Saturday, 7 November 2009

David Miliband's lessons from Obama

The Fabian Global Change We Need conference is, one year on, asking whether and how 'movement politics' and citizen engagement can influence major global issues, from the global economy, climate change and the Middle East. (You can follow some live tweeting from @thefabians and the David Miliband speech on the Fabian website.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband recalled watching Obama's Chicago speech on television from Belgrade and why he remained optimistic about the transformational agenda of the administration.

So one question from the floor asked him what personal lessons he had taken from Obama's campaign and his personal style.

Miliband said he felt that the biggest lesson of both the campaign and the year since was that movement campaigning had to extend beyond election day:

People often say 'you campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose, as Mario Cuomo said. But the biggest lesson is that you have got to campaign in government as well as in opposition, or in the campaign, that you do not get sucked into governmentalitis. There are enormous pressures for that - but you have got to ensure that you are a persuader in power'.

Earlier, Miliband had said that he felt the importance of the Obama campaign and victory was in challenging the sense that politics offered "a choice between a dessicated managerialism or a debased populism".

The campaign had challenged that because it was defiantly opportunist; international in its scope and unifying in its reach".

"The cynics are out in force", making what he called the "childish" argument that "the waters have not been parted" but arguing that he remained resolutely optimistic about its transformational agenda".

"People ask why hasn't he already solved the world's problems. But that is a category mistake. The whole point of the campaign was that power is distributed". There may be "more power for a superpower", noting how the theme of the campaign had been about combining campaigning advocacy with the power of government, and the need to bring together soft with hard power.

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