David Miliband - CC / Flickr
David Miliband - CC / Flickr

James Kirkup on the Telegraph Blog has raised the interesting idea that David Miliband, pipped to the Labour leadership by his brother, might leave UK politics for the IMF. Kirkup says the info on this comes from Bagehot in The Economist, and as Bagehot used to be Charlemagne for that publication there might be some inkling of fact here.

But there’s actually a better job for David Miliband, now as before, that of EU’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, the position currently held by Cathy Ashton.

It was known in 2009 that David Miliband was interested in this position, that he had some support to go for the job. He held back, wanting a future in the Labour Party. Cathy Ashton was subsequently appointed – a compromise candidate at best, and since her appointment she has been widely criticised, and it has even been raised about whether she might stand down.

So here’s the speculative plan.

The UK’s Commissioner is nominated by the government. So who would Cameron and Hague prefer? Surely someone of David Milband’s standing rather than Ashton’s – it would assist the UK government’s foreign policy goals, and would also remove a potent opponent from London. Being stuck with Ashton until 2014 does no-one any good.

Other Member States, frustrated by Ashton’s weakness and indecisiveness, would equally be favourable to the change, and David’s charm and communication skills would pose no problem in the European Parliament.

So there are positive aspects all round… how about it?


  1. No! No! No!

    We need Miliband D here-forever! 🙂

  2. OK, OK… 🙂

    But still better Brussels than Washington!

  3. James Burnside

    As far as other member states are concerned, I can’t see a swap of that nature being a problem. Many Commissioners have resigned and been replaced with a fellow national (in most cases the replacement has taken up the same portfolio), so replacing Ashton with Miliband would maintain all of the balancing act put together last autumn, except for worsening the gender imbalance. Given that the EP doesn’t have a formal vote on replacing individual Commissioners, that may not be an insurmountable hurdle, even with this more significant post. Barroso’s first Commission finished with fewer women than it started with, but perhaps one or other male Commissioners could be prevailed upon to resign and be replaced with a woman to help matters along.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that it would be in Cameron’s interests. If Miliband is going to return to the backbenches and seek extra-parliamentary activities to divert his attention from the frontbench, he presents no major threat to the government. But as HR, he would have a platform that could potentially see him get in Cameron and Hague’s faces all too often. A Briton with a higher profile (in the UK) than Ashton in the HR post could also make it harder for the coalition to close down EU issues, which it seems to be desperate to do to maintain its own cohesion.

  4. robert

    Isn’t it also the case that if one Briton has failed to distinguish themself in the job, the other countries are hardly likely to welcome another one.

    Also, the supposed allure of having a Briton in the job in order to keep the UK ‘on side’ as regards EU foreign policy ambitions hasn’t manifested itself yet and has no signs of doing so.

  5. Ashton has not herself raised the prospect of standing down, but it has been suggested on the grapevine in Brussels. Make of that what you will, but that, together with her demeanour and situation, mean it is not impossible. The Treaty of Lisbon (rightly) does not allow for recall. I also understand that there are family reasons for discontent in Brussels. Would another job need to be offered? I am not sure.

    Is there much ideologically different between Ashton and Miliband, D? So it could be sold in terms of competence I would think.

    Female issue – I agree with you on that one, there is no easy solution there.

    EU OK to keep UK with High Rep role – why not, if it were the right person?

    In short though, this is all just speculation. But if the press are speculating about some job for Miliband, D that’s not a good way forward, then why not speculate about something that might just work a bit better?

  6. Has Ashton herself raised the prospect of standing down? She can’t be “recalled” – unless the Lisbon Treaty changed that?
    If not, then there’s no point in even starting this debate – unless the coalition were to offer her a job. Not impossible of course- look at Frank Field.
    But would the backbenchers of either government party wear a politician of the recently departed administration (and notably pro-European) being appointed to this role?
    Besides, surely if Ashton did stand down, it would have to be a woman that was nominated- otherwise Barroso is embarrassingly low on female commissioners. Or another male Commissioner would have to stand down and be replaced by a woman. 8 out of 27 is disgracefully low…
    And would other EU states be keen for the UK to retain the High Rep role with a different figure?
    No answers from me, just questions I’m afraid…

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