What would you do if you were David Miliband?

by Stephen Tall on September 29, 2010

Let’s leave to one side, at least for the purposes of this post, David Miliband’s record as foreign secretary in the last Labour government. It would take a heart of stone not to feel sympathy for him over the events of the last week.

To lose the Labour leadership for which he fought long and hard is a tough thing. To lose it by a wafer-thin majority having won over, pretty convincingly, majorities of the party’s membership and his parliamentary colleagues is a tough thing. To lose it to his younger brother is a tough thing. To lose it and know that this may, just may, mark the end of his career in front-line politics is a tough thing. That’s a lot of tough things to ingest in a few days.

Over at Tory Radio, Jonathan Sheppard sums up Mr D. Miliband’s problem succinctly:

… the media is fascinated by having two brothers who actually have different views on things jostling within the same party. That is why David could never be Shadow Chancellor or even Shadow Foreign Secretary while his brother is leader. He would either have to agree with everything his brother said as leader, which frankly we know he does not, or fight his corner which would play right into the hands of the media. So David is damned to silence and collective responsibility, or he could speak out and perhaps do irreparable damage to his brother’s leadership. For that reason there is only one option. … David Miliband has to leave front line politics.

It’s hard to argue with the logic here. David Miliband has played as straight a bat as is humanly possible since Saturday’s announcement, making clear “this is Ed’s week”. Yet the media scrum which engulfs him at every turn points to the press’s fascination with the new psychodrama at the top of the Labour party.

Perhaps this would die down… perhaps the press would get bored, or perhaps the Milibands would find a way of working together tightly, seamlessly. More likely, every sentence would be parsed to find a cigarette paper’s gap between the two brothers’ public utterances, while any private disagreements would be repeated and if necessary embellished.

To an extent, Labour has only itself to blame: so hard did they push the line that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were always and everywhere in accord that now the truth of their internecine warfare has emerged it’s that much harder to claim this time around that all is sweetness and light.

Yet I find it hard not to regret that David Miliband — who, whatever his faults, is an intelligent, articulate politician — is likely now to find himself crowded out of making a contribution at the highest level as a result of our collective inability to allow politicians to disagree with each other, whether publicly or privately, while buckling down to the task at hand.