What would a David Miliband comeback mean for Starmer’s Labour party?

Twelve years on and David Miliband’s loss to his brother Ed throughout their acrimonious combat to succeed Gordon Brown nonetheless feels uncooked. The unlikely story of political fratricide made for probably the most riveting blood feuds of contemporary British political historical past and, a decade of upheaval and uncertainty later, British politicos can’t assist however assume that Labour selected the “improper brother” again in 2010.

Within the aftermath of Labour’s 2015 defeat, political commentator John Rentoul declared that “[this was] an election that Labour may have gained, and David Miliband may have gained it”. The “different brother” speculation is sort of ubiquitous; even comic James Corden has voiced his assist: “I really consider the day David Miliband left politics it began to unravel”, the Carpool Karaoke host tweeted in 2019.

However Miliband has by no means disappeared completely. Like Corden, Miliband swapped his British profession for a high-profile gig within the States, turning into chief govt of the Worldwide Rescue Committee (IRC) in 2013. The prominence of the not-for-profit, coupled with Miliband’s rare interventions in British politics, ever fuelling hypothesis that “the one who bought away” may nonetheless be persuaded again. 

This hypothesis has amped up in latest weeks, with Miliband giving his strongest trace but that he’s gearing up for a political comeback. When the subject of a possible political return was mooted in a latest interview with Andrew Marr, Miliband responded: “That has not been determined but. That has not been carried out”. 


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However a Miliband comeback is not going to be welcomed by all, and the previous overseas secretary arguably nonetheless suffers from the identical downside that he did again in 2010. 

Whereas he could also be a well-qualified political operator, Miliband stays tainted by his affiliation with the ancien régime. As a New Labour darling and unique “inheritor to Blair”, Miliband might want to show that he can change, simply because the vitality of politics has modified since 2010.

Furthermore, the important thing driver of the “David fable” between 2010 and 2020 was that the Labour get together had been led adrift by Ed Miliband, earlier than being taken off track completely by Jeremy Corbyn. However with the get together proper within the ascendant underneath Starmer, is the return of the messianic saviour of the centre-ground wanted? 

Starmer and (David) Miliband

Going off ideological compatibility alone, Miliband would slot fairly simply into Starmer’s prime staff.

In his interview final month with Andrew Marr, Miliband affirmed that he was “enthusiastic” about Labour’s course underneath Starmer. The avowed atheist continued: “The Labour get together has, thank God, put itself right into a place the place it’s bought good individuals main it — it’s creating its plans for presidency … I feel is basically important for the nation”.

This reward comes after years of savage criticism from Miliband over Starmer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. Commenting not too long ago on Corbyn’s report as get together chief, Miliband stated: “When individuals bought to take a look at Labour in 2017, we couldn’t beat the worst Tory marketing campaign in historical past… after which when individuals bought the complete measure of Jeremy Corbyn in 2019, he led us to the worst election defeat because the Nineteen Thirties”. This can be a level on which Starmer, who has expelled his predecessor from the parliamentary Labour Get together, would certainly agree.

Miliband and Starmer would even be at one on a variety of vital Labour get together priorities. Miliband has been outspoken concerning the want for a extra radical strategy to local weather coverage, and as CEO of the IRC, he has constantly criticised the UK authorities’s strategy to migration. On the day the primary flight of the federal government’s controversial Rwanda relocation coverage was because of take off, Miliband slammed the federal government’s “perverse” strategy to the asylum subject, insisting: “Refugees are individuals who turn into businessmen, they turn into sportsmen, they turn into a part of the material of neighborhood in an extremely optimistic means”.

The topic the place Miliband comes closest to admonishing Starmer is Brexit, with the previous overseas secretary sceptical concerning the get together’s latest re-positioning.

Strolling again his opposition to Brexit, Starmer not too long ago acknowledged that rejoining the EU wouldn’t assist the UK financial system. Against this, Miliband has stayed agency: “You’ll be able to stroll away from points, however they gained’t stroll away from you. … So Brexit, you’ve bought to have a place”. 

“It appears to me what he’s attempting to do is make sure that he doesn’t get cornered by his political opponents”, he added. 

Certainly, all through 2016-2019, Miliband was an outspoken opponent of Brexit, calling on Corbyn’s Labour to turn into the “unequivocal” get together of Stay earlier than the 2019 common election. He was even touted as a possible chief of a brand new centre get together in British politics, one which may unite Conservative remainers, Labour moderates and Liberal Democrats because the battle to assemble a parliamentary majority for a second referendum rumbled on.

What subsequent…

The noise that surrounds a potential Miliband return is an indication of the occasions in Labour get together politics. 

Starmer has labored consummately to rehabilitate New Labour’s picture within the eyes of the fashionable Labour Get together, consulting privately on get together technique with Blairite spinners Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson and really publicly on constitutional politics with Gordon Brown. It’s also telling that former New Labour ministers David Lammy and Yvette Cooper occupy two of the 4 shadow “nice places of work of state” underneath Starmer. 

However the tropes of the “different brother” fable however, not everybody might be enthusiastic a few Miliband return. 

As his interview with Marr and others show, the previous overseas secretary has not misplaced his weak spot for a glib soundbite since leaving politics. Moreover, whereas MPs on the get together proper might welcome Miliband’s homecoming, others might take to the prospect extra dimly. The IRC head would return having not contributed in any respect to the dogged graft of opposition politics, solely reappearing with Labour on the cusp of energy. For veterans of “Labour’s misplaced decade”, Miliband’s return may appears calculated at greatest and power-hungry at worst.  

Conversely, Miliband’s return would add considerably to the Labour get together’s expertise of presidency. Of the virtually 30 MPs within the shadow cupboard, solely two — Yvette Cooper and David’s brother Ed — have been secretaries of state. There are then solely 4 others — David Lammy, John Healey, Pat McFadden and Sir Alan Campbell — who’ve held junior ministerial posts. In whole, some 21 of Starmer’s prime staff, together with the chief of the opposition himself and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, have solely ever been opposition MPs. 

There are lots of explanation why Labour MPs each may embrace and resist a return to politics from David Miliband — along with his expertise performing directly as his best political asset and his most evident downside.

Finally, have been Starmer to again a bid for Miliband to turn into MP, it will underline how far the get together has travelled ideologically underneath his management. It could be an extra sign, if one other is required, that the get together proper is profitable the argument within the Labour get together.