Thursday, 28 March 2013

David Miliband's departure: sacrfice or cynicism?

David Miliband's decision to abandon British politics and move to head an American charity can be interpreted in two ways. Some will see it as and act of heroic self-sacrifice to enable his younger brother to lead the Labour Party without constant press sniping about sibling rivalry.  Others will see it as akin to the pique of the schoolboy who refuses to play the game if he can't be captain.

Despite the attempts of Labour luminaries, particularly of the Blairite wing, to push out PR in favour of the former, I suspect the bulk of the electorate will take the latter view.  After all, when our prospective MPs face the electorate they promise  effusively that the welfare of their constituents  is, or will be if elected, their number one passion in life.  In government, as Miliband has been, they claim that the interests of the British people are paramount in their thoughts day and night.  So what's so different if you come second in your bid to lead your party?

There  are many examples of politicians who have failed in their bids for leadership continuing to give service to their parties and government, albeit some with more distinction than others.  R. A. Butler failed not once but twice to gain the Tory leadership, yet made one of the most significant contributions of any politician of his day and is fondly remembered, even by non-Tories, as "the best prime minister we never had."  Another "best prime minister we never had" was Denis Healey, who still makes shrewd contributions to the economic debate. Sir Alec Douglas Hume was, I believe, the first post-war politician to accept a subordinate post after having been prime minster.  Though neither was prime minister,  Michael Howard and William Hague, both former leaders of the Tory party, soldier on in subordinate capacities..

After complete indifference, in my experience  the most common response to political canvassers on the doorstep is: "You're only in it for what you can get out of it."  David Miliband's departure will, I regret, reinforce this view: he hasn't got what he wanted so he doesn't want to play any more.


  1. I'm not sure I agree. Having seen Nick Robinson's fatuous pontificating on TV last night, I can sympathise with David Milliband's wish to be out of it; the trivialisers and trouble makers could never have resisted harping on any minor sign of dissent or failure to fulsomely praise everything his brother does. Incidentally the other side of the stickers in politics was Edward heath who conducted the longest sulk ever recorded.

    1. You may be right. To quote Bill Keegan from last Sunday's Observer, ". . . the general public is gullible enough to accept indefinitely the misleading propaganda that our economic troubles are caused entirely by the profligacy of the last government... .." So it the press can keep that canard going in spite of all the evidence, they could, prompted no doubt by the Tory spin machine, continue to drip feed tales of Miliband sibling psychodrama.

      However, my feeling is that, if David Miliband had swallowed his disappointment and joined the shadow cabinet at once, the whole thing would have blown over by now. After all there are other "pairs" in politics who could be rivals for top jobs. Ed Balls has already tried and failed, and I've no doubt that his wife, Yvette Cooper, rather fancies her chances, especially if Theresa May becomes Tory leader.

      I don't see David Miliband's departure as any great loss in itself, but it does throw doubt on the genuineness of the commitment of the present generation of politicians to the ideas and ideals they pretend to espouse, and so demeans our democracy.

      I agree that to sit on the back benches and sulk, à la Heath, would not have been edifying.

  2. David was yet another of the PPE gang. Perhaps he has gone before having to reveal the huge profits he has been making out of 'sulking'. He was at best a lightweight with little depth - did he not at one time argue that British democracy was flourishing despite the evident apathy shown by low turn-out? Praise from Blair and Clinton? With friends like these who needs enemies? As for stickers what better example is there than Churchill who was regarded as a total failure in the 1930s?