Now why would David Miliband be leaving for New York?

Honestly, the Westminster village can be so up itself in its sheer self-referentiality. More or less every piece I’ve read today on why David Miliband might have taken the job running the International Rescue Committee in New York has taken it as a given that his motivation must of course be rooted in Westminster factors, above all the “permanent pantomime” of his relationship with his brother Ed.

No doubt that will have been a factor, but it’s still astonishing that so little of today’s coverage stops to think about how Miliband’s decision might also have been influenced by a calculation about the politics of New York rather than Westminster.


  • Since 2007, the senior UN post that has been informally regarded as ‘belonging’ to Britain is that of… why, Under Secretary General (USG) for Humanitarian Affairs. (The current postholder is my former boss Valerie Amos; before her it was career FCO diplomat John Holmes.) When Ban Ki-moon and his team finish their term, in 2016, David Miliband will have impeccable credentials on emergency relief and foreign policy and management of international organisations.
  • Britain also has a pretty strong claim to an alternative, more senior USG post – or even to an additional one. Until recently, Britain had two USG posts (the other being the low profile but important role of running Safety and Security). Prior to 2005, Britain had a 12 year track record of filling the crucial post of USG for Political Affairs – the UN’s equivalent of Foreign Secretary (so another post that Miliband would be obviously qualified to fill). And for a little while, we fielded the post of Deputy Secretary-General too, in the form of Mark Malloch Brown. Who knows what Britain might end up with in 2016 if the government decided to make a strong push. And on that note…
  • …when these jobs come up again in 2016, there’s a substantial chance that the government taking the decision on who to nominate for which post will led by one… Ed Miliband. Even if the Conservatives were still in power after the next election, the widespread respect for David Miliband on all sides of the Commons and in the Foreign Office (including William Hague himself) would still give him a strong shot at nomination.

Obviously the domestic political context will have been a factor in his decision. But David Miliband is far too experienced a foreign policy operator not to be competely aware of all the points above. And remember that he’ll still be only be 51 when Ban Ki-moon’s administration wraps up…