Such is the latent paranoia politics engenders in one that on hearing the news David Miliband was stepping down as MP, I tweeted the following:
Careful! What if this is a Progress plot to focus attention on Ed M? Get rid of D, next on list is E. Then once E has gone, D comes back!!!
If truth be told, I have good memories of Mr Miliband (D). I once attended, on a very hot London evening, an Intelligence Squared debate in which he participated. He was very Blair-like, it is true, in his delivery – but his delivery seemed rather more searching and childlike in its desire to get at some truth than Blair ever managed to achieve. Perhaps I was seeing him earlier on in his trajectory; perhaps Blair was more solidified and fixed by the time I lived under him. I was, after all, still in Spain until 2003. And two elections are bound to take their toll on the ability of a top-flight politician to continue in that childlike mode of discovery I, even now, associate with people like Miliband (D).
That Miliband (D) is still on a journey of discovery is, however, made manifest by last night’s news. As the title to this post says, a charitable turn of events. The fact that the charity in question is called International Rescue didn’t half bring to the surface a flood of Miss Penelope and Brains jokes. The fact that an ex-Foreign-Secretary should be taking up a global responsibility in New York doesn’t half make me wonder about succession planning and the role of General Secretary to the United Nations!
Though only idly. After all, Louise Mensch has also moved to New York … (There’s competition in such company, I think; a city full to the waterways of the aggressive.)
What’s absolutely true is that the attention lavished last night and this morning on Miliband (D)’s departure from these shores far more than matches the attention lavished (not) on those ordinary Labour Party members and supporters who cut their connections with the Party over the workfare debacle recently. And perhaps, in such moves, we could inscribe Miliband’s journey also: it’s arguable he’s doing nothing more than following many other political activists of firmly held opinion from the arena of multi-issue political parties into far more satisfying, focussed and pointedly charitable single-issue environments.
What you and you and you and you did last week in relation to your support for Labour, and as a result of attitudes and behaviours you really didn’t approve of, Mr David Miliband has decided to do today in much the same way. We all, after all, have our markers in the sand.
Is this the beginning of the end of political parties? It may be. Fragmentation may inevitably be the pattern from now on in. On the back of Mr Miliband’s sonorous resignation, others may follow suit; others may even cross the floor of the Commons. Not a sudden decline; not one visible to its actors; just a slow and steady fall into an uncertain abyss where one’s voters simply begin to ignore one. As one tweet which flitted past me last night seemed to say: “And why should the David Miliband story affect me exactly?”
A mainstream journalist (either the Telegraph or the Mail) even seemed to suggest that the change of role in question was more a “non-job” than a “dream job”. I think, perhaps, more than anything else, this shows how complicitly foolish those in the Westminster bubble have become. If, as I suggest, Miliband is following millions of other human beings out of party political activity, this doesn’t mean he is necessarily abandoning the political process itself. Governments less and less exert power over how we do stuff. More and more they are tied up by their unspooling obligations.
It may be that Miliband is as ambitious as always, but has seen that parochial little Britain really just doesn’t shape up any more.
Labour’s leadership doesn’t need this or that figure. What it needs is hundreds of thousands of such figures. They’re called members.