Apologies for the slight delay. It’s a long walk back from the steps of St Stephen’s entrance through the corridors of the Commons and back to my desk.
So, David Miliband will stand for the Labour leadership. It’s official.
Surrounded by a phalanx of 14 MPs*, including former ministers Gareth Thomas and Jim Fitzpatrick, whip Mark Tami and several newcomers – three women were noticeably at the forefront – he made his pitch**. The actual launch won’t come until next week, in his constituency of South Shields. Here’s the text of the speech.
Miliband said it was an exciting time in politics (er, obviously) and with the new coalition there was an opportunity for Labour to dominate the left and centre-left – ie at the expense of the Lib Dems. He promised the contest would be “warm, generous, comradely” (will Ed Balls make the same vow?) and soon disappeared back into the building. No mention of his brother.
The little group lost momentum as they walked back past Westminster Hall and stood, slightly depleted, in the central lobby. One of the followers, a new MP by my estimate, seemed a bit lost. “Come with me,” said Miliband. “You can come with me.”
Miliband had hummed and ha’d last summer – as he had done a year earlier – as other ministers begged him to bring down Gordon Brown to help keep Labour electable. Instead he stayed loyal to the last prime minister, keeping his hands clean. And now he wants the (now rather less attractive) prize of Labour leader.
By moving so quickly, less than 24 hours after Brown’s departure, he presumably wants to show mettle and initiative. The potential downside is that he could seem callous and will now need to maintain momentum for weeks on end. Tom Watson, a Brownite loyalist, has just sent out the message: “Inevitable but still sad…period of reflection?”
Miliband has grown in gravitas as foreign secretary and no longer seems quite the overly cerebral geek. He’s smart, principled, presentable***. His main hurdle to success is whether he can win over the unions and more left-leaning MPs who are suspicious of his Blairism. Such as Dai Havard, from the Welsh valleys, who earlier told me: “Both brothers should have read some of their father’s (Marxist) books.”
And we’re still not certain who else will stand, although I’m expecting Ed Miliband, Andy Burnham, maybe Jon Cruddas and definitely Ed Balls – who has pointedly said it wouldn’t be “seemly” to go for it yet.
Miliband’s first step will be to visit constituencies later this week, including those lost by Labour in the general election, to talk to Labour activists and – as importantly – to members of the public. He’s realised that many people who rejected the party did so because they disliked its leader rather than its policies.
* These are by no means the full Miliband-wagon. Others such as Bob Ainsworth and Alan Johnson are firmly on board. Dozens of others intend to support DM. Presumably more will trickle out gradually to provide momentum. The 14 are: Jim Fitzpatrick, Angela Smith, Anne McGuire, Pamela Nash, Mark Tami, David Hanson, Phil Woolas, Ann Coffey, Chris Ruane, Mary Creagh, Anas Sarwar, Julie Elliot, Gareth Thomas, Hugh Bailey, Valerie Vaz
** None of the claque looked too weird, in contrast to that famous 1995 picture of Tory contender John Redwood and his allies.
*** A Miliband-Clegg-Cameron trio for the TV debates would have been striking for their similarities; all tall, handsome(ish), either 43 or 44, smooth, metropolitan.