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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  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    It's clear that David is the smarter of the two brothers here. Like a rat leaving a sinking ship. The rest of us are re-arranging the deck chairs while the Titanic sinks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    216. maximus


    Sad to see so many have swallowed the Tory by-line. As I recall the problems were caused by an international banking system indulging in casino practices, it was this which the GLOBAL meltdown not politicians. Tories were eager to endorse the majority of Labour economic policies I seem to remember just as they did the Iraq 2003 war. It seems collective amnesia is rife in the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    It is actually a shame, Labour picked wrong brother in 2010 & they'll pay the price for that. With David they would have had a man who is articulate & who doesn't look like one half of Wallace & Gromit. Ed is out of his depth in a Gordon Brown style - hopeless. Tories would have been far more worried about Labour had it been David as leader, as it is they probably know that Ed poses little threat

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    I can describe the work carried out by David Milliband in our constituency in one word: Nothing.

    So why did the people of South Shields vote for him ? Why not vote for a local independent candidate who will fight your cause ? There are plenty of them & they never seem to get more than a few hundred votes. Did the voters think a champagne socalist would care more ???

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    I'd be interested to know if the phone calls, internet connection for email, and postage of documents necessary for Dave's move into his new role, as well as hotel bills etc. for meetings were paid for under expenses by the taxpayer.

    He may well have paid out of his own pocket, but if I were the guy who checks expenses, I'd be having a good old look.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    It's interesting reading many of these comments that many of us seem to think Labour have the wrong Milliband - I keep seeing the same comments of 'take your brother', 'its the wrong one', etc. I don't think they are all coming from non-Labourites either...
    Ed seems to be damaging the Labour Party more than the previous incumbent did - career politicians!

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    Great, just one more to go aka "Ernie from Sesame Street"

    David Miliband > Ed Miliband at actually coming across as a down to earth person. Wrong choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    I can assure you that UKIP is nearer to the wishes of the ordinary worker than any of the three main parties... Ask the ordinary bloke

    Just about sums up UKIP that. Cheap beer, fags and no foreigners... thats what we all want. Right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Maybe he can get his charity to help the UK.

    It might do a better job than this and the previous governments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    Great news, now there is definitely no chance of a Labour government returning to power under the bunch of idiots led and surrounded by Ed Milliband. Since brother David will be working for a charity, he will have a much better salary than the Prime Minister anyway and can claim to be doing something "worthwhile ".

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    No doubt he takes a gold plated HoC pension with him, can he take his useless brother too please. Former Labour Voter

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    Man quits job, man starts new job.

    How is this news?

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    Well that was a waste...

    Mind you it's too be expected as he has been acting as if he didn't want any part in the labour party's collective fortune ever since his brother won the leadership. Maybe if he had been elected his brother would have shown the emotional maturity to remain involved in national politics rather than going off in a huff. The better man won the leadership it would seem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    Don't blame him for a minute, if you can get stabbed in the back by your own brother there is no chance with the rest of the politicians

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    another Labour "workers" hero ha ha away to fill his privilaged pockets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    South Shields is famed for:

    UK Roman fort garrisoned by Syrians

    first race riots against Yemeni immigrants

    William Wouldhave - Wouldbe Inventor of Lifeboat and no doubt inspiration for founding of International Resuce

    first purpose built mosque in UK

    David Milliband son of Jewish immigrants fleeing the country for a better life over the pond as things back home go from bad to worse

  • Comment number 249.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    A sad day as this was the brother that should have been the Labour party leader and subsequent Prime Minister.
    I fear now that Labour will struggle to form a government and not win an election for many years.
    What is wrong with the Labour party for the last 20 years?
    Good luck to David Milliband.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    I think a spell on the streets collecting change, or attending to the needs of the needy and the poor would give Mr Miliband a sense of perspective. When he is out on the streets of New York, ministering to the poor and the vulnerable, his anonymity will be an asset.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    Quote from Norman Smith Chief political correspondent

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

    “Supporters” would be the BBC then, no wonder he doing OK with the BBC running a 2 year long Party political Broadcast on behalf of the labour Party !


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