Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday 26 March 2013

David Miliband sealed his fate in 2009

If he'd have had more courage, David Miliband could have been Prime Minister today. On 4th June 2009 when his close political ally James Purnell resigned as Culture Secretary Miliband senior could and should have gone over the top too. I know for a fact that Purnell and his advisers were expecting him to and were baffled when he did not. Had he done so and then gone to the country in the Autumn on the back of a bounce he could have had 5 years as PM. The fact that Cameron could not even scrape a majority against Brown makes it clear a new leader could have turned things around.

He didn't want to be seen as the Michael Heseltine of his generation fearing that he who wields the knife seldom wins the crown. But Brown was a busted flush. It was clear a year out from the general election that he could not win. Purnell's resignation along with in the preceding and succeeding days the resignations of some other senior (but just not quite senior enough) figures such as Hazel Blears and Caroline Flint was enough to wound Brown but not enough to kill.

That inaction made him more like another Tory Michael of an earlier generation. Michael Portillo. OK so he didn't put phone lines in but his various manouvers such as his article in The Guardian in July 2008 which tried to set out a vision for Labour and conspicuously did not even mention the then PM was a more subtle form of the same thing.

The indecision at a time when Labour really needed someone to step up and save the party from itself marked him down for me as an also-ran. Despite the fact that he started the 2010 leadership election as clear favourite I did not expect him to win. Indeed I actually expected his brother Ed to outshine him and ultimately take the crown as happened.

He was too cautious during the campaign too. He played it defensively and seemed genuinely irritated that his younger brother had had the temerity to run against him. Why on Earth he expected to have the field to himself in this way is baffling to me. Future PMs need to take on all comers.

So now David is standing down from parliament to take on an international charity role. I think we can interpret this as the end of his domestic political ambitions. There may be a role in Europe for him at some point in the future but stepping down as an MP is usually a clear signal that politicians are finished with the daily grind and the greasy pole.

David Miliband now stands as a warning to future politicians in the opposite way to Heseltine. When vying for the leadership and/or premiership of course they need to take into account the actions of Tarzan in 1990 and not be too bold. But they also need to not be too cautious. Otherwise the prize they most desire could just as easily slip from their grasp.

1 comment:

asquith said...

Maybe I'm a bit naive but I've read through all this commentary and I've barely seen a reference to his charity work. Maybe he honestly thinks he can achieve more for the world working in this capacity than as a Labour backbencher with few real prospects of promotion? Even someone like Blair wasn't all about opportunism.