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
ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories