David Miliband has resigned as an MP, and the immediate question that springs to mind is: what does this mean for Sunderland Football Club?
But beyond the anxieties of insolvent Mackems and the team’s ham-handed attempts to avoid relegation, there is a secondary result of the latest episode in Labour’s own family drama, one of pressing political concern. Indeed, David’s resignation comes at a time when his brother Ed, and the party, need him most.
With New Labour teetering on the edge of extinction, his exit signals an incorrigible lurch to the left that threatens to return the party back to the darkest days of Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot. And while Labour are ahead in the polls, faith in their leader – both from their members and nationally – remains abysmally low.
Indeed, observers have long suspected that David, who expected to win the Labour leadership contest in 2010, was not really prepared to serve under his younger brother. And who could blame him? The once rising policy don turned youngest foreign minister in modern British history is still scarred by his marginal defeat. His departure confirms that.
While David had taken to the grass roots after the 2010 election, it seemed that his self-exile from front-line politics also brought with it a sense of much needed closure.
It appears, just as John Rentoul suggested, that he had finally realised that he was never going to be Labour leader. After all, Ed’s position is as safe as the UK grime scene. It was also always highly unlikely that the party would replace one Miliband with another.
Certainly, the resignation letter itself is couched with thinly veiled frustration as David says he is leaving politics to give “full vent to my ideas and ideals,” while his forecast on Labour’s election chances is only “achievable.” This tepid word, which comes after an obligatory diplomatic appraisal of his sibling’s work, implies a slight contempt for both the past, and the state in which the party holds itself currently – a far cry from his days at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit.
But were sour grapes a sufficient reason for leaving the party altogether? For all David’s neuroses, complexes and poor choice in women, he was irrefutably one of Labour’s more valuable assets. It was he who began the ‘Movement for Change’ – a continued attempt at community organisation led by young people. It was he who impressed in all the leadership debates, encouraging a practical approach to deficit reduction, proposed a more progressive tax system and emphasised the need for more open government. And it was this cautious optimism that won him the most support from both colleagues in the party, and from ordinary Labour voters.
Ironically however, it was this same ideological disparity which prevented him from passing through the final echelon of power. For, despite his brazen intellectual capacity, it was the uneasy attachment to Blair that laid the foundations for Ed’s coup d’état. His undoing was very much the product of Labour affiliated unions organising effectively against him, as well as younger members of the party disenchanted with his government’s disregard for civil liberties in the duration of the ‘War on Terror’.
Nevertheless, David’s resignation should still be viewed as a shame for Labour. With Ed lacking the charisma, vision and expertise of his brother, the party will find itself much in the same state as Sunderland – uninspiring and lacking direction. With the Tories already drawing the battleground for the 2015, Labour now must create a long term vision that can inspire the country. And while factions of the civil war are still rife within Labour, nobody should forget how much David did to push the party forward.