23 March 2015

It’s the David Miliband wagon again

Just my conjecture of course, but could it have been that it seemed a good idea last Monday. On the Wednesday (18 March) Osborne’s Budget - bribing taxpayers with borrowed money - was bound to go down well and Ed Miliband’s response to go down badly; the YouGov opinion poll to be conducted on 19-20 March was certain to show that the Conservatives had opened up a significant lead over Labour; then on 22 March the poll results could lead on the front page, the Sunday Times magazine having been given over to a cover feature trailed all week: Celebrity big brother How David Miliband conquered New York. Anonymous Labour MPs and shadow cabinet members would provide quotes which evinced a bad attack of the heebie-jeebies, and the ditch Ed bandwagon would be shown to be rolling.

Only it didn’t quite work out like that. The poll showed a two point Labour lead and accordingly was relegated to page 16, leaving Iain Day’s David Milband article, THE OTHER MILIBAND Yo bro, I’m the talk of the town, somewhat high and dry in the magazine, as was the companion puff piece, No 1 Miliband still wants No 10, on page 8 of the main paper. Never mind, it still left some grist for the mill of this blog which has been following the periodic revivals of media interest in David Miliband since last August (and December and January).

So what was different about this one? There was certainly stock material about their Marxist dad, which brother got the first in PPE, and how upset their mum was and how the two younger Mrs Milibands had fallen out when Ed stymied David’s bid for the Labour leadership. But Day’s article seemed to have some new material from New York sources in and around the International Rescue Organization (IRC) where David now works as its president and CEO, at a salary of £300,000 ($450,000 presumably). As always, these things are best taken with a pinch of salt, for instance, early on we are told:
Miliband, astonishingly, has become the toast of the Manhattan elite.
and three sentences later:
… they have become minor celebrities among über-rich New Yorkers.
Not quite the same thing, surely? Anyway, towards the end there is a health warning:
David Miliband refused to be interviewed for this article.
Indeed, so we have:
According to some of his closest confidantes … 
… says one director of the IRC. 
Almost all of the IRC directors I spoke to … 
… a number of the charity’s directors confirmed to me … 
… says one IRC director … (five times)
and bizarrely:
Sir Patrick Stewart, the Star Trek and X-Men actor, is one of Miliband’s closest confidantes in New York, according to IRC sources …
Just how many directors are there? According to the relevant IRC webpage, 28, but the layout is unclear and I could have miscounted. There are also about 75 overseers (some may be directors as well) including, as the article explains, such eminences as Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and Liv Ullman. Some of the overseers and directors are named as sources and their comments should interest anyone who wants to know how Miliband got the job and how he is operating and raising funds through his “relentless charm offensive around New York’s high society”. But this blog has been more interested in whether Miliband would “do a Boris” and return to Westminster politics. There are three passages in the article I thought worth noting:
"He wants to be prime minister," says one director of the IRC. "The typical term for the boss o this organisation is 10 years. He made a commitment to stay for seven, which takes him to 2020, but with, effectively, a break option at five. I don't think it's a coincidence that the dates align with the next election. He does not want to run against his brother. But if his brother gets chucked out I don't think he is at all averse to being the white knight."
Should destiny come calling, Miliband has kept his designer kitchen cabinet of trusted advisers close to him. Madlin Sadler has long been the right hand of David Miliband, serving as his special adviser at the Foreign Office and as his agent in that fateful 2010 Labour leadership contest. The daughter of Labour MP Barry Sheerman, Sadler ditched a well-paid role with the law firm Mishcon de Reya to join her old boss in NewYork. Ravi Gurumurthy, a strategy expert who helped Miliband form British foreign-office policy, has also been hired. Gurumurthy is the brother of the Channel 4 newsreader Krishnan. Then there's Ollie Money, his Westminster public-relations handler, who is now the IRC's communications director. 
“David has a vision and a mission, Maddie [Sadler] just wants to get to Downing Street and to get there fast," says one IRC director. "When he brought her in, he called her his chief of staff, which was a big mistake. She's super-smart, young, really brassy, just killer. He needed that because he didn't have any experience managing big organisations, and there are 6,000 people in this organisation, spread all over the world. She just ripped the shit out of the place. There was a pretty strong reaction to her, but not to David. Being the great politician that he is, he made it good when it went too far."
The IRC insists that Miliband's contract is not limited to just seven years. Yet a number of the charity's directors confirmed to me that Miliband made a commitment to the board to stay for a minimum period after they raised concerns about him being tempted to return home. Should the opportunity emerge to take the helm of Labour, Miliband would be a greyer, wiser, very electable 54 years old in 2020. He would be even better connected internationally. Unlike almost any other politician in Britain, Europe or the US, he would have experience of running something before attempting to lead the country. 
"We have our eyes wide open to the possibility that David could disappear," says one IRC director. "If Labour get trounced and they're looking for a new leader, and it doesn't look like he was the one who threw his brother out, would he consider it? Yes, I suppose. I still think he’d prefer that they threw in someone who would be cannon fodder for a period of time. Then, when there's a problem, David is the white knight. If David could write the script, that's what it looks like."
Day shared the by-line of the story in the main paper with Tim Shipman, who, to judge from this extract, had spent some of Saturday on the phone to his Labour contacts:
Labour MPs who supported David Miliband last night questioned whether he has a realistic chance of returning to replace his brother suggesting that rising stars such as Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt, Liz Kendall or even Dan Jarvis are better placed to carry the Blairite standard. A frontbencher who voted for David said: "He should have won the leadership and I think we'd be in better shape if he had. But the modernising wing of the party has moved on. "David's still young but he's part of a different political generation. We need to look forward, not back. There are a lot of talented people like Chuka, Tristram, Liz and even Dan Jarvis now coming through. David's had his time." Another prominent MP said: "If the public rejects one Miliband, the idea that they are going to race to embrace the other is fanciful." A spokesman for Miliband said: "David wants Ed to be prime minister. End of story."
“ … even Dan Jarvis” – an estimable character I always think, and well-equipped to “go on manoeuvres” as the Tories put it. Shipman’s view of politicians in general was revealed in a The Times Red Box email on 22 March while commenting on a Tory candidate currently in a spot of bother:
I am struck, not for the first time, that too many people engaged in frontline British politics believe they are living and working in House of Cards, with its labyrinthine Machiavellian scheming, when in fact they are straight out of The Thick of It, the ultimate modern incarnation of tragedy as farce. Politics attracts the talented and tormented, idealists and ideologues, the principled and the perverse. Most strikingly, it attracts more than its fair share of risk takers, gamblers, and fantasists; the kind of people who live their lives in a divinely ordained parallel universe of their own creation. Vetting can only show what skeletons candidates have in their cupboards. It cannot show the delusions in their own heads.
Interestingly on Monday 23 March, in the Sun (stablemate of the Sunday Times and The Times), Trevor Kavanagh, its veteran political journalist, has authored an opinion piece, Arrogant David is wrong to assume job’s his next time round. So, at least for the moment, the Miliband wagon is not just stalled, one of its wheels has come off. Disappointing for anyone at IRC who was hoping for a new CEO, perhaps one of those:
… long-standing staff members [who] did not take kindly to memos [from Gurumurthy] asking about their financial targets and questioning various projects in terms of cost benefit analyses and return on investment.

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