Whatever happened to David Miliband? Well, obviously what happened was that he lost the 2010 Labour leadership election to his kid brother, resigned his seat in the House of Commons, and fled to Tracy Island, where he runs International Rescue.
But more recently, what happened? What’s he been up to? Because surely we were expecting great things from him, weren’t we?
Back in June, just as ambitious MPs were declaring their wish to follow Ed Miliband as Labour leader, David ‘fuelled speculation over a return to frontline British politics after agreeing to give the keynote speech at the annual convention of the Institute of Directors’.1 This was, we were assured, a very big deal indeed.
The announcement came soon after he had delivered himself of his opinions on why Labour had fared so disastrously at the general election. In his view, the party had been perceived to be ‘moving backwards from the principles of aspiration and inclusion that are at the absolute heart of any successful progressive political project’.2 And it was clear where responsibility for this failing lay: ‘There’s no point blaming the electorate; any suggestion they didn’t get it is wrong. They didn’t want what was being offered.’ Or, as the Sun headline put it: ‘Mili bruv blasts Ed’.3
But now there was cause for hope, because David was scheduled to make a rare appearance in Britain, within days of Labour’s new leader having been chosen. Immediately the spin started. ‘Encouraged by the subtlety of this timing, his supporters put it about that the only thing preventing him coming home to fulfil his destiny is his brother’s presence in the Commons.’4 The talk was persuasive enough to provoke condemnation. ‘He should shut up,’ blasted John ‘Baron’ Prescott. ‘Don’t come over here telling us what to do.’5 Or, as the Daily Mirror headline put it: ‘Prezza slams Mili brother.’6
At that stage he was still capable of generating some excitement. ‘Could David Miliband be leader?’ asked the Daily Telegraph,7 and the Independent answered, with cautious optimism: ‘He could still be a contender’.8 A safe seat could be found for him, and then anything was possible. ‘Senior Labour figures have said the party could hold another leadership election before the 2020 election to reconfirm the party’s leader in the run up to polling day.’9 Or, as the Sun headline put it: ‘Mili bruv “MP bid”’.10
As the leadership race rolled on, the momentum for Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign appearing to reach an unstoppable level, Miliband revealed he was backing Liz Kendall. But since no one believed she stood a chance, this was clearly just another positioning exercise, intended to keep our interest up till his triumphant return to his homeland, when he was going to make that ‘high-profile speech to the Institute of Directors’.11
Well, he delivered the speech six weeks ago today. But if you didn’t notice, or if you’ve forgotten all about it, you’re not exactly alone. His topic was the world’s refugee problem, and what he had to say was solid and worthy and unsensational – and thus went virtually unreported.
The Independent spared it a couple of paragraphs, and the Daily Mirror managed to squeeze a 100-word article out of it, claiming that Miliband had ‘waded back into British politics’. But the evidence for this was scant indeed. In a question-and-answer session afterwards, he had come out as a committed (if clichéd) supporter of the EU: ‘I’m a great believer that we actually win arguments around the table rather than outside the room.’12 (Or, as the Mirror’s headline put it: ‘Miliband brother hits out at “risky” EU talks’.)
That was it for the national newspapers. None of the others bothered to mention the speech at all. It was left to the Yorkshire Post to suggest that he had been really quite impressive:
Everyone attending the IoD conference at the Royal Albert Hall was left in no doubt that here was a man who could hold his head up high in a meeting with Barack Obama or Angela Merkel – something that every self-respecting Briton expects of their Prime Minister.13
So, returning to that original question: whatever happened to David Miliband? Does he have any kind of future in British politics?
He’s still around, of course, still capable of delivering a platitude in the style of Tony Blair and David Cameron: ‘The most important thing in politics,’ he opined only last week, ‘is always to fight the future battles and not the past battles’.14 But somehow he doesn’t seem to be relevant, in any way at all, to current Labour politics.
As recently as August he came top in a Com Res poll as the most popular choice to lead the party, so presumably the stories of a challenge will return in due course. For the moment, however, it’s hard for a sensitive soul not to share what a Sun headline once described as ‘Mili bro’s pain’.15
1 Times 5 June 2015
2 Herald 11 May 2015
3 Sun 12 May 2015
4 Independent 8 June 2015
5 Yorkshire Post 11 June 2015
6 Daily Mirror 11 June 2015
7 Daily Telegraph 11 June 2015
8 Independent 13 June 2015
9 Daily Telegraph 11 June 2015
10 Sun 27 May 2015
11 Express 11 June 2015
12 Daily Mirror 7 October 2015
13 Yorkshire Post 9 October 2015
14 Sun 10 November 2015
15 Sun 10 June 2015