Three faces of David Miliband

April 2008
Updated June 2008

How many more prime ministers is David Miliband destined to be rumoured to succeed?


Hard to remember, but only a year ago, David Miliband was being spoken of as a successor to Tony Blair.

Politicians and journalists had the advantage of having met him. The public had little to go on, until an article of his appeared in the New Statesman and the Daily Telegraph – I'm in tune with the 'I can' generation:

"Creating institutions closer to citizens, open and accountable to their communities, able to reconcile conflicts and competing demands, is the way to tackle the sense of powerlessness that can seem pervasive. That means we need to fight the instinct of bureaucracies and political parties to hold on to power."

What serious candidate would stake his claim to the leadership, on the need for the Labour party not to hold on to power? Not everyone is cut out for kamikaze duty. How many of his supporters would be able to fight their instincts, we wondered? In the event, none. Gordon Brown was duly crowned and David Miliband, now Foreign Secretary, retreated again from public view.

Only to reappear a few weeks ago, this time in The Times, with – New Labour (1997 model) is now so old-fashioned. It was just before the Prime Minister's historic conference on Progressive Governance, and according to the second face of David Miliband:

"Labourís success has been built on the Blair/Brown mantra that 'what counts is what works' ... from independence of the Bank of England to ASBOs to nuclear power, Labour ditched dogma and embraced common sense".

One thinks of the common sense which so informed the tax credits system, which overpaid six billion pounds by mistake, and whose website had to be taken down when fraud reached an "industrial scale".

One thinks of the problem facing HMRC, how to find out what accounts are held in Liechtenstein by UK taxpayers. Liechtenstein, dogmatically, wouldn't tell them. Using post-1997 common sense, HMRC paid a crook a hundred thousand pounds for the information.

But that's not what Mr Miliband was thinking of. Rather, he had this to say:

"... common sense remains essential, but it is not enough ... New Labour is learning the limits of pragmatism and Gordon Brown is driving the Government forward better to define and defend its convictions. It is one thing to ditch dogma; new Labour became expert at that before 1997. It is another to build a coherent ideology that provides a clear sense of direction for the country and speaks to peopleís aspirations. That is our challenge today."

Labour are already expert at ditching dogma. The trick now, after 11 years in government, is to find out why. Why are they in government? Good question, Foreign Secretary.

Abolishing the 10p tax rate obviously increases taxes on the poor. There goes another dogma, and now we have Miliband 3, in the News of the World, according to whom – Foreign Secretary urges party unity:

"Foreign Secretary David Miliband, seen as a possible successor to struggling Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has warned Labour to stop fighting amongst itself – or risk poll defeat."

So here he is again, on course to succeed to the throne, but this time he seems sensibly to have availed himself of "the instinct ... to hold on to power". Better luck this time?

Who knows. We'll have to see if he's now in tune with the 'I can' generation and see if he's "[built] a coherent ideology that provides a clear sense of direction for the country and speaks to peopleís aspirations"? If not, we can only ask, with Ed Balls, so what?

It must be trying for the Labour party, every time David Miliband opens his mouth, but his performances on the political comedy circuit are delightfully entertaining for the rest of us.

Here he is in the Independent, setting out his stall in Miliband's manifesto:

"My job is to develop a progressive foreign policy, to be an advocate for the Government as a whole and hopefully contribute to the vibrancy of our political project."

And to think that some of us thought his job was to promote the UK's interests abroad!

He never disappoints. What will he say next?