David Miliband, nearly man of Britain's Labour party

29th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

David Miliband, who quit frontline politics Wednesday after his brother beat him to the leadership of Britain's Labour party, missed a string of chances to seize the job for which he once seemed destined.

The 45-year-old former foreign secretary had been seen as the obvious heir to the opposition party's top job despite waiting several years for a clear shot at it rather than risking a divisive leadership challenge.

Miliband declined to compete against Gordon Brown in 2007 and ducked repeated chances to oust Brown during his term as prime minister as well as snubbing the opportunity to run for the European Union's top diplomat post.

He was the instant front-runner to succeed Brown but his 40-year-old sibling Ed pipped him in the race, whose results were announced Saturday.

This prompted him to say Wednesday he would not serve in the shadow cabinet.

David Miliband's geeky persona saw him dubbed "Brains" after the puppet boffin in 1960s television show "Thunderbirds", but the nickname also reflected a sharp intellect which he displayed on the world stage in three years as foreign minister under Brown.

The sons of Ralph Miliband, one of the foremost Marxist theorists of the 20th century, David and Ed tasted political life from an early age, conversing with top left-wing figures at family dinner parties.

But despite their self-professed closeness, the prospect of David serving in cabinet under his younger brother Ed -- who joked in a speech on Tuesday that David had once "nationalised his train set" -- always looked fraught with difficulties.

Born on July 15, 1965, David Miliband is of Jewish heritage, but had a secular upbringing.

His father was born in Brussels and fled to Britain as a teenager when the Nazis invaded in 1940, while his mother was born in Poland and, having survived the German occupation, left for London aged 12.

Miliband went to a London state school and obtained a first class degree at Oxford University, followed by a master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After working for a think-tank, he became former prime minister Tony Blair's policy pointman in 1994 and wrote much of Labour's election-winning manifesto in 1997.

Miliband looked "about 12" at the time, Blair recalled in his recent memoir.

In 1998 Miliband married US-born violinist Louise Shackelton and they adopted two boys from the United States.

He entered parliament in 2001 and a year on Blair made him schools minister. He gained a ministry in 2006 when he was appointed environment secretary.

When Blair quit in 2007, Miliband considered running against Brown in the leadership election, but was unsure if he could win.

Brown made him foreign secretary. He struck up a good relationship with Washington, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gushing over the "vibrant, vital, attractive and smart" Miliband.

But he riled India with comments linking the unresolved Kashmir dispute to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

In July 2008, Miliband wrote a newspaper article seen as the prelude to a possible leadership challenge but this never materialised.

Soon afterwards, he was photographed awkwardly brandishing a banana, hurting his image and providing fodder for opponents.

Heavily linked to the new EU foreign affairs role in 2009, Miliband said he was committed to fighting for a Labour victory in the May 2010 general election.

And when Cabinet minister James Purnell quit in June 2009 in protest at Brown's doomed leadership, Miliband declined to follow with a resignation that would likely have finished Brown.

Following the election defeat in May, he was the first to announce his candidacy and in the leadership race he won the most votes from lawmakers and party members despite losing to his brother.

Ed Miliband has predicted that David will return to politics.

"I certainly don't think you've have heard the last of him," he told BBC radio.

© 2010 AFP

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