Adrian Hamilton: Why he might like to take his leave of Labour

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The Independent Online

Whatever his intentions, David Miliband is certainly putting himself about these days.

A speech intriguingly on "EU foreign policy after Lisbon"at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on Monday, a visit to Moscow at the beginning of next month, a keynote address at a Fabian conference in a week's time – there's barely a day or an invitation received when he isn't competing for the limelight. Is it because his hunger has returned for the Labour leadership, or has he given up that hope and turned his ambitions instead towards Europe with the soon-to-be-instituted post of EU foreign minister?

That is the question, of course. The job of EU high representative has yet to be agreed in principle, never mind a name put to it. And it's not even certain that the Foreign Secretary himself knows which way he wants to turn.

His denial of any EU ambitions on Twitter yesterday is probably just that. Twitter. At this stage in his career he wouldn't want to be counted out of any discussions on Labour's future, before or after the election. Although he is no longer regarded as Brown's natural successor, the Blairite faction still regards him as their best bet come the struggle for power in the party.

But he must know by now that his chances of succeeding Brown are diminishing. His performance at last year's party conference was a disaster and, whilst he performed better this year, there is a sense that he lacks either the gravitas or the steel to seize the top job.

The higher ranks of the Labour Party are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the prospects not just for the next election but for the one after that. A sort of torpor has seized the Cabinet, who openly discuss the prospects of being out of power for a generation as if this were the inevitable consequence of just one loss.

At 44, the Foreign Secretary is young enough to go through prolonged opposition and still be in with a fighting chance when Labour came back, but the prospect of a decade on the other side of the Dispatch Box is hardly an enticing one.

Given the choice in abstract, Mr Miliband might prefer party to Europe, as his Twitter remarks suggest. But if he were actually offered the EU job, I wouldn't bet on his refusal. And that tells us a great deal about the state of the Government back home.