Labour leadership: David Miliband promises to stay on back benches

THE re-emergence of defeated Labour leadership candidate David Miliband threatened to reopen divisions in the party last night as MPs speculated that he is positioning himself to replace his brother Ed.

After months of doubts over Ed Miliband’s leadership of the party, the launch of a report into youth unemployment yesterday by David Miliband was seen by some as a sign that he was preparing to make a comeback.

The launch followed a magazine article last week in which Mr Miliband made it clear he believed the party needed to move more towards the centre ground. He also claimed Labour needed to “leave its comfort zone”.

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Some Labour MPs have in recent weeks indicated they want the former foreign secretary to replace his younger brother, who has until recently been struggling in the role. However, shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper have also been talked of as replacements.

In the leadership election in May, David Miliband won the sections of the electoral college for MPs and ordinary members but the union support for Ed, four years his junior, saw him narrowly win the contest. After the defeat, the former foreign secretary withdrew from frontline politics.

But after a series of weak performances in the Commons and poor poll ratings, there had been speculation that Ed Miliband would be forced out if Labour lost London and Glasgow in the May local council elections.

One party insider said yesterday: “It is possible David is positioning himself, should things go badly in the local elections.”

On the possibility of David Miliband becoming leader, another added: “We can but hope.”

Others hoped that David Miliband was simply making himself available for the shadow cabinet to serve under his brother.

But some MPs were angry that he had stirred up doubts about his brother just as Ed Miliband has scored successes on high pay, including successfully piling pressure on RBS chief executive Stephen Hester to give up his £930,000 bonus.

One MP told The Scotsman: “The last thing we need now is David undermining Ed just as he’s at last finding himself.”

David Miliband insisted there was no “deal” between himself and his brother and he was not planning on leaving the backbenches.

He said: “It’s not a deal at all. I just thought the fairest thing for Ed and the fairest thing for the Labour Party was to give him full space to lead the Labour Party as he sees fit. That is what he is doing, with conviction and with purpose.

“I wanted to make a contribution at the grassroots and that’s what I’m doing. I have tried to reflect what I am hearing and what I’m learning at the grassroots in what I’m writing and doing.”

He added: “I love my brother and I want him to win the general election, not just because he is my brother, not just because he is the leader of the party, but also because he is the right man for the future of the country.

“We fought a leadership election. I lost.

“I am absolutely passionate that the election I care about is not the history of the Labour leadership election. The election I care about is the general election.”

Mr Miliband denied that his magazine article was intended as a dig at his brother.