Ed Miliband has revealed that he never really believed his brother David would return to frontline politics once he had beaten him to the Labour leadership.
In his first newspaper interview since David announced he was leaving Parliament, the Labour leader said he would try to use his brother’s talents “in one form or another” if he became Prime Minister.
Ed also denied he had previously promised his brother a clear run at the party leadership in 2010 – a belief that has fuelled a sense of betrayal among David’s friends and family. And he insisted his brother’s values would live on in the One Nation Labour party he is building.
Speaking candidly to The Independent about his tense relationship with his older brother, Ed admitted to “mixed emotions” about David’s departure to become chief executive of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which provides humanitarian relief in more than 40 countries.
“On one level I am sad he was not able to come back. I will miss him because he is 3,000 miles away,” he said. “But on another level, I see him being incredibly excited and happy about this opportunity.”
Interviewed during a visit to Carlisle and Preston yesterday, Ed said David and he both welcomed “a sense of clarity about what he is going to do. That is good for him.”
His brother told him about the possible New York job offer in January. “He was really motivated by it. That was pretty clear from the moment we had the initial discussion about it. He is a very big talent. He needs a big job.”
Ed revealed that he did not try to talk David out of taking the post. But he did make clear his previous offers of a Shadow Cabinet post since the 2010 leadership election were not “time-limited”. “I wanted him to know the door was still open. It was important he knew there were choices.”
David Miliband repeatedly rejected offers to join the front bench. Ed said yesterday: “On day one I became leader, David was not keen. His position has been utterly consistent.”
Ed rejected claims that he told David his “time would come” when Cabinet ministers discussed plans to oust Gordon Brown as Prime Minister in 2009. Friends of David, and his wife Louise Shackelton, are said to believe this amounted to a promise not to stand against David if a vacancy arose after the 2010 general election. “No, honestly. It is not the case,” Ed said.
What did their 78-year-old mother Marion, widow of the Marxist academic Ralph, make of David’s move? “She would prefer her son not to be across the Atlantic but recognises it is a big job. It speaks to our family history (she and Ralph were refugees from the Nazis in the 1940s). David is repaying our debt.” Admitting the wounds from the leadership battle have not been completely soothed, Ed said: “Time has helped to heal it. I think David doing this (IRC) job, and being fulfilled in it, will be good for our relationship too. He will be doing something that excites him. While there was uncertainty about what he was going to do, it made the story incomplete.”
Ed did not share David’s analysis that a Shadow Cabinet return would revive the “soap opera” about them and make it impossible to work.
“I think we had put it behind us,” he said. “But he was not in a long-term sustainable situation. He was doing good things but he needed more of an outlet for his talents. It was either Shadow Cabinet or something else.”
Although Ed believed either option “could be made to work”, he added: “It is important that he made the decision that was right for him. I know he 100 per cent believes it is. It is very important for me that he is happy and fulfilled. I think he will be in this job.”
Ed will “definitely” continue to take advice from the former Foreign Secretary across the water. “We talked a lot more in the last year than in the previous 18 months. With him having a genuinely outside perspective, it will become easier.”
Ed went on: “I don’t think we have seen the last of him in British public life. If I am Prime Minister, it would be crazy not to think how to use his talents in one form or another.”
He was reluctant to speculate on David’s role. “Having closed one chapter, I don’t want to open a new one at the moment.” He added: “The next Labour government will need all the talents at its disposal. I am not raising speculation about day one. I will try to find a way of using his talents at some point.” Ed rejected calls for him to appoint experienced figures such as Alistair Darling, Alan Johnson or Jack Straw to his first Cabinet, saying he talks to them regularly but that they feel they have done their bit in government.
Significantly, he disclosed that David believes his self-exile is not permanent. “I am not emigrating,” David told his brother when they planned this week’s announcement.
Dismissing the idea that David’s departure is part of a Labour lurch to the left, Ed said his brother agreed the party had to move on from New Labour. But he admitted he is trying to “shape the agenda of the centre ground” on which all elections are fought.
“The centre ground is a changing place, as times and politics change. Frankly, the biggest challenge we face is different to the challenge New Labour faced. We have to convince people that things will be different under a Labour government. Part of the challenge is reassurance but a large part of it is that so many people say ‘All politicians are the same, power lies somewhere else, it makes no difference who I vote for, my life is not going to be any different, the mess the country is in is too big to be sorted’.”