David Miliband presents a compelling explanation of the issue that dominates his work, writes Richard Angell

In his new book, David Miliband guides the reader between three experiences that shape his views of refugees and displaced people – his parents, the ‘first refugees’ he ever met both fleeing the holocaust; his time in government, as author of the world’s first Climate Act with legally binding targets and as Britain’s foreign secretary; and in his current role as president of the International Rescue Committee.

He has a compelling analysis of why he lost two elections in 2010 – the general election as a senior member of the government, and then to his brother, his junior, which he attributes to a failure to move from a mindset of governing to campaigning ‘quickly enough’. Equally, on the policy issue that continues to provide a strangle hold on centre-left people in Labour getting a wider hearing in our own party, Iraq he says ‘was our – and my – biggest mistake in government’. For the policy failures, its impact on Labour politics and it holding back the right action in Syria, he says he is ’frustrated as well as appalled by the legacy of [the Iraq] war’.

Not just for those in Labour does this book appear timely. On both Donald Trump and the unfolding crisis faced by the minority Muslim population in Rakhine State within Myanmar, Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of our Time is as current a call for immediate action as it is poignant and agenda setting for a longer-term policy shift. The analysis is vintage New Labour – focused on outcomes, devoid of dogma, pro-markets where they work, pro-state where it can make a difference, radical and redistributive.

First, he calls on the development sector to increase the aid they give in cash. The IRC has pledged to give 25 per cent of its aid in cash by 2020, it is currently at 11 per cent. The ‘agency’ it gives refugees and internally displaced people is transformative to their life chances. Second, for the proportion of money spend of education – currently less than two per cent of humanitarian spending – needs to dramatically change. Get this right and it reduces ‘child labour, early marriage, even radicalisation’. Third, he says the issue that feels like ‘bang[ing] your head against a wall’ is how little is done to reduce violence against women and girls. This is currently 0.5 per cent of aid spending but where it happens, it is utterly life changing.

But more so, Miliband’s polemic demands a mindset rethink by western democracies. Their populations may feel burdens by refugees but they are far from it. Europe is 20 per of the world’s wealth with 11 per cent of its refugees, the United States is 25 per cent of the wealth with just one per cent of the refugees. It is poor countries and their immediate neighbours that house the vast majority of the world’s 65 million refugees. He therefore makes a moral case – not just to world leaders who need to get their act together – but the general populous, and in particular the people of his former constituency South Shields. This pitch is not policy, it is values: ‘when we rescue refugees, we rescue ourselves’.


Richard Angell is director of Progress


Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time by David Miliband

Simon & Schuster UK | 160pp | £8.99