A new path for David Miliband as allies ask: where would Labour be with him instead of Ed?

Tony Blair leads New Labour calls for beaten brother to return to politics one day

Ed Miliband expressed the hope that his brother David would eventually return to British politics after the former Foreign Secretary confirmed that he is to move to America to head a humanitarian relief charity.

Ed, who pipped his older brother at the post in a bruising 2010 Labour leadership race, admitted it had been “difficult” but said: “Time has helped to heal that.”  He added: “British politics will be a poorer place without David. I hope and believe that at some point in the future he can once again make a contribution to British public life….If I become Prime Minister, I will make sure he serves the country in one way or another.”

Tony Blair, for whom David worked as policy chief before becoming an MP in 2001, said: “I hope and believe this is time out not time over.“ He added: “He is obviously a massive loss to UK politics.”

However, friends of David played down the prospects of a return to domestic politics. “After this change of course, it is more likely that he would get a big job in the international arena,” one said.

David, 47, will stand down shortly as MP for South Shields, where he had a majority of 11,109 at the last election. No date has been fixed for the by-election, which could be held in May. In September, David will become president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which specialises in helping refugees. The son of the Marxist academic Ralph Miliband, who fled the Nazis, said: “The IRC’s mission is personal for me because my own parents were refugees who arrived in Britain in the 1940s.”

The former Foreign Secretary was showered with praise from friends, including Bill Clinton, and foes alike. “It’s a career change for me,” David insisted in a series of broadcast interviews.  “I’ve not even left yet…I haven’t started my new job so the idea I would start thinking now about the job after this one would be wrong.”

Since leaving  the Labour frontbench after the 2010 party leadership contest, David has agonised on whether to come back. His brother offered him the key job of shadow Chancellor and many Labour insiders hoped he would return to a senior role before the 2015 election, believing this would reassure swing voters that Labour could be trusted to run the country.

David sat awkwardly on the fence – and the backbenches —for two and a half years.  He knew he would be accused of sulking if he remained there, so his choice became one between serving under his brother and leaving politics. The prospect of the IRC job arose around Christmas; its appeal grew on him.

His rare interventions in domestic politics received microscopic analysis by a media keen to magnify any scintilla of difference with his brother. That reminded him of how difficult a Shadow Cabinet return would be.

“I want it to be the vision Ed has versus David Cameron's vision. I didn't want to become a distraction from that central task, I didn't want the soap opera to take over the real substance of what needs to be done,” David said. “We’re two brothers who fought a leadership election, but we don’t fight each other.”

His “sadness” at leaving Britain extended to the Blairites. Some believe David could be Prime Minister today if he had joined one of several botched coups against Gordon Brown in 2009 and 2010 while he was Prime Minister. “David would have inherited the crown but he lacked the killer instinct,” one Cabinet colleague recalled. “But he wasn’t alone. People like Harriet [Harman] and Jack [Straw] wouldn’t pull the trigger. They had one bullet and were afraid that if they missed, Gordon would kill them.”

Allies think that, if David had led Labour in the 2010 election, he would have won 20-odd more seats than Mr Brown, tipping the balance in favour of a Lib-Lab Coalition.

Friends say David’s defeat at his brother’s hands was all the more painful because, when anti-Brown coups were discussed, Ed gave the impression he would not stand against his brother if Labour lost in 2010. But time moved on, and Ed changed his mind, egged on by allies who urged him not to miss his chance to win the leadership. David came top in 90 per cent of constituency Labour parties but it wasn’t quite enough; Ed squeaked home on the back of trade union votes.

One of the great “what ifs?” in British politics is: where would Labour be today if David had won the leadership. “Twenty points ahead in the polls, not 10,” was the curt reply of one Blairite yesterday.

David would have acknowledged Labour’s mistakes during its 13 years in power more quickly and dramatically than Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have done.

David’s leadership acceptance speech that never was included a pledge to bring in tough rules on public spending and deficits to restore Labour’s credibility. He would have told Labour delegates bluntly that the deficit ”is the biggest argument in politics, and the biggest danger for us. George Osborne says we are in denial about the deficit. Because he wants us to be. So let's not be. It is a test.“

As David departs the stage, it is a test Labour has not yet passed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms