Former U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband, the elder brother of opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, quit British politics, ending speculation about his leadership ambitions in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
He will become president of a New York-based humanitarian-aid organization, the International Rescue Committee, ending a 12-year career as a lawmaker. In a letter to his constituents on his website today, Miliband said the move, while tinged with “sadness,” was a result of his having to “make a choice about how to give full vent to my ideas and ideals.”
Ed Miliband beat his brother to the Labour leadership in 2010, prompting a rift between the siblings, according to British media reports. Ed twice offered his brother senior roles in his opposition team, both rejected. David’s decision today ends any chance of him challenging his brother as head of the party.
“The legitimate fascination in the story of two brothers who ran a leadership election against each other but don’t fight each other, I felt, obscured the real choice for the country, which is what a Labour government would do versus what the Tories are doing,” David Miliband told Sky News television today. “Inevitability is a big word to use, a loaded word to use, but I think it’s the right decision for the party as well as for me.”
The two brothers represent different wings of the Labour Party. David, a close ally of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, favored a centrist modernizing agenda. Ed, by contrast, has closer ties to the party’s traditional labor-union supporters, whose backing ensured his election as leader.
“It means the end of a very painful chapter in Labour politics; it appears they never really got over the trauma of 2010,” Mark Wickham-Jones, professor of politics at Bristol University, said in an interview. “David leaving parliament is an indication of the final exhaustion of Blairite politics.”
Following the 2010 leadership election, “I felt I could be most helpful to the party on the front line,” serving voters in his district in South Shields, northeast England, rather than on his brother’s parliamentary team, David Miliband wrote on his website.
“I felt this gave Ed the space and at the same time the support he needed to lead the party without distraction,” he said. “He has done so with real success, leading a united team that has taken the fight to the Tories. I am very pleased and proud that our shared goal of making this a one-term government is achievable.”
With just over two years to go until the next general election, Labour has a consistent 10 percentage-point lead over Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives in national opinion polls.
“We went through a difficult leadership contest but time has helped to heal that,” Ed Miliband said in an e-mailed statement today. “I will miss him. But although he is moving to America, I know he will always be there to offer support and advice when I need it.”
He said he hoped that “at some point in the future he can once again make a contribution to British public life.”
David Miliband “remains one of the most capable progressive thinkers and leaders globally,” Blair said in a statement on his website. “I hope and believe this is time out, not time over.”
Another Blair ally, Peter Mandelson, who serves as a lawmaker in the upper House of Lords, said he would not rule out a comeback to British politics by David Miliband. Mandelson resigned from the Cabinet twice before returning as a minister.
“I don’t think this is the end,” Mandelson told the BBC’s “World Tonight” program late yesterday. “I think if I can come back, he can.”
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said in a statement on the International Rescue Committee’s website that he has “known David almost 20 years. He is one of the ablest, most creative public servants of our time.”
While Miliband’s departure will prompt a special election in his South Shields district, Labour had a lead of more than 11,000 voters over the Conservatives on a turnout of 36,000 in 2010, making a loss of the seat unlikely.
Alistair Campbell, Blair’s former press secretary, nicknamed David Miliband “Brains” after the puppet in the 1960s cult television series “Thunderbirds” because of his intellect and physical resemblance to the character.
“Here’s to International Rescue -- Thunderbirds are go!” Labour lawmaker Caroline Flint said in a Twitter posting today.