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14 June 2011

The return of David Miliband?

The former foreign secretary is contemplating a return to the shadow cabinet.

By George Eaton

Another day, another twist in the saga of the Miliband brothers. Today’s Independent reports that David Miliband is contemplating a surprise return to the Labour frontbench. A friend of the elder Miliband tells Andrew Grice: “There is a debate going on. Some people are arguing that it would be better to be a team player than look as though he is sulking on the sidelines”.

Regardless of whether Miliband should return to the shadow cabinet, it’s worth asking the question: could he? The next shadow cabinet elections aren’t until October 2012 and since Labour’s frontbench is elected, rather than appointed, Ed Miliband can’t remove anyone to make way for David. But he could use one of his five discretionary appointments to bring his brother in (Peter Hain and Shaun Woodward were both appointed after the last election).

With this logistical hurdle overcome, it’s worth noting the reasons why Miliband’s return would benefit both Labour and his brother. For a start, it would persuade a significant section of the party, not least the 104 MPs who voted for David, to lend their full support to Ed. So long as their lost leader remains outside the shadow cabinet, some will be reluctant to do so. Miliband would also raise the calibre of a frontbench short of big beasts. His recent interventions – on the NHS, on multiculturalism and on the crisis of the European centre-left – have been thoughtful and persuasive.

The differences between the brothers are largely ones of emphasis, not principle. At the weekend, Michael Meacher bizarrely claimed that Miliband would have adopted “the Osborne cut-and-slash strategy in full … perhaps going even further.” Yet both brothers remain committed to Alistair Darling’s plan to halve the deficit by 2014 (although Ed has adopted a 60:40 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises, rather than the original 70:30 split). David’s correct assertion that Labour should have founded the Office for Budget Responsibility does nothing to change this.

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The odds may be against a comeback but it’s not hard to see why figures on both sides are giving it serious consideration.