David Miliband leaves the front bench

He has announced that he is leaving so as not to be a "distraction", and will continue to "support f

David Miliband has announced that he is not standing for the shadow cabinet to avoid being a "distraction" from his brother's leadership.

Justifying his decision to BBC News just now, Miliband said:

"I want to give him the freedom and the space to drive the party forward as he sees fit and support him from the backbenches. Ed needs a clean field to lead the party forward."

He also refused to rule out returning to front bench politics eventually, but said that he would always make the decision with the interests of the country and the party first. When asked whether his brother had asked him to stay, he said "that's a private discussion."

From his statement to his constituency party in South Shields:

On the day that nominations closed for the Shadow Cabinet, I think it right to explain to you and party members why I think I can best support him (Ed) from the back benches. 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. This has not been an easy decision, but having thought it through, and discussed it with family and friends I am absolutely confident it is the right decision for Ed, for the party, and for me and the family ...

This is now Ed's Party to lead and he needs to be able to do so as free as possible from distraction. Any new leader needs time and space to set his or her own direction, priorities and policies. I believe this will be harder if there is constant comparison with my comments and position as a member of the Shadow Cabinet. This is because of the simple fact that Ed is my brother, who has just defeated me for the Leadership. 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.

You can read his full letter to his constituency party here.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.