Is that it for David Miliband?


David Miliband: ''I didn't want to become a distraction... I didn't want the soap opera to take over''

The best way I could help Labour was to leave the country. Thus, the man who so nearly became his party's leader explains his decision to head stateside - a decision David Miliband only revealed to close allies in the past two days and didn't dare tell his young children about in case the news leaked out.

I interviewed him in the same room at his north London home we spoke in two and a half years ago after his shock defeat by his brother, Ed. Today I sensed a man who was a prisoner of events beyond his control - who felt unable to take a top frontbench job and yet equally unable to turn one down and stay on the backbenches for fear he would be scripting the next episode of Westminster's favourite soap opera: "The Brothers."

Some, though not him, blame the media for its obsession with that soap opera. In truth, the blame lies with two brothers with two different views of Labour's future and with rival allegiances to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - the men who used to say that they too were like brothers until they became embittered rivals.

David Miliband clearly believes passionately in the humanitarian work of the International Rescue Committee he's going to head. He is hopeful that his new role will allow him to be involved in international advocacy not just administration. He is cheered by the warm welcome he's had in the USA and the extraordinarily warm words of former President Bill Clinton who has described him as "one of the ablest, most creative public servants of our time".

Equally clearly, though, this is a man resigned to accepting second best rather than someone who is euphoric about starting a new life or making a clean break.

He refused to tell me whether his brother had offered him jobs or whether he'd turned them down - that was me being incorrigible, he said.

Labour can - not necessarily will - win the next election, he says. He refuses to give a list of what the party can do to ensure it does win. Everyone knows what that list would probably have on it - more "restless rethinking" and less "reassuring" the Labour Party, propose don't just oppose, be more candid about past economic mistakes, show how you'll control the deficit, be reformers of the state not simply defenders of it ...etc

Most telling in our interview though was his reaction to Tony Blair's prediction that this was "time out, not time over". He laughs at the words of his mentor and then reinforces them by insisting that "I have not even started this job, let alone thinking about the next."

As he plans to leave these shores David Miliband is reminding the Labour Party what they've rejected and what they lack.

His return to British politics may look unlikely but it is far from impossible as Peter Mandelson and, indeed, Roy Jenkins proved. He could today have killed off any suggestion that he is the Prince over the Water.

But he simply couldn't bring himself to do it.

Here are some key quotes from my interview:

"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."

"Has it 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? Yes, but I think that's right."

"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. It is very important that the choice is clear between what Labour is offering to do for the country and what the Tories are doing to the country now."

"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."

On Labour's prospects at the next election, David Miliband said:

"I say what Ed says, the election is winnable, but he is the first to say don't be complacent."

"I came into politics to try to make a difference, and now I am leaving politics to try to make a difference in a different way, on a global scale."

"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."

And asked why Ed Miliband should be Prime Minister, he said:

"He will be a great Prime Minister who will do a better job of leading the country towards social justice and economic prosperity and international strength than the current government."

Nick Robinson, Political editor Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

Russia: how tough a response?

Will David Cameron's rhetoric about punishing Russia in the wake of the MH17 plane crash be matched by reality?

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Nick


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    159 - the two officers who made the original claims were not in dispute.The Tories are simply muddying the water.
    It's only taken Mitchell 6 months to suggest looking at the there's the action of an innocent man!

    Regarding this article, I would not vote for Labour under David Milliband as he was the politician's choice. Ed had to rely on ordinary votes, needing 600x as many.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Nick, a bit later, after your love in with world famous politician David Miliband could you save some time for an update on the Police Federation conspiracy over Plebgate.

    You gloried in the alleged scandal until doubts crept in - now the BBC would like to skim over it.

    Why do the BBC find balance so difficult?

    Can the Miliband duo yet save the world? Brown claimed he did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    Nick, after your love in with world politician david Milliband

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    154 "The BBC, Sky and Chanel 4 (all left wing)..."

    So everyone else is biased...couldn't be you at all, could it mate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    While we are only two years away from either a Labour government or a Labour leadership contest, my guess is that David Miliband (47) probably won't return to politics. His defeat to brother Ed seemed to break his heart, and I think that he knows that his opportunity came in 2008-10. Shades of Michael Portillo here, who pursued other interests following shattering defeat(s)...

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Who gives a monkies if this politician turned quangocrat returns to UK politics? Apart from the Labour mouthpiece BBC newsroom.

    When there is a prospect of power he might be back but the influence of the Clintons could lead to another lucrative position in the USA, which beats squalid old Britain.

    No doubt the BBC will follow his career with great interest

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    The BBC, Sky and Chanel 4 (all left wing) were spending our license fee (in the case of the BBC) to show us a huge chunk of TV dedicated to an opposition MP (not even PM) David Milliband leaving the country. I understand the left (especially the BBC) has a vested interests in the Labour party but it is extremely insulting for those on the right who have to pay a license fee.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    I think David Milliband has done the right thing to get right away from politics. Our daily politics in this country is a soap opera, driven by a hostile media and the main parties who are working against each other over being in power in the country and fixing the country comes secondary to that. He will not be back and will enjoy the sunshine in the States. You did the best thing David.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    David Milliband was presentable enough , had the talent but was not prepared to take the risks to promote himself when he had the chance.It's about judgement and risk public also need to be confident in this - Ed Milliband also take note.!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    148 SM - I take it harperson is a bench mark for you - I abhor adhominem attacks and I have no wish to be unkind but I have never felt that she exhibits the min level of 'smarts' required to engage in reasoned argument. Her 'ginger rodent' moment says a lot. On the other hand DM is nothing if not bright its just the absence of experience, humility, humour etc I find so disengaging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    SL 149

    I think Labour would be better with DM on the front bench. I'm not a massive fan, don't get me wrong, but I don't mind him. EM, however, I'm starting to go off. Sensing that he wants power (fine) but that if he gets it he won't be doing much about the issue I care most about: reducing inequality. No, I don't see Labour winning outright in 2015. Reckon they'll be the largest party though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    148. sagamix
    He is the only one who has ditched his constituents, the Labour Party and the UK for a very large bag of silver pieces.

    I hope we dont have any other greedy, selfish, back stabbers in the Labour Party now, I say good riddance to him and we are better off without him

    I just wish his brother would do the right thing and step down, with him as leader we will never win the election

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    People being overly harsh. David Miliband is no Harriet Harman, this is true, but he was far from inadequate.

    In fact I've spent the afternoon drawing up a list of all the senior politicians we have at present who are several fathoms below DM in terms of intelligence and integrity and it's too long to post. Pity, since I don't really have another use for it.

    So an afternoon rather wasted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Can DM take the rest of the labour party with him then pls

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    David Miliband trotted around the world looking pretty while snuggleing up to Hilary Clinton.
    William Hague trotts around the world trying to look pretty while snuggleing up to Angeline Jolie
    Now thats progress

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    The attention lavished on these sycophantic Miliband brothers by the BBC is not reflective of what the public opinion is of them in the UK. Why is there this bias? Is it their cultural back ground, it it their ability to schmooze the press more efficiently than other politicians, is it the press being afraid of looking anti Miliband bearing in mind their back ground.
    Whatever the reason stop it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.


    "...both millibands along with blair and brown and a few others should be tried for treason they have wrecked this country..."


    You love it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    both millibands along with blair and brown and a few others should be tried for treason they have wrecked this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    He may well be a well educate, career politician, but the main thing going for him is that he has left the stage so that the murdoch/ daily heil wont be able to spin it - the brothers fighting it out thing at the next election...oh and he ain't a scummy blue, yellow or ukip tory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    He signed the Lisbon Treaty. He is a disgrace.

    I hope he never returns except to go to court or directly to jail

    When will his brother admit that it was wrong to sign the Lisbon Treaty?

    When will Labour stop being a Quisling party?

    I hope UKIP win the by-election or at least beat the Tories


Page 1 of 8



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.