David Miliband will confirm later today that he’s stepping down as an MP, and therefore from British politics for good.
Less than three years ago he was denied the Labour Leadership by just a handful of MPs votes. In 2009 he was the presumptive candidate to replace Gordon Brown in a series of coups that either never were or never worked. So he now joins Michael Portillo in the pantheon of historical hypothetical PMs.
It must have been a difficult couple of years for him.
Just before the leadership election came to a close, I had a drink with someone working on a leadership campaign team. “You have no idea how tough it is”, they told me, “they’re not just fighting for the leadership, they’re fighting for their surname.”
I was a bit baffled by this at the time, but sure enough, as weeks became months, Miliband came to mean Ed, not David, as the elder Miliband faded from view. He was still there in the background in the early bumpy months of 2011, but as Ed’s ceased to be a serious concern in the party at large, he cast an increasingly peripheral figure. Now that Ed is certain to lead Labour into 2015 as leader – and has a fighting chance of winning – David has decided that it’s time to leave. There’s never a good time to quit as an MP, but at least going before 2015 ensures that his leaving the Commons won’t become a General Election issue.
How will historians remember David Miliband? Was he unlucky? Perhaps. Did he have flaws that got between him and becoming leader? Don’t most politicians? He leaves behind a legacy of both policy and organisational change in the party, through the Climate Change Bill, and Movement for Change. Both will have an impact on our country and our party that will far outlast the person who put them in place. Not many people can say that.
What we can now be sure of is that the “psychodrama” of the Miliband’s is now over. Only one of these two brothers will ever be Labour leader. Only one has a chance of becoming Prime Minister. It’s a disappointment that David Miliband won’t be returning to Labour’s top table – as many (myself included) have called for on numerous occasions. The Hilary Clinton path was not for him. But if he can’t bring himself to do that – and who could blame him – then moving on is the right decision, not just for David and his family, but for Ed and the Labour Party too.
United, the Miliband’s could have been a powerful electoral force. But now we know, Ed will have to go it alone. How the story of the Milibands is told by future generations will be defined by how the younger Miliband fares in the years to come. David, meanwhile, begins to write a different chapter to his life – a different story even.
Good luck to him.