David Miliband, who lost to his younger brother Ed for the leadership of the opposition Labour Party, said he plans to quit frontline U.K. politics, though he’ll stay a member of Parliament.
The announcement, which brought Labour’s annual conference in Manchester, northwest England, to a standstill as activists crowded round television screens, brings a close to five days of drama following Ed’s victory. The strained relationship between the two brothers overshadowed the meeting, intended as a coronation for the new party leader.
“The party needs a fresh start from its new leader, and I think that is more likely to be achieved if I make a fresh start,” David said in an e-mailed statement in London today. “This is now Ed’s party to lead and he needs to be able to do so as free as possible from distraction.”
David, 45, announced his decision as nominations closed for election to the opposition top team, known as the shadow Cabinet. Ed, 40, was named as leader on Sept. 25, thanks to the backing of labor unions. David received more votes from party members and lawmakers and had long been the frontrunner to succeed Gordon Brown, who stepped down after Labour lost the May 6 election.
“This may end the psychodrama between them,” said Mark Wickham-Jones, professor of politics at Bristol University, in a telephone interview. “But it underscores that this has been a contest of more raw emotion and intensity than any of us had imagined.”
“Any new leader needs time and space to set his or her own direction, priorities and policies,” David said in his statement. “This will be harder if there is constant comparison with my comments and position as a member of the shadow Cabinet. I genuinely fear perpetual, distracting and destructive attempts to find division where there is none and splits where they don’t exist, all to the detriment of the party’s cause.”
Speaking to reporters in Manchester, Ed paid tribute to his brother, describing his decision as “typically thoughtful, mature and gracious.” Ed said he was “delighted to be leader of this party but obviously disappointed for him and that’s the paradox of this contest.”
“I am very clear that as leader of this party my door is always open for him to serve in the future or back in government,” Ed said. “He’s a massive talent for our party and for our country. We would have been a stronger team with him in it.”
In the four rounds of voting in the leadership contest, David led for three, with Ed pulling ahead at the last minute as votes from union members helped give him a total of 50.65 percent of the electoral college. David was ahead among lawmakers and party cardholders.
Even Ed’s supporters acknowledged that the result had been a shock. Lawmaker Richard Caborn said it had left the conference “numb,” with a “surreal atmosphere.” It brought an echo of the way David and Ed’s respective mentors, Tony Blair and Brown, battled for control of the party for more than a decade.
The three other leadership candidates, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott, were among the 49 lawmakers nominated for the shadow Cabinet, according to a list distributed at the conference. Also proposed was Balls’s wife, Yvette Cooper, the former work and pensions secretary.
The Miliband brothers were the first siblings to sit together in the British Cabinet since Edward and Oliver Stanley in 1938. David was foreign secretary in the Labour government that lost power in May and Ed was energy secretary.
In Manchester, the bar of the Midland Hotel, where Labour’s most senior figures are staying, fell silent as delegates crowded round TV screens to watch the news.
“It’s really sad to lose such an immense talent from Labour’s top team,” lawmaker John Woodcock, who supported David for the leadership, said in an interview. “It’s up to all of us to do exactly as he suggests and give Ed the space and the support that he needs to ensure that we’re a credible opposition.”
“He’ll be a big loss,” said John Cryer, a lawmaker who backed Ed to become leader “He’s not just bright and capable, he’s also a very, very good speaker. We don’t often get people who can fill so many roles in the way he’s able to do.”