David Miliband says Brexit means Britain will lose its relevance. Doesn’t he realise he’s already lost his own?

Miliband the Elder must be pinning his future hopes on flirting his way into the White House with Hillary Clinton, in a modern version of The Graduate

Matthew Norman
Wednesday 13 April 2016 09:18
The former foreign secretary warned that Britain leaving the EU could contribute to the 'destruction' of the international order
The former foreign secretary warned that Britain leaving the EU could contribute to the 'destruction' of the international order

From 3,000 miles away, a weedy little voice drifts across the Atlantic with its twopenn’orth on the EU referendum. David Miliband’s latest long range dipping of toe into the waters of British politics is quite the cris de coeur, though not necessarily the one he would have us believe.

Nominally, an article headlined “Why Brexit would be nothing less than an act of political arson”, is a passionate plea to those of us he left behind when he scarpered in the highest of dudgeon not to forsake the European Union. But the subtextual headline, as always when Milibandroid the Elder deigns to share his thought with li’l ol’ us, is aptly borrowed from Simple Minds. Don’t You Forget About Me.

The simple mindedness on show lies in his curious conviction that he remains an influential figure on this side of the ocean.

Traditionally in politics you need to be a national leader, and for a long time, to earn your visa to a state of laughable denial about your place in the world. Former premiers, such as Thatcher and Blair, create foundations, supposedly in charity’s name, to allow them to stay cocooned with sycophants, and so able to evade the realisation that all power has seeped away.

Miliband, who famously heads a real charity in New York, somehow bypassed the leadership bit on his repatriation to the land reality forgot.

This is not the first time this point has been made, and something tells me it won’t be the last. But one prerequisite for a voice worth hearing about a country’s future is working in, and preferably for, that country.

Edward VIII doubtless wanted to share captivating thoughts about Adolf Hitler with his subjects. But when he chose to ponce off to shoot his cuffs on French soil, he abdicated not just his throne for the woman he loved, but also any right to a public opinion about whether or not the Nazis were the best option for dear old Blighty.

Miliband, who shirked his duty for the man he loves (himself) never sat on even Labour’s throne, though he might have ascended on three occasions. Under Gordon Brown, the Jordan Speith of Westminster twice choked dramatically, dumping his approach in the pond of nervous nelliedom. The third time, after last year’s election, being stuck on the other side of a larger pond enabled Jeremy Corbyn to do a Danny Willet and come from nowhere to take the title.

In his Guardian article, Miliband makes some decent and sensible, if nebulous, points about how leaving the EU would rob Britain of any residual relevance in the wider world. He makes them without a shred of self-awareness that he has none himself.

His own personal Brexit was his absolute right (though whether it can be right to take £400,000 per annum to head a charity devoted to the desperate is another matter). But the moment he did so, in infantile pique, was the end of him here.

Whether he has a political future in America is quite another question. In 2009, when he was Foreign Secretary and Hillary Clinton became his equivalent as Secretary of State, the two made quite a connection. In the most innocently metaphorical (one prays) of ways, he charmed the very pants off her.

Interviewed by Vogue late that year, she called him “tall and dashing.” When the interviewer said she developed a small crush on him over the phone - what is wrong with American women? - Hillary gushed: “Well, if you saw him it would be a big crush. I mean, he is so vibrant, vital, attractive, smart. He's really a good guy. And he's so young!”

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He’s not so young now, having turned 50 last year, but enough of the boy clings to him to bring a classic movie to mind. The geeky, precocious Jewish late adolescent who can’t quite decide on a career. The sophisticated, world weary blonde two decades his senior and long since estranged from her husband … God have mercy on our souls, these two have been making their bespoke version of The Graduate.

It has been rumoured, vaguely but credibly, that Hillary may find something for David should she win the presidency. Who knows, he might yet be the first foreign born Jew to become Secretary of State since Henry Kissinger (say what you like about David, he probably wouldn’t be gung-ho for napalming Vietnamese toddlers). But any form of senior advisor’s job would be a solution to the tiresome problem of David Miliband and his outsize ego.

As a White House figure, he would not only sate his lust for vengeance on Little Ed. This strong and sustained supporter of the Iraq war would be barred by convention from commentating about how best to preserve traditional British values of fairness, or about anything else concerning the country he fled.

The sooner he is in position to growl “Madam President, are you trying to sedooooce me?” across the Oval Office desk, the better for David and for us all.

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