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 405.

    #235 I agree 100%, however does the other Millibland know something we do not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    The Labour Party have nothing to offer this country. If they were elected they would ruin the country again and again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    There goes any chance we had of a Labour government being returned at the next election. It was a tragedy when he lost the leadership election. Ed is as inspiring as a cold dog t**d.

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    "Doug Stanhope
    I wrote to David Milliband around 18 months ago. He wrote back too and he's not even my MP!... Sure sign this guy genuinely cared, unlike my actual local Tory MP who just fobbed me off"

    I wrote to David Miliband but he threw my letter in the bin with an evil laugh whereas the Tory MP I wrote to came round and cleaned my car and did the dishes for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.


    So G Brown was supposed to be able to see what no one else in the world could see coming

    There were quite a few people in finance who DID see it coming - some of them even flagged up the situation. Most just made their money and got out before the ship sank. It was Gordy's job to pay more attention and be more careful with the purse strings. He failed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    He could always try childrens TV presenting . . . . I'm sure the beeb can find him a slot ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    Is there an Internal Rescue Committee that could take E Milliband to save Americans from their fellows who demand their right to gun them down?

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    He's a good and decent guy, but not standing up against Brown and then being publicly fleeced by his younger brother...nowhere to go but out - whatever the mealy-mouthed may say now he's effectively gone. But - good news is he could be back if he makes a determined show of repairing these chinks in his armour IMO and lets fade the doctrinaire Miliband legacy that Ed thinks the nation needs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    The Labour party have just lost their next Prime Minister.

    The Coalition's worst nightmare was David Miliband as leader and for that reason they have "gone easy" on Ed in case he was replaced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    one drain from the excessive public Westminster expenses to be replaced by another ineffective drone...
    Continue ad infinitum

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    Probability Conservatives will not win 2015 election is high, so it follows that Ed Miliband is likely to be the next PM.
    In the circumstances there is no point waiting around as potential leader in case Labour loses the election.
    Meanwhile David is constrained in what he can do from the backbenches and Realpolitik he's about as much use as a chocolate teapot to Labour. Do something useful instead

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    Good riddance - bloke was a lightweight "yes" man with no ideological or political conviction. Totally overrated politician whose ego will probably lead him to try and get back into British politics when the "time is right".

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    Good riddance. But unfortunately, I suspect he will one day be back to pursue the traitorous policies he supported during the hideous Blair/Brown days. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled drug-dealers, muggers, rapists and terrorists, any one at all really, so long as they are likely to vote Labour so that yet more of their chums can come in and turn UK into Anglistan". Thanks Labour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    Makes no difference. Politicians are just conduits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    $428, 571

    Year ending 2010 the CEO of IRC was paid $428, 571...not sure if president gets more or whether it is just hamming up the job title.

    I've switched my charitable giving from national to local charities having heard how much big charity execs are earning, but what really clinched it was that they'd refuse to use budget airlines for site visits & racked up huge expenses. Good luck Dave!

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    Bread better buttered on the other side? The electorate really is being served very poorly. I hope that they remember this if he decides he does not like the move and wants to return to UK politics. Will he at some point get offered a title and a well paid sinecure back here in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    361 oldgrumpyman - Tories will lose next election...to who?? Labour, who bankrupted us...LibDems, who have shown themselves to be morally bankrupt and politically naive...UKIP, heaven help us. Who does that leave us with...Monster Raving Loony Party....hmmm...there's a thought...how bad could they be

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    Big loss to Labour; probably means Ed Balls will be the next Chancellor; not getting my vote if that is the case. DM should have been leader

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    As someone who is South Shields born and bred, I can only say, without any political bias whatsoever, that the constituency 'should' be a much better place without David Milliband. He is never there, seems disinterested and unresponsive to local affairs, and has a taxpayer funded house in the constituency which is unused as far as I can tell. Let's have some new, and caring, blood please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    Could he take the rest of the Labour front bench with him? Particularly all those who served under Blair and Brown.


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