David Miliband 'feared being distraction' for Labour


David Miliband: ''I didn't want to become a distraction'

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David Miliband has said he "feared being a distraction" and hopes his decision to leave UK politics helps his brother Ed to lead Labour against the coalition in an "uninhibited way".

The former foreign secretary, pipped to Labour's leadership by his younger brother in 2010, is to step down as an MP and join a US-based charity.

He told the BBC it had been a "very difficult" decision to make.


So does David Miliband's departure strengthen or weaken his brother ?

His friends insist his departure deprives Labour of a figure who would have brought experience and authority to Labour's front bench.

It's argued he would have enabled Labour to better reach out beyond its core vote and to attract those elusive southern voters.

He may also have helped re-fashion Labour's stance on the economy and so regained the party more credibility on the economy.

And yet there were also clear dangers.

A return to the shadow cabinet could have just prompted endless sibling psychodrama stories.

The Labour leader's supporters could reasonably argue their man isn't doing so bad without the help of his brother.

And while in the Westminster village the pros and cons of the most senior remaining Blairite's departure will be much mulled over, outside, life goes on.

Ed Miliband said the move would leave British politics "a poorer place".

But after serving as an MP for 12 years, David Miliband said: "I now have to make a choice about how to give full vent to my ideas and ideals."

In an interview with BBC political editor Nick Robinson, he said: "I feared being a distraction in whatever role I played at Westminster.

"I feel a sense of sadness because I am British. I love Britain. I am passionate about Labour, but I have had to make a choice about where I can make my best contribution."

He said it had been "hard for me to accept that I can best help the Labour Party by not just giving the space between the front bench and the back bench to Ed, but the space between the front bench and 3,000 miles away".

"I have wrestled with this very, very hard, and I have tried to make a decision that I honestly say to Labour members and supporters that is right for me and for the Labour Party.

"I want it to be the vision Ed Miliband has versus the vision David Cameron has. Not Ed and David Miliband. I didn't want to become a distraction. I didn't want the soap opera to take over the real substance of what needs to be done."

The former foreign secretary did not rule out an eventual come back in British politics, but said: "I am taking a job in America, not taking citizenship in America. I will continue to follow what's going on here, but my focus is going to be making a difference through the International Rescue Committee."

'Time has helped heal it'

David Miliband was long seen as a future Labour leader, with supporters of Tony Blair pushing him to stand against Gordon Brown when Mr Blair stepped down as prime minister and Labour leader in 2007.

David Miliband

  • Studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University
  • From 1994 to 1997 was head of policy for Tony Blair, and from 1997 to 2001 was head of his policy unit in Downing Street
  • In June 2002 was appointed Schools Minister
  • Various ministerial appointments followed, and in June 2007 became foreign secretary
  • Married to Louise, a violinist, they have two sons - Isaac and Jacob

There were also frequent reports that he was set to challenge Mr Brown during the three years he was prime minister before leading Labour to defeat at the 2010 election.

Instead of challenging, Mr Miliband bided his time and entered the post-election Labour leadership contest as overwhelming favourite - only to lose to his brother, who gained more union votes but fewer votes from Labour members and MPs.

The disappointment and strained relations led to David Miliband deciding to step down from the Labour front bench to, as he put it in his letter of resignation, "give Ed the space and the same time the support he needed to lead the party without distraction".

Wednesday's announcement seemingly brings to an end the almost constant rumours that he was set for a return to the opposition front bench.

Ed Miliband "If I am prime minister, I will make sure he serves the country in one way or another, because he is a huge talent".

In his statement Ed Miliband said: "Having spoken to him a lot over the past few months, I know how long and hard he thought about this before deciding to take up the offer. I also know how enthusiastic he is about the potential this job provides.

"We went through a difficult leadership contest but time has helped to heal that. I will miss him. But although he is moving to America, I know he will always be there to offer support and advice when I need it."

David Miliband's decision will spark a by-election in South Shields, where he has been MP since 2001, although the timing of any vote is not yet known.

Nick Robinson said Mr Miliband had "clearly concluded he does not want to return to the fray, he doesn't want to serve under his brother in opposition or in government which is a serious blow to his brother, and disappointment to members of the party".

American violinist

In his letter to his constituency party chairman, Mr Miliband said the International Rescue Committee was founded in the 1930s at Albert Einstein's suggestion to help people fleeing the Nazis. And his own family history - his parents both fled Germany in the 1930s - meant "I feel that in doing this job I will be repaying a personal debt".

International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee is well known in charity circles as an emergency relief and development agency. Its symbol, a big yellow arrow, flies over refugee camps and hospitals around the world.

The International Rescue Committee was also, of course, the fictional organisation of heroes in the 1960s children's TV series, Thunderbirds.

After David Miliband has got over the jokes about becoming "Thunderbird One" he'll discover an organisation that not only seeks to help poor people around the world but also advocates policy changes to stop them being poor in the first place.

One of the IRC's best known projects was an in-depth study in 2010 of mortality rates in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It concluded that the war in the central African country - and the consequent devastation of health care - had, over a decade, caused the deaths of over 5m people, making Congo the deadliest conflict since World War Two.

I travelled with an IRC doctor along the Congo River in a dugout canoe to see the situation. The Congolese medic, Dr Pascal Ngoy, took me to clinics that were no more than hovels and "regional hospitals" without staff or drugs.

But the IRC doctor also showed his practical side. We stopped our canoe when a women shouted for help from the river bank. She was suffering from terrible complications in her pregnancy.

With no equipment but a pair of rubber gloves Dr Ngoy performed an emergency abortion and saved the woman's life.

BBC radio documentary on work of the IRC

"This job brings together my personal story and political life. It represents a new challenge and a new start," he said.

The MP, who is vice-chairman and non-executive director of Sunderland Football Club, is married to violinist Louise Shackelton - who has dual UK/US citizenship - and the couple have two children.

Tony Blair, former Labour leader and prime minister, said: "I congratulate David on his appointment to a major international position. It shows the huge regard in which David is held worldwide. I'm sure he will do a great job. He is obviously a massive loss to UK politics.

"He was the head of my policy unit and then a truly distinguished minister in the government and remains one of the most capable progressive thinkers and leaders globally. I hope and believe this is time out, not time over."

David Miliband's former cabinet colleagues, Lord Mandelson and Jack Straw, said they did not think it was the end of his political career.

"I think he has a future in politics... I think I know a little bit about comebacks in politics and, to coin a phrase, if I can come back [then] David Miliband can come back - and I think he will," said Lord Mandelson.

Mr Straw said he would be "welcomed back into the Labour movement".

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps added: "He has contributed a great deal to British politics and we wish him well."

Former US President Bill Clinton congratulated the charity on appointing Mr Miliband, saying: "I have known David almost 20 years. He is one of the ablest, most creative public servants of our time."

But Labour MP John Mann described Mr Miliband as "the man who would have been prime minister if he had ever asked 'And what is your view'?"


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  • Comment number 205.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    "IRC CEO’s salary. Dr. George Rupp, former Pres. of Columbia University, brings in a cool $357,657 a year salary according to the organization’s 2005 Form 990. Thats more than the Vice President of the United States, the Speaker of the House, or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court receive (no wonder public service is so unpopular)."
    Says it all.
    Good luck then Altruistic David.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Anyone wish to start the betting on who will be parachuted into such a safe Labour seat, rather than being selected on their merits and - dare I say it - local connections and lived there?

  • Comment number 202.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    160. The Ace Face
    How many of you rightwing nutjobs on here would have done the same if it means an increase in your salary, afterall, that's what you preech isn't it?

    Not a "right wing nut job". Yes I would take the job, but I would not have feigned interest in some skint folk up North, paid them no attention, and abused their support to further my own ends first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Any chance of extraditing him from the US at some future date for his complicity in resisting enquiries into torture in 2010? Good riddance to a New-Labour-Tory warmonger and right wing Blairite. The sooner Labour gets rid of more Blairites, the better, but I'm not holding my breath.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    Lots of nasty Tory trolls on here today (apart from #68 who has actually had some personal contact with DM). It's a good job our nation is in such fine fettle with the present marvellous government and superbly competent PM and chancellor, and not heading for mass poverty and a triple dip recession...

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Aah didums

    David has taken his ball and gone home. What a spoiled brat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Cue more political dithering and media over-hype for the South Shields by-election....

    Meanwhile, Dave's off in New York living the high life!

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    It's ok for Labour ministers to swan off to New York and their lucrative careers while they leave us behind, struggling to climb out of the hole they spent 10 years digging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Quote //102. Jon
    As a resident of South Shields I can describe the work carried out by David Milliband in our constituency in one word: Nothing.

    Tories are worse but Labour to their shame no longer represent the workers. //

    I disagree, Tories do what it says on the Tin

    Labour have lost it (the tin that is)

    Both as bad as each other

    (Ex-Labour party Member)

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    "Studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University, then went on to study political sciences in the US before entering politics as an advisor to Blair before becoming an MP"

    Thats a wealth of experience we are losing just when we needed it isn`t it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Man leaves job for another job
    So what exactly is this story then??????
    What a waste of journalistic time!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 192.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    In your dreams!
    Labour picked the wrong Milliband - I don't think anyone would refer to DM as MilliBLAND - Ed has absolutely no charisma, whereas David appears more Prime Ministerial material to the people that matter - the non-Labourites.
    I hope he succeeds but feel sorry is isn't Ed that's going!

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Of course a large Charity requires an expensive CEO at the top or the whole thing wouold fall to bits and the donations would be wasted. The charity should not be spending more than a few percent on admin, including his salary. My biggest concern would be that someone now has bought the fraternal ear of the next Prime Minister (don't laugh).

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    So lot's of pointless and glib personal insults from the lads at Tory Lie Central regarding the departure of DM .

    It won't make any difference Chaps you are still 13% behind and heading for the exit door.

    Still I am sure there will be plenty of well paid Non Exec Directorships for your leadership after they have finished shafting the country so that's all right then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    They can all leave as far as I am concerned they are just gravy train career politicians. We need a new political system that sees professional people in the cabinet who are employed, monitored and mentored by a commons of apolitical MP’s that work for us not they party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Just see what you can achieve when you can make Blue Peter's Tracey Island from washing up liquid bottles, cereal boxes and sticky-back plastic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    I met a lot of politicians during the course of my career, including David Milliband. By a considerable margin he was the brightest and most astute politician I have ever met, and a really nice chap too. This is a huge loss for British politics, not just the Labour Party.


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