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 785.

    Mike Brecher

    DM can expect to be gratefully parachuted into a safe seat (about whose constituents he will give not a damn) speaks volumes.

    Just like it speaks volumes for Boris.

  • rate this

    Comment number 784.

    The idea that the electorate wins elections is not understood by the media as a whole, especially the huge monolith that is the BBC and is conducting a soap opera and has their own agenda for 2015.

    David Milliband was fed up with the media circus and has quite rightly left the country. The BBC with it's own agenda is destroying democracy in our country

  • rate this

    Comment number 783.

    Bye. We will call you when we start to miss you.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 782.

    DM is an object lesson in what's wrong with personality-driven, career politics nowadays. Too often seen as a cosy, recession-proof stepping-stone to even better things. Mandelson's assumption that, any time he chooses to return, DM can expect to be gratefully parachuted into a safe seat (about whose constituents he will give not a damn) speaks volumes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 781.

    Bit of a set back for Boris

  • rate this

    Comment number 780.

    Tony Blair takes us to war and then ends-up as a peace envoy.

    David Miliband supported the Iraq war and then moves to a charity that saves lives.

    Has the world gone mad?

  • rate this

    Comment number 779.

    MPs should be appropriately rewarded. It is unreasonable they earn significantly less than an average GP. If we want high calibre people to lead us we should expect to pay commensurate salaries. Recompense must surely have been a consideration in Milliband's decision. More generally inadequate rewards leads to consequences such as 1) the expenses scandal and 2) greater incentives to be corrupt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 778.

    D Milliband could do a lot fro the World's poor if he read the call on the plinth of the Statue of Liberty and got USA to ditch its hypocrisy and give meaning to that call.

  • rate this

    Comment number 777.

    This a pity that David is leaving. He should have been appointed Labour shadow Chancellor alongside his brother. The two Millibands working together would have been a powerful force for the good of the country that would sweep this coalition compromise out of the House of Commons!

  • rate this

    Comment number 776.

    So if he's joining the Traceys at International Rescue, can he please be the one in the space station please?

  • rate this

    Comment number 775.

    He's off to Tracy Island. FAB!

  • rate this

    Comment number 774.

    to be perfectly honest, 90% of the population don't give a damn. Just another intellectual rich boy who pretends to champion the poor, whilst he lines his own pockets.

    Labour, Conservative, Liberal = political stagnation


  • Comment number 773.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 772.

    "David Miliband 'feared being distraction' for Labour"

    Whereas the UK public feared Labour being yet another disaster if they get back into power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 771.

    The bigger issue is that even after nearly 3 years people would still rather pick David Miliband over Ed even though DM has stayed out of the public eye. I think this will draw further focus on the fact that people just do not see Ed as Prime Minister. Labour are beating the Tories in the polls but Ed loses to Cameron in every one and when it comes to general elections people vote on the leader.

  • rate this

    Comment number 770.

    Labour must be kicking themselves and a lot of the country is worried because the wrong brother was chosen as Labour leader.

    David is more able and experienced and (importantly in an election these days) he is more personable and charismatic than Ed.

    This gives the Tories a chance...and I for one don't ever want them back in power again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 769.

    Should have been Labour leader. The hatred on here is shocking. You can disagree with someone's politics without destroying them personally. The current problems we have are europe wide and mostly worldwide and not caused by 1 UK government. Mistakes were made yes but there has been a 'global' downturn. I wish people would understand this and that we don't operate in isolation. Good luck David.

  • rate this

    Comment number 768.

    International Rescue? A job where his talent for "pulling strings" will really come into it's own ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 767.

    Good news - but is this actually news worthy?
    Just one Millionaire Milliband taking an MPs salary out of or taxes now then. But the Unions pay him, so that's their problem.

    Morally superior Marxist do gooder that he is, he's off to "put something back" at International Rescue USA! Wonder what the salary is for a puppet like him? I'd guess $400,000?

    How selfless and charitable of you Dave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 766.

    Getting rid of Miliband is a good thing. One less socialist/Labour politician.

    Unfortunately his and his party's legacy is that Qatada can stay here gaming the system for as long as he likes.

    Thanks to Labour and their double treachery of uncontrolled third world immigration and the human rights fiasco.


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