Simon Carr: David Miliband, the Nearly Man of our age

Sketch: Bless the child, he is fantastically bad at diplomacy
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The Independent Online

The clever money is on Ed; personally I still like David. But why do we have to choose when we can have both? The Miliboys could take over the Labour Party together like those twins that run Poland.

David really is a brilliant child and I don't just mean that he makes me feel 180 years old. He sat on the front bench yesterday running two of his fingertips back and forward over his upper lip like a pubescent boy feeling strange new hair growing there. Then he stretched his mouth wide and ran one finger round and round, as though applying lip gloss. I'm betting he'll do that prep-school gesture at least once before the election – when asked a difficult question ("Isn't the PM sending mixed messages when he says troops in Afghanistan are protecting English streets and yet he'll pull the troops out if Karzai doesn't clean up corruption?") he'll stroke an imaginary beard with his thumb and four flat fingers to indicate intense thought.

His face is the opposite of diplomacy. My dogs had faces that behaved like his. As they slept and dreamt of chasing rabbits through the other world so David's face jumps and twitches while others speak. It might suddenly go Chinese – he narrows his eyes, sucks his hollow cheeks in and drops his chin and he looks like he's suffering from the curse of Fu Manchu. That's just one of them. His faces deserve a chapter of their own in an anthology of physiognomies.

And bless the child, he is fantastically bad at diplomacy. I mean, so wonderfully bad at it he makes Eddie the Eagle look like an eagle.

Item: when he was pushing the cause of Tony Blair to be EU president he came up with the single most potent phrase of the campaign. It framed the whole debate. Blair must win the top job, he said, because only he can stop the traffic in world capitals. Angela and Nicolas and Manuel heard: "You tiny fools! Grovel in the presence!"

Obama is said to excel in negotiation because he knows what everyone round the table actually wants, not just what they say they want. That's not something we could say of our own dear leader. But wouldn't the younger generation be more sensitive, more interested in the thoughts of others? How did David decide that what EU leaders really wanted was someone big enough to make up for their insignificance?

And then having inadvertently disposed of the only British contender, he was pipped to the Number Two slot job by that titled pudding whom no one had ever heard of, let alone elected. Maybe he'll be the nearly man of his generation. He does keep on nearly doing something.

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