Former British foreign minister David Miliband, whose younger brother beat him in a contest to lead Britain’s opposition Labour Party, said on Wednesday he was quitting frontline politics.
Miliband, one of the party’s best-known figures, said he would stay in parliament but would stand down from the party’s leadership team or “shadow cabinet”.
“This is now Ed’s party to lead and he needs to be able to do so as free as possible from distraction,” he said in a letter to a Labour official.
“Any new leader needs time and space to set his or her own direction, priorities and policies,” he said.
If he had stayed in Labour’s leadership team, he feared there would have been “perpetual, distracting and destructive attempts” to find splits between him and his brother, he said.
David Miliband, 45, had been favourite to become leader, succeeding former prime minister Gordon Brown who quit after a defeat in the May election ended 13 years of Labour rule.
He was admired by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was quoted as saying last year: “He is so vibrant, vital, attractive, smart. He’s really a good guy. And he’s so young!”
The two brothers regularly express their love for one another and David Miliband put a brave face on his defeat, urging the party to rally round his brother.
But his frustration seemed to overflow on Tuesday when Ed Miliband told the party’s annual conference Labour had been wrong to back the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
David voted in favour of the invasion. Ed was not in a member of parliament at the time but never publicly voiced opposition to the war before his leadership campaign.
David sat stony-faced and did not applaud his brother’s criticism of the Iraq war. Media said he leaned over to Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman and asked her why she was clapping when she too had voted to back the invasion.
David Miliband won the support of more Labour activists and members of parliament in the leadership contest, but the less experienced Ed, 40, narrowly beat him thanks to strong trade union support.
The unions hope Ed Miliband will be a powerful ally in their fight against deep cuts planned by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.
David Miliband said he would not stand in internal party elections to choose 19 members of his brother’s leadership team.
Ed Miliband told the BBC earlier his brother could come back to frontline politics later. “Whatever decision he makes, I don’t think we have heard the last of David Miliband in terms of the role he is going to play in British politics,” he said.
A minister from 2002 until this year, David Miliband served in the departments of education, local government and environment before becoming foreign secretary in 2007.