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 765.

    he will be back in british politics in a few years time, after his idiot brother and new labour have been devestaded at the next general election.
    along with group memories that folk will always remember, moon landings, jfk, vietnam, 9/11 will be the look of shock/surprise at the labour conference when they elected the wrong milliband, one of the biggest laughs in politics for years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 764.

    Right decision for DM - the NuLab project is over, he belonged to the modernisers and the party is stepping back in time. I doubt he fully agrees with what is happening but is bound by family loyalty [the irony!] to keep his thoughts to himself.

    Whilst he stays on the scene he will always overshadow Ed & be a reminder of how EM got to power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 763.

    I think it is good for the labour party that he is gone he could end uo doing what the like of IDS W Hague or Howard did to the Tory Party Blairism id is like Thatcherism it is dead parties cannot affor to live in the past

  • rate this

    Comment number 762.

    I wish him well but hope that he has enough humility and ability to have learned something, for the sake of his new employer and their clients.

    For those going on about MPs 'for the people' will someone tell me what one of those looks like please?

  • rate this

    Comment number 761.

    Any comments from the Labour Unions that voted for EM? I hope they are pleased with DM effectively being forced to resign.

    Seems like Labour are now moving leftward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 760.

    I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that at the last election the South Shields BNP candidate got nearly 2500 votes and might well beat the Tory candidate in a by-election. That would possibly be the end of David Cameron.

  • rate this

    Comment number 759.

    A wise decision, given that Labour doesn't have a cat in hell's chance of winning another general election for years. He knows that Brown and Balls together mismanaged our economy and neglected our banking system to such an extent that it will take as long to get ourselves out of the mess they left behind. He might learn something about running a business successfully.

  • rate this

    Comment number 758.

    BBC right-wing? This a wind-up? Pro-Europe, pro the global warming myth. The leftie BBC often sounds like a Guardian editorial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 757.

    Who is choosing these HYS topics??

    There are more important things that could do with airing than whether the leader of the oppositions brother has got a new job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 756.

    Sorry, for the first time ever, accidently, I marked up one of my own comments, please forgive me, I am no politician, I do not do that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 755.

    Labour need to look up the meaning of "socialism" after all these years of "Nu Labour". Give me the old Labour that formed the NHS and nationalised utilities etc and I may just consider them again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 754.

    Well that is one Miliband gone now what about the other brother pushing off to make other people's lives a misery. Also can DM please take Ed Balls & Yvette Cooper with him as that is another two we can definitely do without - they can have a free one way transfer out of the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 753.

    "... Any person left of centre who has any sense will see that the unions hold too much power and caused this loss"

    Unions with too much power?
    Are you living in a parallel universe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 752.

    voting for war in Irac ???? .THIS WHY WE ARE BROKE AND AS FOR BELOW ..... make you own mind up ..

    (From what I can tell he served his constituents well...did his job...and was not involved in any sort of scandal that I can recall (yes, you may not agree with his parties policies)

  • rate this

    Comment number 751.

    another nail in the coffin of Tony Blair and his legacy
    How the mightly of fallen

  • rate this

    Comment number 750.

    Actually, thinking about it, this is probably a good course of action that David is taking...

    Get the hell out of the country in case his brother becomes PM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 749.

    He is just another so-called "career politician". As with the rest of them - of all parties - he has put self first. However, its not really important because the toffs at Westminster aren't for of and by the people. Perhaps the rest should move on in their careers? Are you listening Cameron, Osborne, Gove, Clegg, Miliband II, etc?

  • rate this

    Comment number 748.

    Good luck David.
    You have all the talent and will do well wherever you go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 747.

    675. ajustman - 'Labour need to remember their principles and open up to real change.' - Too late. It was Tony Bliar's 'New' Labour which opened the doors to miss immigration. That has tarnished the name of Labour forever. I don't blame David for ducking out of a lame horse of a political party and

  • rate this

    Comment number 746.

    @730.England is Ruined

    I'm voting UKIP next time.


    Same here. It'll be interesting to see UKIP's performance at this by-election. They may not win but they are on the rise.


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