David Miliband to quit as Labour MP

The former foreign secretary is to take up a charity job in New York.

David Miliband is poised to quit politics for a charity role in New York, the Daily Mirror reports.

The paper says:

The former Foreign Secretary - and brother of Labour leader Ed - intends to make the shock announcement tomorrow morning.

The Mirror understands he intends to step down with immediate effect, triggering a by-election in May

. . . It is believed he will take up a senior role with the charity International Rescue with immediate effect.

The move means an end to Miliband's long political career, which included a stint as foreign secretary under Gordon Brown. It also triggers a by-election in his seat, South Shields, where he has a majority of more than 11,000.

Since coming second to his brother Ed in the Labour leadership contest in 2010, David Miliband has kept a low profile politically, preferring to meet grassroots groups. He made a rare foray into the spotlight with his essay on "Reassurance Labour" in the New Statesman in February 2012, followed by his guest-edit of the magazine in the summer, featuring Hillary Clinton, Kevin Rudd and other international politicians.

Newsnight's Allegra Stratton reports that:

Update 27 March 2013 08:10:

LabourList has got the full text of David Miliband's resignation letter to the South Shields CLP chair. It sheds a little bit more light on his stated motivations for taking the new job at the International Rescue Committee and stepping down from Parliament.

He writes:

The organisation was founded at the suggestion of Albert Einstein in the 1930s for those fleeing the Nazis, so given my own family history there is an additional personal motivation for me. I feel that in doing this job I will be repaying a personal debt.

He also touches on the 2010 leadership campaign, and his working relationship with Ed since:

Of course it is very difficult for me to leave Parliament and politics, friends and colleagues. As you know, I see every day the damage this shocking government is doing to our country, and passionately want to see Labour back in power. After the leadership election, I felt I could be most helpful to the party on the front line, in South Shields and around the country, rather than on the front bench in Parliament. I felt this gave Ed the space and at the same time the support he needed to lead the party without distraction. 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.

Ed Miliband has also put out a statement about his brother's departure this morning. He says:

David is taking an important job running the IRC, a global organisation with stature and reach. I am delighted for him that he has been given this opportunity.

Having spoken to him a lot over the past few months, I know how long and hard he thought about this before deciding to take up the offer. I also know how enthusiastic he is about the potential this job provides.

David has made a huge contribution to our country and the Labour Party over two decades. As head of the Downing Street policy unit, as MP for South Shields, as Environment Secretary where he pioneered the Climate Change Act, and as Foreign Secretary where he won respect and admiration around the world.

As for us, we went through a difficult leadership contest but time has helped to heal that. 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.

British politics will be a poorer place without David. But his huge talents will be serving people around the world. I hope and believe that at some point in the future he can once again make a contribution to British public life.

As ever, that last bit - "at some point in the future" - appears to leave the door open for a return to politics, should he ever wish it.

David Miliband. Photo: Getty
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When Theresa May speaks, why don’t we listen?

Not many Prime Ministers have to repeat themselves three times. 

Theresa May is the candidate of Brexit and market panic. She ascended to the highest office because, in the fraught weeks after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she represented a safe haven for nervous Conservative MPs, the dependable family mutual that remained open while all along the Conservative high street, her rivals were shutting up shop.

Her popularity, as revealed in high poll ratings outside Westminster, too, owes itself to the perception that she is a serious politician in serious times, happily installed atop the ship of state to guide it through the rocky waters of Brexit negotiations.

May’s premiership has been defined by market panics of a different kind, however. The first is in the currency markets, where sterling takes a tumble whenever she pronounces on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, falling both after her conference speech on 2 October and after her start-of-the-year interview with Sophy Ridge on 8 January. The second is in the opinion pages, where May’s stock oscillates wildly from bullish to bearish.

In the first months of May’s government, she was hailed as an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Angela Merkel: a solid centre-right Christian democrat who would usher in a decade of conservative hegemony. More recently, she has been compared to Gordon Brown because of her perceived indecisiveness and repeatedly accused of failing to spell out what, exactly, her government’s Brexit objectives are.

In a symbol of the splits on the right between the Brexiteers and Remainers, the Economist, that bible of free-market globalisation and usually a reliable tastemaker as far as Westminster groupthink is concerned, began 2017 by dubbing the Prime Minister “Theresa Maybe”. Though May’s Downing Street is less concerned with the minutiae of what goes on in the public press than David Cameron’s, the contention that she is indecisive was a source of frustration.

There is an element of truth in the claim that May still views the world through a “Home Office lens”. One senior minister complains that Downing Street considers the Ministry of Justice as a “rogue outpost” of May’s old stomping ground, rather than a fully fledged department with its own interests and perspectives.

Yet even the most authoritarian of home secretaries would struggle to secure a conviction against May on the charge of opacity as far as her Brexit approach is concerned. She has hit the same grace notes with the reliability of a professional musician: Brexit means freedom from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over Britain’s borders, two objectives that can only be achieved as a result of Britain’s exit not only from the EU but also the single market. This was confirmed on 17 January in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in London.

David Cameron used to say that he would never have “a people”. Certainly, there is no Cameroon tendency in the country at large to match the generation of council house residents that became homeowners and lifelong Conservatives because of Margaret Thatcher and Right to Buy. However, there is, unquestionably, a Cameroon people or faction to be found at almost every rung of London’s financial services sector or at editorial meetings of the Economist, though it as at the Times and the Sun where the treatment of May is at its most noticably rougher than in the Cameron era. 

Michael Gove, her old rival, is not only employed as a columnist by the Times; he enjoys the confidence and admiration of Rupert Murdoch. That the Times secured the first British interview with Donald Trump was a coup for Murdoch, an old associate of the president-elect, and for Gove, who conducted it. It left May in the unlovely position of making history as the first prime minister to be scooped to a first meeting with a new American president by a sitting MP in modern times. It also attested to a source of frustration among May’s allies that she is, for all her undoubted popularity, still ignored or doubted by much of the right-wing establishment.

That condescension partly explains why her words are often listened to briefly, acted on hastily and swiftly forgotten, hence the pound’s cycle of falling when she makes an intervention on Brexit and rising shortly thereafter. The Lancaster House speech was designed to break this pattern. Downing Street briefed the most potent paragraphs at the weekend so that the markets could absorb what she would say before she said it.

As a result, the pound rallied as May delivered her speech, which contained a commitment to a transitional deal that would come into effect after Britain has left the EU. Some financiers believe this arrangement could become permanent, which once again demonstrates how much they underestimate May’s ability to enforce her will.

Being underestimated by Cameron’s people, in Westminster and the City, has the unintended effect of shoring up Theresa May’s position. A prolonged and sustained bout of panic would increase the pressure for a soft landing, but its absence makes it harder for Labour to oppose her effectively, although it has largely acquiesced to the Tory plan for Brexit, at least as far as membership of the single market is concerned. 

Yet for all the plaudits that the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech attracted, for all her undoubted popularity in the country, she is in the anomalous position of being a Conservative Prime Minister who has priorities on the European stage other than the preservation of the City of London and to whom Rupert Murdoch is not a natural ally.

As such, she may find that her deadlier enemies come from the right.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.