Former U.K. foreign secretary David Miliband stunned British politicos on Wednesday with the surprise announcement that he was stepping down from parliament to head a humanitarian NGO in New York. The Labour heavyweight, who has long been viewed as a potential prime minister, may have just found the most elegant solution to the very-public sibling rivalry between himself and current Labour leader Ed Miliband, one that has loomed over the party since their 2010 face-off.
The elder of the two Miliband brothers, David, said on Wednesday that his new role as head of the International Rescue Committee would represent “a new challenge and a new start” for himself away from the “soap opera” surrounding his relationship with his brother. While the his move does effectively clear the way for Labour to coalesce behind his younger brother’s leadership (and to more aggressively confront the Conservative-Liberal Democrat ruling coalition headed by Prime Minister David Cameron), the loss of one of the party’s most highly regarded members could prove less than helpful to Labour as a whole. To be sure, despite David Miliband’s relatively low-profile over the past two years, the subject of the brothers’ rivalry has hovered over the party, with rumors of David’s comeback regularly threatening to undermine unity. (Prime Minister Cameron’s not-so-subtle allusion to the subject during a sparring session with Ed Miliband is just one example of the staying power of the fracas and its utility as an attack against Labour).
Of course, there are plenty of doubts that even without the distraction of the rivalry that Ed Miliband will be able to lead Labour to victory in the 2015 elections. After all, he only narrowly edged out his elder brother, who was widely considered the more seasoned politician, to take over party leadership in 2010. Despite a faltering economy, Labour’s lead against the Conservatives in polls is still not wide enough to inspire serious confidence in the direction he has led the party. Though it remains to be seen whether the absence of the elder Miliband will spur a more earnest attempt at unifying behind the Labour party leader, what is clear now is that the move away from politics may ultimately be to David Miliband’s benefit should he choose to return to the fray (a hardly unlikely possibility for the 47 year-old). At the risk of imposing too Shakespearean of a narrative on what is surely the most sensational sibling rivalry in politics, the stage now appears to be set so that should the party falter under the auspices of the younger Miliband, the elder, who will have spent the meantime working with a prominent international humanitarian charity, could be well positioned to take over Labour’s leadership further down the line.
So even if the latest development in the saga of the Brothers Miliband may appear to be a win for the incumbent Labour leader, it could actually end up being the one on his way out of Westminster who enjoys the last laugh.