appointed Political head of DEFRA, having taken over the post from Margaret Becket who was in turn appointed Foreign Secretary following Jack Straw's sacking.
I seriously wonder if 'lagyband' will grasp his new brief. The first massive problem facing the South Tyneside MP is the delays in subsidy payments of farmers because of the bureaucratic backlog in his new department.
Miliband, told The Daily Telegraph last week that the chaos that had driven many farmers to the point of ruin was likely to affect some of next year's Single Payment Scheme. Well there is nothing like a negative statement to inspire confidence !
Only 56,000 out of 120,000 claims for payments lodged in 2005 - the first year of the scheme - have been met in full so far, because of computer and other problems at the Rural Payments Agency, part of the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.
Applications for money under the 2006 scheme have to be submitted by farmers by May 31. More problems could be expected with those payments, Milliband said. "There are big challenges about 2006 and there is no point in hiding them. That is why we are saying to farmers if possible get your claims in now. "About 5,000 farmers - those with the most complex applications - have yet to receive any payment for 2005. Also 31,000 have been given only an 80 per cent partial payment. In total 85 per cent of the £1.5 billion of payments have now gone out.
The department had hoped to have most of the subsidies paid by February and 95 per cent by March. But the computer system could not cope with the application, including thousands from small holders of land who were applying for less than £700. Britain will have to pay fines to the European Union (our governmental overlords) from June 30 on any money not paid by then.

Milliband, said to The Daily Telegraph last week "There is no question it has been damaging. It has affected a lot of lives. Ithas caused a lot of stress." Well he is correct on that point. Miliband conceded that having had no background on the land some farmers might see him as unsuitable for the post. He did not even possess a pair of Wellington boots!
I trust the new Secretary of Sate for the Environment and Rural Affairs now has a far better working knowledge of the EU than he did five years go. As for Wellington boots, well to be fair there is not much need for them in the Westminster Village.

1 comment:

Chris Williamson said...

Interesting article, I remember the broadcast well. I think you are right about Milliband.