Worse Politician, Better Brother

“All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs,”

Conservative politician Enoch Powell

Is David Miliband’s exit a final acceptance of his continual failure to outdo his brother, or is there genuinely more to life than political success?

As David announces his resignation as an MP this week, it is with the claim that he fears being “a distraction” to his younger, more successful brother. He is leaving British politics in the hope that Ed’s leadership of the Labour party can bloom “uninhibited”.

Critics may suggest that David’s capacity to inhibit his brother is all but spent; that it has been steadily diminishing since the day he was outvoted in the race to be Labour leader. A shrewder appraisal of that day, however, would reveal a subtler conclusion. A voting difference of 1.3% clearly testifies to a closely fought contest, but a majority vote from Labour MPs in David’s favour suggests internal party strife.

James Kirkup from the Daily Telegraph criticises David for not doing enough to charm his fellow Labour MPs, but they seem plenty charmed enough. “The best and brightest”, “one of the most capable progressive thinkers globally” and “an inspiration” were amongst party compliments for his 12 years’ service as an MP. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a politician with fewer words said against them. Even Labour-skeptics use the quality of his leadership as ammunition with which to criticise the party. Rafael Behr, for the New Statesman, writes:

“If David Miliband cannot be leader, he should be shadow chancellor, but it is a measure of Labour’s problem that he won’t be.”

Ed may be the current Labour leader, but his brother is certainly not an adversary he can afford to bear. David Miliband could be more than a distraction, should he choose to be. This result of their contest was by no means a guarantee of David’s exit from politics; as he personally affirms, inevitability is a strong word.

So is the South Shields MP simply missing the spotlight? Behr further writes:

‘…the next act in the Labour drama was being written without a starring role for David Miliband and he knew it. Since he had no lines in the script, no rousing soliloquies to deliver, he has sensibly chosen to leave the stage.’

Has Behr assumed that politicians must forever act solely in their own interests? Sensationalist reporters weaving the tale of dejected David, muscled out by his kid brother, are only telling part of the story.

Ed himself has confirmed that, should he make it to Downing Street, he would be keen to recruit his brother. With his ascension to the position of Prime Minister a real possibility, you can bet that these are not just idle words. It is clear that Ed admires his much-loved older brother, and that he laments his departure. However, we have also undoubtedly witnessed a brotherly feud, and the unavoidable strain between two brothers competing for the same crown. David shared his thoughts on moving:

“I feel a sense of sadness because I am British. I love Britain. I am passionate about Labour, but I have had to make a choice about where I can make my best contribution.”

Surely neither David nor Ed can truly think that the party would be very different in the hands of the other. So does David want to leave? We cannot know. What we can be sure of is that the decision is not about Labour.

David’s actions do not smack of a defeated foe, but of a magnanimous big brother, putting his obstreperous junior first. He is right to call the situation a ‘”soap opera”, and they are both right for wanting peaceful resolution. The difference between them, then, is that David is willing to make the necessary sacrifice, whilst Ed is not. He was the one who got them into this mess, but his older brother will get them out.

By: David Salisbury