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
Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.