Au revoir David Miliband

by Kevin Meagher

There’s an air not just of finality to David Miliband’s announcement that he is quitting British politics but also of inevitability.

Ever since he lost the Labour leadership to his brother in 2010 he has been searching for a meaningful role. For an intelligent, experienced and talented man in the prime of his political career, the taste of defeat was bitter; all the more so when his forward propulsion was stopped dead in its tracks by his own brother.

Such is politics. His campaign to succeed Gordon Brown wasn’t helped by his repeated, misjudged attempts to undermine him from the cabinet table. He waved the dagger but couldn’t thrust it.

In recent times Miliband has taken to saying his role was “on the frontline, not on the frontbench”. By taking up a position (yet undefined) with the New York-based NGO the International Rescue Committee, he will be leading efforts to provide emergency humanitarian relief and human rights advocacy around the world. It is to his credit that his lucrative speechifying and corporate sinecures were clearly not enough to hold his interest.

His departure also says something about our political culture where the pursuit of executive leadership seems to mean everything to restless former ministers. To be fair though, Miliband was the first to realise that sitting in the shadow cabinet would have been a disaster. His every utterance would have been pored over for signs of deviation from his brother. A Jack and Bobby routine was never going to be possible, not after the leadership election.

A contest, of course, David Miliband should have walked. With genuine centre-left DNA he was always much more than a Blair manqué. Yet the central failure of his campaign was in allowing himself to be narrowly defined as the ‘heir to Blair’. He should have pitched himself as a centrist; loyal to the last Labour government but not uncritical of it. His stuffy patrician campaign had all the advantages of money, endorsements and infrastructure but he couldn’t make it count. A victory in any future contest would probably have been equally elusive.

Of course as an insider’s insider, Miliband always has the option of a return. Parachuted into his South Shields seat at the start of the 2001 general election campaign it is not beyond the realm of possibility he could rematerialize. After Mandelson, we should never say never.  While a seat in the Lords for a former foreign secretary is a given.

But for today, at least, he is going to put his not inconsiderable skills and energies to a just cause. It will be a painful wrench for him and his friends and he is a lost talent to British politics, but let’s face it: it’s a move that has been three years coming.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut


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6 Responses to “Au revoir David Miliband”

  1. swatantra says:

    A change is as good as a rest, David. And politics is not the be all and end all of life. There are other things far more iimportant in life, as you probably discovered when teaching your 6th formers than a career politician, who knows b****r all about everyday folk and their everyday trials and tribulations. Maybe there will be a comeback in 10 years who knows; maybe there won’t.
    Davids weakness was that he failed o challenge Gordon for the Leadership when 90% of the Party knew that the writing was on the wall for Labour if Gordon continued in his vein. And so it proved. You don’t get a second chance.

  2. Henrik says:

    This is splendid news and guarantees that the comrades will now move farther and farther from the centre ground. Congratulations, your leftist ideological purity will be unsullied. Of course, you’ll be less electable, but that’s a price worth paying, right?

    Dear oh dear oh dear. Watch the remaining rump of New Labour (you remember them, they won elections) fade out of the party and the unions (you remember them, too, right?) increasingly wave their sock puppet Leader at the electorate and frighten it to death with all sorts of heavy 1970s rhetoric. Good luck with that, comrades.

  3. That’s the Blairites buggered then – and about time.

  4. bob says:

    Here comes the younger version of Michael Foot leading the labour Party, ideologically pure but unelectable.

  5. Ex-Labour says:

    Milliband (D) saw the writing on the wall. The unions now control Labour with McClusky pulling the purse strings and threatening the Labour leadership if they move towards sensible centerist policies. The 44 Lab MP’s voting against a 3 line whip on welfare was probably the last straw for DM.

    Milliband (D) is intelligent and could see that Labour who are supposedly 6 months into a 2 year policy review (surely they should have some policies by now I hear you cry – saddly not) and once these policies are out in the open for other parties to see the Labour poll lead may very well disappear in a short time. It will be back to the days of Foot, Kinnock, Hatton, Livingston etc etc.

  6. John Reid says:

    Ex labour, the unions give 40% of labour funds, they may say swing towards the left or we propose to our members that we’d like em to cancel his funds, but so far the unions haven’t affected labours policies, have you heard ed miliband say he’s gonna change Thathcers anti trade union laws, or tax and spend, regarding the 43 m.p.s voting against the whip, one of em, was Denis Skinner who backed David for leader, and I’d hardly say some of the others like nick Brown or frank Field were proof to David that the party has swung to the left,

    David wasn’t my choice for leader, Ed wasn’t either, but Ed knew how unpopular we were David didn’t ,Eds mistake is that he sees new labour as being unpopular, but his solution is that if we pretend to be old labour we’ll get back votes , won’t wash,

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