David Miliband 'feared being distraction' for Labour


David Miliband: ''I didn't want to become a distraction'

Related Stories

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'?"


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1165.

    So current CEO of the IRC earns a whopping $450k, is it any wonder Dave has a calling to serve? ...yes another snout in the trough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1164.

    So Mr Millband thinks he might be " a distraction" eh? The arrogance of the man.

    Bottom line is he was not thought not good enough to be PM, he was not wanted to lead his party and his days with Mr Bown left him damaged goods.

    Good riddence, the UK is better off without his dated polices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1163.

    The irony of the Millionaire Miliband brothers being leading lights in my Labour Party is at an end.

    Have they decided we have spotted their pretence and stepped down, NO the greed and the chance of more riches else where has lured one of them away.

    I think we should throw the other one out on his ear, they are a sham and are not true to the Party they are Tories in our ranks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1162.

    1156. TheTakeleySocialist

    Sadly unions are not at all as saintly as you portray them. Their founding principles were very much for the working class but much has changed since then. Now they are a power hungry interest group, using working class people as a banner for their tyranny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1161.

    1142 Zoe B
    Brown couldn't make a good job of anything - I don't know how a man as incompetent as him shaves in the morning without cutting his head off - all they do is boast boast boast how wonderful, compassionate and kind they are - no they're not - they're selfish, nasty, scheming, self-righteous hypocrites - they would have had to make cuts just as the Tories have - worse - shame on them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1160.

    1149. TheTakeleySocialist - Don't be so naive. What is the interview for if not to ask and answer questions, part of that process is negotiation. If you accepted a job without knowing the conditions and contract of work, tough. I agree with, 1154. Wuuf. Not only are they no longer true to their ideals but are no better than those they criticise. Witness Bob Crowe! What are his wages?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1159.

    I'd volunteer to drive him to the airport myself as long as his brother was in the back seat too. Vote for me!.....until something with a bigger pay packet comes along of course. Why do the media question turnout percentages when our politicians are the apathetic ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1158.

    Typical millionaire champagne socialist. Good riddance to yet another MP who thinks he is "more equal than others"! If he and his brother were in No 10 now, we would continue to be swamped by even more immigrants (potential lab voters - JStraw confirmed policy) and would have needed a EU bail out as they would have borrowed even more than they did when in power. Shame he's not taking Ed as well!

  • Comment number 1157.

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

  • Comment number 1156.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1155.

    The reasons David Miliband is leaving is plain and simple Money and the Labour party is finished !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1154.

    You won't ever join a Union but you don't mind enjoying the gains of Trade Unionism since the day you were born.
    That was the unions as they were meant to be, with worthy ideals. Sadly that has gone. I was a member of the CPSA, and I was disgusted at their attitude, disgrace to their founders. That is why unions today are just another interest group.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1153.

    Milliband was no doubt peeved that he lost out to his brother and no doubt he has just been waiting for the right job to come along before moving on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1152.

    One gone about 300 to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1151.

    1142. Zoe Barton - You are joking, right. The Chancellor in this Country invariably is unqualified for the post, his job/appointment is to carry out the political will of the Government/Party and the actual work should be carried out by highly qualified advisors. Brown and his authoritarian character (Osborne is the same) would not and could not take any advice, hence the trouble he got us into.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1150.

    The Labour Party is nothing more than a puppet of the unions nowadays, to the extent where they even choose who leads the Party. Party with no credibility, a leader with no credibility and Policies with no credibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1149.

    You won't ever join a Union but you don't mind enjoying the gains of Trade Unionism since the day you were born.
    Well I hope you makes sure have never had paid holiday, sick pay and maternity/paternity leave oh and annual salary increments. I wouldn't want you to be a hypocrite now would we Mr I won't join a Union but happy to benefit from them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1148.

    The ignorance of some of the comments from the public here worries me more than DM going off to America in search of a new challenge. For those of you who don't appear to understand I'll explain briefly: Capitalist economies, like those seen in the west, have been and continue to be built on debt. It is a necessary evil that keeps capitalism going. FACT: You cannot cut your way to prosperity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1147.

    Come on Ed! Remember what you said you believed in when you were elected!
    Let`s have some real socialist policies for the workers. Not policies for the bankers.
    You should have stood up for the ordinary person in Cyprus when the banks were going to rob them. You stayed silent, as did most of our MPs
    I`m voting for Nige this time but I want to see some real opposition in politics.
    You could be it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1146.

    @ 1142. Zoe Barton - "my suggestion 4 years ago not to let Gordon Brown go until he'd sorted the crisis out. He would have made a better job of ot than the current lot."

    I doubt that very much! OTOH maybe *he* would have had to take the blame for the inevitable cuts (how prudent!) and austerity measures, instead of people blaming them on Tory ideology. Any party would have had to do the same.


Page 1 of 59


More Politics stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.