Big brother is watching – but can he still see a future for himself as party leader?

Despite a number of lucrative posts outside politics, David Miliband is still heartbroken at missing out on Labour's top job. And as Ed flounders, many senior figures are agitating for his return

Last May, as hundreds of MPs and peers gathered in Westminster Hall to hear President Obama address a joint session of both Houses of Parliament, one man had more reason than most to rue his position six rows back on the tightly squeezed chairs in the great hall.

In front of him, alongside the President at the top table, were David Cameron and Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and William Hague, and an even more familiar face: his brother Ed, the recently elected leader of the Labour Party. For David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary, who has made maintaining neutral facial expressions something of an art form, it was an especially difficult occasion.

According to a friend who was sitting close to him, at that moment David was unable to hide his feelings. "I've never seen him look more dejected," he said. "I remember looking over to him at the time and being struck by how despondent he was."

Eight months on, some in Westminster are suggesting that as Ed's star has waned, so his brother's might rise again. A poll this week suggested that of all the senior Labour figures, only David could threaten the Tories. With Ed's popularity falling below even that of Nick Clegg, the ComRes survey found that if David was in charge, Labour would now have a three point lead.

But after the trauma of defeat in the leadership election and his self-imposed exile on the back benches, does David still want the Labour crown, and would he get it even if he did?

Talking to friends and former colleagues who have spoken to him regularly over the last 18 months, it is clear that the leadership election not only hurt him more than was acknowledged at the time – but that he has far from recovered.

The brothers now meet only at family occasions, and generally avoid talking about politics. David has not attended Prime Minister's Questions since Ed became leader and does not go to the same political functions.

At the last Labour conference in September, David put in a token appearance at a fringe meeting before leaving for a conference about China in the US and missing his brother's keynote speech. The public explanation is that David believes his presence would be a distraction. The private truth is that he has no desire to be there.

"I think the best way of describing it is to say that he has good days and bad days – and as time goes on he has more good days than bad days," said one person who knows him well. "But he still finds it incredibly difficult. It is hard to make the transition from Government to opposition, especially if you have been Foreign Secretary.

"Imagine you lose to your brother in a leadership election and have to be publicly supportive of him. On a purely psychological level that's tough."

One of the ways he copes with it is by travelling. Since losing the election he has visited San Francisco, Islamabad, Zurich, Washington, Paris, Istanbul, Utah, Abu Dhabi, Berlin, Boston and Krakow. Some of the visits were for speeches, others conferences and he also did a teaching stint at Stanford University. He is still fascinated by foreign affairs, the international lecture circuit pays well, and on trips abroad he is less likely to be asked about his brother.

He is also starting to use the freedom of the backbenches to take on more long-term paid work. Earlier this month it emerged he had been hired by a Pakistan-based City firm as a consultant. The part-time job with Indus Basin Holdings, which funnels investment into Pakistani agriculture projects, is worth about £50,000 a year.

It comes on top of the £92,000 a year he receives from the Californian clean energy firm VantagePoint, and the £75,000 a year he gets as vice-chairman of Premier League football club Sunderland. For this reason, among others, his friends say it is unlikely that David will take on a front bench Labour role, at least before the next election.

That is not for want of asking. Close political allies of Ed have made approaches to David on several occasions, asking him whether he would be prepared to return.

"David has made clear that he doesn't want to come back," said one shadow cabinet ally. "I think that's for several reasons. He can earn more than if he had a full time opposition brief, and after being Foreign Secretary, being an opposition spokesman would be a bit of a come down.

"But the main reason I think – although he has never said this to me – is that he still finds it very difficult to be in a room with Ed and he can't avoid that if he's in the shadow Cabinet."

Several people who know David do not believe that he has entirely given up hope of one day leading Labour should Ed lose the next election. Intriguingly, one of the few areas of domestic politics he remains involved with might help him achieve that.

David is a trustee of a group called Movement for Change, which helps local people bring about change in their communities. He describes it as "two-thirds Labour history, one-third American community organising." In concept it is very similar to the kind of community activism where President Obama cut his teeth. Should he decide to run again for leader, the Movement would give him a ready-made platform and campaign organisation.

But the odds of him succeeding his brother are still long. After he lost the leadership, he was consoled by the number of senior Labour figures who said the party had made the wrong choice and that he'd be back in a few years. Those voices are now diminishing.

And given Ed's faltering leadership so far, it is hard to see the party turning from one Miliband to another should he leave before 2015. More likely is that Yvette Cooper or Alistair Darling would claim the crown.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve