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.

Analysis

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
    +4

    Comment number 425.

    416.Del Griff
    12 Minutes ago
    The Labour Party made a huge mistake and elected the wrong brother as leader. Now they are paying a huge price for their error.

    ++++

    You assume that Labour actually wants the responsibility of power.

  • rate this
    +30

    Comment number 424.

    In comparison to his brother he is a more experienced, more able politician. His moment should have been in 2009 to challenge (and almost certainly beat) Gordon Brown but he ducked it.

    His decision to leave politics is correct as he is now a fish out of water but he is a sitting MP and he should have seen out his term before quitting.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 423.

    At least this gives David Milliband a chance to wash off the stain of being in Blair's bunch that turned Labour into a corrupt self-serving spin-machine. Brown's bunch who wanted everyone fingerprinted and microchipped is no better. Labour needs a credible, untainted leader - neither of the Balls or Millibands. It shouldn't hope to win in 2015 purely on the back of everyone's hatred for Tories.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 422.

    393. Surly Tapster
    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.

    Do you have any evidence that areas with a high Asian population vote Labour? Don't most immigrants live in tory London, where the money is? Or does your hatred of Labour trump your hatred of Asians and blind you to obvious truths?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 421.

    When Ed took the leadership the party shot themselves in the foot.

    David would have been the peoples choice to restore a little faith in the party learning from it's mistakes. But seriously any chance of Ed being replaced by his bro would've been a massive embarrassment to Labour so was never going to happen.

    Effectively the party destroyed itself through vanity !

    UKIP for South Shields then !

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 420.

    I've been trying to find out what David Miliband did before entering politics that qualifies him to be a politician, but without much success.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 419.

    Is he setting himself up as the prodigal son?.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 418.

    This post has been REMOVED
    I removed it myself before the Michael Foot Moderator nobbled it again.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 417.

    Does this leave Ed Milliband in the clear? No.
    The son of a Marxist called on the Union vote to become Labour leader and will now do their bidding. The die hard Socialist class warriors of the left will play out the same old prejudices, whilst hopeless Tories play out the last two years of their wasted time in office.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 416.

    The Labour Party made a huge mistake and elected the wrong brother as leader. Now they are paying a huge price for their error.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 415.

    I can't believe the number of negative comments on here! I've never voted Labour (I've always lived in a Tory/Lib marginal seat, for starters) but it seems to me that the Labour party have lost a decent MP who would have made a good party leader. Once again evidence that the system is crying out for reform, in terms of party funding and, in the case of the Labour party, the union block votes.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 414.

    That is great news for British politics, the last thing we need is the labour party to return to being more Tory than the Tories.
    It would be nice if he could take the other pseudo Tories with him and return the labour party back to its roots.
    Then we once again we could have political parties with real manefesto differences.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 413.

    Tony Benn. All that needs to be said.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 412.

    .....and his new 'wage' will be ????

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 411.

    I wonder - Can he not take his brother, Balls etc with him as they are very embarrasing to the majority of English voters, I do not include Scottish voters as hopefully they will get the Leader they wan in Alec Salmond the more left whingers that go the better !

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 410.

    The Labour Party are likely to win the next election, however with the ongoing Ponzi scheme Labour set up in the housing market, sooner or later all of us may have to emigrate!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 409.

    @388. John Petrie.

    Re Ed Balls. Ed Balls said what would happen if Gideon Osbourne followed the plans that the Tories proposed. EB was right on just about everything.

    The sensible thing was to pay down the debt more slowly and over a longer period and reduce the deficit.

    We need to rembember 50+% of the debt was accumulated keeping the country from going to the wall after the Lehman collapse.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 408.

    388.John Petrie
    3 Minutes ago
    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

    +++

    They'll never drop E B. They couldn't take the inevitable headlines.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 407.

    This is a good thing for Labour the public do not want more of the same, heir to Blair who was heir to Thatcher Ed Milliband is trying to steer Labour away from the neo-liberal consensus that caused the current crisis and the leading opponent to that has now left smiles all round

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 406.

    If he was leading the Labour Party now, I would at least give my old party the time of day. David is a lost opportunity for Labour and maybe the country. He could have made a great statesman.

    But consider Ed Miliband? And that sorry bunch of elitist liberals on the opposition front bench? Would I vote for them? Go figure...

 

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