29 Sep 2010

David Miliband quits frontline politics

David Miliband tells Channel 4 News he is quitting front-line politics but will stay as an MP. Gary Gibbon looks at the repercussions for the Shadow Cabinet.

Having lost the Labour leadership contest to his brother Ed Miliband, he told Channel 4 News: “I’ve thought very hard over the last three or four days and my instinct is that it is going to be very hard for the party and for Ed if I stay. It’s best for Ed and for the party if he has an open field. I will be on the backbenches helping my constituents.”

David Miliband lost out in the Labour leadership election at the weekend to his brother Ed, despite beginning the contest as frontrunner.

Ed Miliband today paid tribute to his brother.

The Labour leader described David Miliband’s decision as “thoughtful and gracious” and went on to say: “He is my brother and I am very clear that as leader of this party the door is always open in the future, either in opposition or in government.”

David Miliband also left the door open for a return to the front bench in future.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “For the foreseeable future the best thing I can do is contribute ideas, be there for Ed whenever he wants to talk to me.”

He lost the contest by the narrow margin of around 1 per cent. He had until 5pm today to submit his nomination for the party’s Shadow Cabinet – and has now made his intentions clear.

He will remain as an MP for South Shields, Newcastle but will not be in the Shadow Cabinet.

“The reason I am going to the back benches is that I don’t want interminable comaprsions between me and him [Ed].

“I knew the rules when we started out on this and fought a good honourable campaign. In the end I lost by one, or 1.3 per cent. That’s politics,” he said.

David Miliband leaves and brother Ed begins to lead in earnest 
While David Miliband was preparing his announcement that he would leave frontline politics, his brother was seeing some of those who’d like to stay in the Shadow
Cabinet and introducing himself to them on the new terms: leader and led. Even very big hitters like Alan Johnson were given fairly stern reminders that loyalty was expected and required and they should be quite sure they could manage that.

Read more from Gary Gibbon's blog

Pundits had been predicting David Miliband’s departure since he lost the leadership election, when audible gasps of surprise were heard in the conference hall when the winner, Ed Miliband, was announced.

The “psychodrama” of the brotherly struggle has dominated the contest – but David Miliband told Channnel 4 News it had not been “horrific” running against his brother.

“I’ve been remarkably calm about it. The word horrific that you used doesn’t sum it up. The overwhelming feeling I’ve had so far is huge pride in my campaign. I’m sure frustration will come but my overall feeling is pride.”

Read our special report on the Labour leadership contest in full 

His departure today, however, clearly marks a change of heart from his attitude during the contest. At the Channel 4 News Labour leadership hustings, when asked by Jon Snow: “If your brother won, would you serve him?” David Miliband responded: “Of course.” Watch the video of the exchange below.

When reminded of the exchange today, he said: “I lost. And theory and practice are different.”

When asked about the Iraq war – which his brother yesterday called “wrong” – David Miliband said it was right to “draw a line under the war”, which he voted for in 2003.

Yesterday, footage captured by ITN cameras emerged of David Miliband criticising his brother as he made his keynote speech to party members in Manchester.

As the new leader sought to distance himself from the former New Labour government by calling the Iraq war “wrong”, David turned to deputy leader Harriet Harman and said: “You voted for it, why are you clapping?”

David Miliband said today: “The war was in 2003 and when Ed says let’s draw a line under the war he is right.”

When asked about his comments to Harriet Harman, he said: “I think I raised a wry eyebrow. The important thing is that we draw a line under Iraq and Ed needs, deserves and has earned our support.”

He said that he and his brother never made an “agreement” about whether, if David Miliband did not stand against Gordon Brown in 2009, Ed would stand aside in a later contest.


Labour politicians queued up to pay tribute to David Miliband.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain told Channel 4 News: “It’s sad, but it was a very generous statement. He’s given 100 per cent support for his brother and has left open the door for coming back. William Hague stood down for five years and he’s now Foreign Secretary.

Former Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell added: “I think it’s a measure of what a turely remarkable and wonderful person he is. It was an utterly generous statement, both to his brother, so as not to impeed his success, and the greatest loyalty to his party.”

Shadow Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said he was “very sorry” to see David Miliband’s statement, but he “completely understands” why he took the decision.

“It’s a measure of the man that he has done what he has.”

Asked if this was the end of an era, he said: “never say never in politics”.

“Clearly one of the concerns was for Ed to have the space to be his own man… I completely understand that, completely understand it,” he said.

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock said he “very much regrets” that David Miliband was bowing out of frontline politics, calling him a “huge talent”. But, he said “It’s like any other team. If you lose a player through injury or whatever, you’ve got to carry on and keep winning. And that’s what we’ll do.”

David Miliband’s predecessor as Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said: “A lot of people will be very disappointed, not least because it was understood that whichever of them won the election, the other would work with them.”

She added: “Everybody’s a loss, but it’s a very strong team.” When asked who might take over the Shadow Foreign Secretary role, she said the “queue will be round the block”.

Hazel Blears MP, who also served in the cabinet with David Miliband, said it was a “great loss” to the Labour party and a “very sad day”.

“He has a tremendous political brain and he’s made a tremendous contribution in many roles,” she said.

Jonathan Reynolds, who was elected as the MP for Stalybridge and Hyde at the last election, said: “I think it’s very sad because he’s outstanding but yesterday’s events showed the Miliband melodrama will go on.

“David Miliband was willing to lay down his career for his brother’s leadership, which is very admirable.”

Ed Miliband told Channel 4 News this morning that he felt his brother would continue to make a contribution to politics.

“I make this as a prediction, which is I think David Miliband will make a contribution to British politics in the future, and I think he’ll make an important contribution one way or another.

He added that his brother was a “huge asset” for the Labour party but added that he “had to make the right decision for him”.

He’s out of politics – but how did he get there in the first place? Channel 4 News Who Knows Who probes David Miliband‘s background and looks into those waiting in the wings to take his place in his brother Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet.

Watch the full interview below.