Politics 12 November 2018 | 10:29

Come back, Miliband – but be careful

12 November 2018 10:29

Much speculation over the weekend that David Miliband, former Foreign Secretary and Labour leadership challenger, is to return to Britain and lead a new centre-ground party.

This is an elision of two quite distinct claims. Much as Miliband has relished his five years in New York as President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee – the global refugee charity founded in 1933 – he has always been quite explicit about his intentions to come back home. His wife, Louise, is a distinguished concert violinist who would naturally like, at some point, to resume her career in this country. They also want their two sons to experience British day-to-day life. All this is the normal planning of an expat family.

But the second part of the alleged plan is full of instabilities and contradictions. The gravitational pull of a new centre party is immense to those who are appalled both by the Corbyn Labour Party – especially its wretched handling of the antisemitism controversy – and the nativist trajectory of the Brexit-infected Conservatives. And it is certainly true that Miliband has discussed the formation of a new movement with politicians of other parties – as has his former boss, Tony Blair.

I have great sympathy with these yearnings. But, for reasons I set out here, the cosmetic appeal of a centre party is not matched by philosophical solidity or operational feasibility. It would struggle not to look like a coalition of losers, the liberal elite demanding its job back as the government of the country. A centre party can only work if it is built from the ground up (witness the surging success of the People’s Vote campaign since the emergence of youth groups like FFS or OFOC).

Miliband has plenty of political capital to spend, but he should husband it carefully. The answer to the grim polarisation of contemporary politics is more complex than the founding of a new club for centrist grandees.

(Click here to buy our inaugural print issue, which features an interview with David Miliband.)