10 August 2014

Could David Miliband do a Boris?

On Thursday 7 August, The Times gave some of its front page and the whole of page 4 over to a “Boris bombshell” story, Boris Johnson having announced the day before that he wanted to stand for Parliament in the 2015 election. I have doubts as to whether Rupert Murdoch is particularly keen on Johnson. Certainly some of News Corp/News UK’s papers have their reservations. Later that day Simon Nixon posted a very critical piece, Boris Johnson Is Talking Piffle, on WSJ Blogs, and on 9 August in The Times, Matthew Parris, opinion columnist and former MP who has observed Johnson, commented about
… the Boris I’ve observed for years. He has some of the qualities of a great and inspirational leader — a political transcendent — and some of the qualities of a hideous car crash waiting to happen. 
I’m glad he wants to come back. He’ll be fun. He’ll enliven the Tory campaign, help in places, hurt in places, entertain everywhere and make little difference outside London. He’ll be a persistent irritant on the question of the Tory leadership, but he probably won’t ever be leader.
The leadership question had come to the fore in an analysis of Johnson’s strategy by John McTernan the previous day in the Scotsman, Riding to the rescue or a Tory car crash?:
The fact no-one wants to mention is that Boris’ return is predicated on a Tory defeat at the next election. … He can only be the leader if there is a vacancy. There can only be a vacancy if there is a defeat. 
… some argue that Cameron will win a majority, hold a referendum, win it and then gracefully hand over in 2018. If you believe that, do you mind sending me you bank details, your PIN and your mother’s maiden name. 
David Cameron is born to rule, and if he wins a majority next year – the first Tory majority in 23 years – he will enjoy every day of his five years in power. … If he can stay in power he will – whether an understanding with the DUP or supply and confidence with the Liberal Democrats. You will have to prize the code for the No10 flat from his cold, dead hands. 
No, Cameron goes when the Tories lose power. A triumphant Dave – in whatever form – kicks the leadership election beyond 2020, and then Sajid David will have shown us his paces.
But another politician (with grinning selfie) was spread over two pages by The Times on 7 August, David Miliband:

Rather a tale of woe:
Behind the smile, however, is a more fraught reality and fears that, despite moving to New York, Mr Miliband  remains a man at best in limbo, and at worst floundering. 
… Friends concede that it has not been an easy move [to run the International Rescue Committee] for the family. His wife, although American, was less than enthusiastic. 
… A friend adds that the two boys also found it difficult to settle. 
… The family spent the first holiday after the move not exploring the US, but visiting their old home in South Shields, his former constituency in the northeast. 
… Shortly after his arrival it was reported by The New York Times that “the plan is that with his international experience and gold-plated virtual Rolodex, Mr Miliband can bring in new sources of funding as well as raise the group’s profile”. Britain’s former foreign secretary has interpreted this job spec in a way that has increased tensions with some senior staffers at the IRC, his allies admit. 
… A couple of months after he started at the charity in earnest, The New York Times described how “some long-time IRC staff members responded to news of his appointment with a certain wariness, mainly because of Mr Miliband’s foreignness, his celebrity, his lack of experience running non-profit agencies and because they did not know what his management style would be.” 
… The US staff are said to find Mr Miliband aloof and arrogant.
And so on, with his lightweight social and public profile in the US, unlike Boris Johnson! And then:
There is no sign of a full — or even partial — reconciliation. Ed Miliband did not make a detour to see his brother during his trip to Washington last month. David Miliband did not see Ed when he was over in the Britain for a recent IRC conference in Windsor. In fact it is Louise Shackleton who remains the most unforgiving about Ed’s displacement of his brother, her husband. 
… Despite being in the midst of a complex and difficult reorganisation of a big international charity, as well as the usual problems of settling a family into a foreign city, Mr Miliband still pays close attention to British politics down to the fine details. “He knows far too much about canvass returns in Stevenage than he should,” one intimate says. It would be inhuman of Mr Miliband to want his brother to win handsomely, suggests another. In private, he is critical of Ed’s strategy and his narrow lead in the polls. He believes that the lead should be much greater given the collapse in most people’s living standards under the coalition government, and that the gap will inevitably narrow as the election approaches.
The article goes on to say that David Miliband is totally committed to the IRC and to speculate, rather unconvincingly, about how he might benefit from a Clinton victory in 2016.

An attempt was made to counter the “fraught reality” in the Observer on 10 August in an “exclusive interview” granted to Jon Swaine, David Miliband: 'I want Ed to succeed. I'm sure he feels the same about me':
… Miliband likes Italian food. His American wife, the violinist Louise Shackelton, prefers Japanese cuisine. Eating out is one of the best things about their new life, he said, denying rumours that they are not enjoying life in New York much at all. Soon they will be holidaying in Cape Cod. 
… "I'm absolutely convinced this is the right place to be for us," … "I wouldn't be happy if my family wasn't happy. That's a big thing. My kids are OK. Louise is OK." 
… Miliband said he was brought in to make the IRC "think, act, speak, like a $500m organisation, not like the much smaller one it used to be". Asked for a concrete change he'd made, he said: "We have galvanised the organisation to think ambitiously about its strategy for the future." Longer-serving IRC managers, apparently worried about risks to staff on the ground, reportedly fear creeping politicisation under Miliband, adding to the pressure they feel they are under to stay neutral. He denies any such clash. 
… He claimed that he doesn't follow "every twist and turn" of British politics, before saying he had watched the TV debate on Scottish independence the night before [6 August on STV, which would have been at 15:00 EST], and followed criticism of the wreath laid by his brother at a service to mark the centenary of the first world war. 
… In a telephone conversation later, following a report [presumably The Times above] that he privately wants his brother to fail, Miliband was asked [by whom, presumably not Swaine?] whether he thought he would be doing a better job. 
"Both Ed and I want the other to succeed," he said. "Strongly, passionately. And we also both work hard to keep personal lines open and private. I'm focused in succeeding in my job … and I want him to succeed in his job. And I'm sure it's the same for him." 
Yet on the subject of whether the Ed-led Labour party will win next year's election, he was not emphatic: "I think that it's really open. I think we can." Then he hedged. "I never say we will win. Because I'm a protagonist, not a commentator."
That there are parallels between David Miliband’s position and Johnson’s is obvious. If Ed M loses in 2015, and there is a leadership contest, the candidates would have to come from the Labour MPs who will be returned in the 2015 election. It wouldn’t be a much of a surprise to anyone who had read The Times article to hear that David M was looking for a seat (assuming the arcane rules and selection processes of the Labour party don’t make that impossible). And, no doubt one among several, Frank Dobson has just announced that he will be standing down in Holborn and St Pancras where he had a majority of nearly 10,000 in 2010.


An innovation at The Times which started this week is a daily political briefing, Red Box, sent by email at about 8 am London time. This morning it included the following:
Send David to Washington, Ed Miliband urged by MPs 
Labour MPs hoping to bring David Miliband back into the fold have an idea for his brother Ed. 
They say that Ed should make David British ambassador to Washington if he wins the general election, as reported in The Times Diary this morning. 
It would be the ideal way of rehabilitating him, paving the way for a later return to British politics after a spell in the US capital, they say. 
The idea of appointing David Miliband to the post was considered, then rejected, by Downing Street after the 2010 election. Sir Peter Westmacott is currently our man in Washington. 
The brother of the Labour leader currently lives in New York, where he heads the International Rescue Committee charity. 
As foreign secretary he forged good personal relations with Hillary Clinton, who is widely expected to run as the Democrat candidate in 2016. He would also be a voice trusted by the Obama administration in its final months. 
"What could be better?" a senior Labour politician told me. "It would be terrific for Ed to have David over in Washington, whoever takes over from Obama. And it would be a route back for David." 
Recently figures in the camps of the two Milibands have pondered how he might be brought back. They agree that if Ed wins the election his decision to stand against his brother in 2010 would be finally vindicated. He would be in a position to offer a role to his brother, and his brother should be prepared to take it.


David Miliband's situation has again been the subject of speculation  after an article appeared in the Financial Times earlier this month - see this post.  Keir Starmer has been selected as Labour candidate for Holborn and St Pancras.

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