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Henry G Manson asks: Where next for David Miliband?

January 11th, 2013

Could he soon return to the LAB front bench?

There’s been a flurry of speculation about David Miliband this week and what future role he might play under Ed Miliband’s leadership, if any. Some have speculated that he could replace Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor, but a more likely position would be that of Shadow Foreign Secretary. This was a job he occupied for two and a half years under Gordon Brown and is one he would relish returning to. Foreign affairs is of course much more low key in Opposition than in government however but the MP for South Shields still has global political interests, strong relationships and as Europe returns to the fore he would certainly want to have his say from a position of some authority.

There is further appeal to both David and Ed Miliband for such a return to Shadow Foreign Secretary. For David it would also allow him to return as a senior member of the Shadow Cabinet and share his tuppenceworth within the party’s wider policy development. After all before becoming an MP he was Blair’s Head of Policy and knows only too well the discipline and imagination required to make the transition from Opposition to government in waiting. For Ed it would fully lock in his brother’s talents (and the energy of his allies and fundraisers) into the purpose of winning a Labour majority in 2015.

    The return of David Miliband would also provide an internal political counterbalance to Ed Balls in Shadow Cabinet meetings, which some would welcome as health. Balls may not be over-enthused at that prospect, but would undoubtedly breath a sign of relief that he was not replaced outright.

Most hostile to the return would be some of the larger trade unions. The GMB have been most critical of the Progress faction in the party associated with David Miliband and Unite who want Ed to make a clear break with the last vestiges of New Labour. However that would not be universally be shared by all unions and David has struck up a reasonable relationship with Dave Prentis and has worked closely with Unison on issues to do with a ‘living wage’. (The sort of thing he really should have done before 2010).

    The more pragmatic trade unionists would recognise that his return could boost Labour’s chance of winning the election, and that is what they want most right now.

While some on the hard left of the party are sceptical of his record as Foreign Secretary, many others remember that he spoke out in private and public in forceful terms against the Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2008. The Palestinian cause remains and issue close to the heart of many Labour activists..

Under normal circumstances a Labour leader appointing his brother to shadow one of the top offices of state would raise eyebrows and open up accusations of nepotism. This charge could hardly be levelled towards Ed Miliband. No-one in their right mind could argue that he and his brother are too close for either the party or country’s good. MPs from all parties recognise David Miliband’s qualities, particularly after his high impact speech in this week’s welfare debate.

John Mann has today called for David Miliband’s return (along with Alistair Darling) describing both as members of Labour’s ‘A Team’. He is of course right and this is something that many voters would recognise too. Douglas Alexander is very replaceable as Shadow Foreign Secretary and could slot into any number of other less senior positions. He certainly would be unlikely to stand in the way of the man he backed for leader.

Only Paddy Power appears to have a market on who will be the next Foreign Secretary. Incredibly David Miliband isn’t even listed. That’s where I’d be looking to put my money and I hope bookmakers correct that ommission at some point this year.

Henry G Manson