Is David Miliband Labour’s prince across the water? The elder Miliband brother appears to be watching the leadership contest closely avidly from afar, without backing any particular candidate. Speaking to his friend Fareed Zakaria on CNN this weekend, he was keen to stress that he has no plans to return to British politics in the immediate future:
‘We don’t have a presidential system as you know well and I am leading the International Rescue Committee in New York. Already three candidates have declared in the UK and it’s obviously vital that Labour is able to provide the kind of modern progressive alternative that is essential in democratic politics.
As in his post-election interview, Miliband Sr could not resist a pop at his brother. While Ed has blamed Labour’s failure to win on ‘lazy Labour’ voters who didn’t turn out on polling day, David offered a different prescription. He said the problem was about persuading people:
‘The danger, a reflection for you, is that the election was a lot about mobilisation and politics should be about persuasion. If you only vote on your core vote and don’t focus on the floating vote, you don’t get a democratic debate.’
When Miliband was pressed again about whether he could return during a by-election, he said with a big grin:
‘I’m leading the IRC, I’m not a member of the House of Commons…I’m not a candidate in the election I promise you.’
It’s noteworthy that Miliband appeared to be ruling out standing in this particular leadership contest — not returning to Labour full stop. He may be an instinctively cautious person but the language he used does suggest that he is keeping his options open. There are reportedly plans afoot to make a return happen: the Sun on Sunday reports that veteran MP Barry Sheerman is willing to stand down and make way for Miliband to return to the Commons during the EU referendum.
Although many in Labour love the idea of giving David the chance to lead the party he was denied in 2010 — as well as leading the campaign to save Britain’s EU membership — there are also many MPs who think the party needs a clean break and a new generation should lead the party. If Miliband returned to British politics under any circumstances, it would be hard not to see it as a throw back to the good and bad memories of the past.