LONDON // Britain's former foreign minister David Miliband said he was quitting frontline politics after his younger brother Ed defeated him in the race to lead the opposition Labour party.
The 45-year-old said he would continue to serve as a lawmaker but would not serve in his brother's shadow cabinet, the top team of front-bench opposition spokesmen scrutinising the government. "The right thing for me and for the foreseeable future is to support Ed from the backbenches," he told BBC television.
"I think I can give him the freedom and the space to drive the party forward in the way that he sees fit without any of the distractions that can come from having your older brother sitting next to you." In a letter to the chairman of the Labour Party in the constituency he represents in northeast England, Miliband said he believed Labour would be more likely to be able to make "a fresh start" if he moved on to the backbenches.
"I genuinely believe that I can best serve Ed, the party and the country from a new position," he wrote. Miliband, long seen as the natural successor to Gordon Brown as leader of centre-left Labour, made his announcement as the deadline passed for contenders to put themselves forward for the shadow Cabinet. He is believed to have been offered the pick of the top jobs by his brother. The question of whether or not he would serve under his 40-year-old brother has dominated Labour's annual conference ever since votes from trade union members handed Ed a surprise victory in the leadership contest on Saturday.
David received the majority of votes from party members and lawmakers, but the support of the unions, Labour's main financial backers, proved decisive for his brother. Ed Miliband has said a "new generation" has taken over Labour and vowed to return it to power after just one term of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government which emerged after Labour's defeat in May's general election. Interviewed before the decision, Ed Miliband appeared to suggest his brother would step down.
"I certainly don't think you've have heard the last of him," he told BBC radio. "I know he'll make a big contribution to politics in the future. "He's just been through a leadership contest he lost, and I think he's got to decide what he wants to do. It's most important that he makes the right decision." Ed Miliband said he did not believe it would "cast a shadow" over his leadership if his brother did walk away from frontline politics.
After a public show of unity, David Miliband's frustration at having his hopes dashed appeared to boil to the surface on Tuesday, when Ed Miliband said in his first keynote speech that the decision to take Britain into war in Iraq had been a mistake. A stony-faced David Miliband, who supported the war, turned to Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman, who applauded the speech, and was seen to say: "You voted for it, why are you clapping?"
David Miliband was Britain's foreign minister for three years from 2007 and impressed in the high-profile role, earning high praise from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for his diplomacy. He repeatedly spurned chances to challenge Brown and replace him as prime minister, and also declined to run for the European Union's foreign affairs post. Ed Miliband was asked if he felt he had betrayed his brother by deciding to stand.
"I don't and I don't think he feels that either," he told Sky News television.
* Agence France-Presse