David Miliband

By | Oct 12, 2011

The book, published before Miliband turned 30, had a major impact on the new team that headed the Labour Party. He became particularly close to Tony Blair, the newly elected party leader. Blair was not a Marxist; he was barely a Socialist; Ralph Miliband reportedly despised the young Labour Party leader, considering him a closet Tory. But his son and the soon-to-be prime minister saw the world differently. They believed that Labour had to embrace a new kind of progressive politics to meet Britain’s current needs. In the post-industrial society, the working “masses” were property owners. To be elected, Labour had to speak a new language. Borrowing from Ralph Miliband’s idea of a “New Left,” the party rebranded itself “New Labour.”

David Miliband is credited with writing much of the 1997 Labour Party election manifesto—its party platform. There wasn’t much naked socialism in it. But there was a lot of emphasis on something his father, who passed away in 1994, would have approved of: education. Labour won the election in an historic landslide. Miliband followed Blair into 10 Downing Street as head of poli cy. Blair’s chief of communications, Alastair Campbell, gave him the nickname “Brains.”

Miliband was thought of as a brilliant policy wonk but not a politician. “David is very austere,” says one political figure who has known him for a long time. “He is shy and values his privacy.” Despite an affinity for blogging, his personal life is virtually unknown beyond a few basic facts. His wife, Louise Shackleton, a violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra, is a dual American-British citizen whom he met on a flight to Rome. The couple adopted two young sons, Isaac and Jacob, from the United States. His ability to keep his private life private is an amazing feat in a country with a rapacious tabloid press.

But in 2001, much to the surprise of many who knew him, Miliband threw himself into electoral politics. He stood for Parliament for the safe Labour seat of South Shields, a gritty northern constituency. It was the kind of place where voters favored the socialism his father endorsed. Once elected to Parliament, his rise to the cabinet seemed pre-ordained. In 2006, Blair appointed him secretary for environment, food and rural affairs. The following year, the new prime minister, Gordon Brown, named him foreign secretary.

Becoming foreign secretary wasn’t what Miliband had in mind. Chris Brown, professor of international relations at LSE, says David Miliband hoped that Prime Minister Brown would put him in charge of a big-budget domestic department, like the Home Office, which oversees immigration policy, counter-terrorism and science.

But after a smooth rise to the upper echelons of the Labour Party, Miliband had slammed into the wall that has prevented Labour from fulfilling the promise of its 1997 manifesto: the rivalry between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The men were elected to Parliament the same year and plotted against each other to become prime minister. Blair won out because it was clear to everyone that he was a great campaigner. Brown’s intellectual skills are formidable but he is not at all personable. He broods, he holds grudges, and he does it all in public. In Brown’s mind, Miliband was a Blair loyalist and a potential rival. But he was too important to ignore, and so he was “relegated” to the Foreign Office to enjoy the prestige and not get in the way.

Whatever his initial feelings about the appointment, Miliband has thrown himself into a job that is no longer as glamorous as it once was. In the heyday of the British Empire, the foreign secretary’s position ranked only slightly behind the prime minister’s in importance. But because the center of world power shifted to Washington after World War II, Britain’s foreign policy ambitions today are more modest.

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