David Miliband has won Labour backing for a new project touring British university and college campuses in a move which will be widely seen as marking a tentative rapprochement with his brother Ed.
The unofficial role is David’s first for the party since he was defeated by his younger brother in last year’s race for the Labour leadership, after which he decided not to take part in the shadow cabinet elections.
The two brothers were expected to appear on a podium together in March for the launch of “Movement for Change”, a leftwing volunteer movement, but that occasion never took place.
Aides played down the idea that David Miliband’s new project represented a major “ambassador” role for the former foreign secretary, who still has the support of some Blairite Labour MPs. University policy remains the preserve of Gareth Thomas, shadow minister for higher education and science.
But the two brothers are understood to have had recent discussions which have been relatively warm compared to their tense, anguished relationship of the last year.
Many of David’s supporters are still bitter about the way in which Ed harnessed union and left-wing backing to “steal” the leadership from his previously more high-profile sibling.
The MP will carry out a 20-date tour of campuses talking to students about issues such as climate change, foreign affairs and tuition fees. The results of his question and answer sessions will be relayed back to the party’s policy review, headed by Liam Byrne, according to today’s Guardian.
Aides insisted that this was not a prelude for an early return to the shadow cabinet, made possible when Ed Miliband recently scrapped the system of elections to his frontbench.
My understanding is that Ed is already discussing the timing of a shadow cabinet reshuffle, which could be around the time of the autumn conference but may not be until several months afterwards. Miliband has to wait until the procedural change is authorised at conference before changing his top team; it would be a bold move to announce his new line-up while at the Liverpool event.
David Miliband still has high hopes for Movement for Change, which hopes to train 10,000 community organisers and has the financial backing of Lord Sainsbury. But Ed has not whole-heartedly embraced the campaign, according to one Labour source, because of its “evangelical” overtones.
One Labour MP said last night that the new role was perfect because it brought David “back into the fold” but kept him “at arms-length” given its roving nature.
Since last autumn David Miliband has joined the board of Sunderland football club and has taught politics on a voluntary basis at his local school in London.