He is nicknamed “Brains”, has left-wing politics in his blood and is loved by the Labour faithful, but David Miliband insists he does not want a coup against Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The 43-year-old British foreign secretary is the clear favourite to take over if Brown does quit in the face of rebellion in the ruling party, although he says he does not support a leadership election and wants unity.
That did not stop Miliband giving two interviews on the eve of Labour’s annual meeting about his ideas and personal life, including how he met his concert violinist wife on a plane and his love for his two young adopted sons.
At the conference, he has tried to rally the party with his vision of Labour’s future.
“Let us earn the privilege [to govern], let us seize the opportunity and above all, let us prove the fatalists wrong,” he said in his keynote speech on Monday.
Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, noted in his blog afterwards: “Nothing in the text was openly disloyal but everything about it declared: ‘I’m here if you want me to lead you’.”
Following the speech, he was overheard saying he had toned it down to avoid a “Heseltine moment”, the BBC reported.
This was a reference to former Conservative Cabinet minister Michael Heseltine’s doomed ambition to succeed Margaret Thatcher, who was forced from office in 1990
Questions about Miliband’s ambitions have come thick and fast since July, when he penned an article that many commentators saw as a leadership pitch, calling for “real change” in Labour and not once mentioning Brown.
He comes from a political family — his father Ralph was a prominent Marxist academic still warmly remembered by some Labour members, and his brother, Ed, is also a rising star in Brown’s Cabinet.
He earned his nickname from former prime minister Tony Blair’s press chief Alastair Campbell while head of Blair’s policy unit in the late 1990s, and is associated with Labour’s modernising faction.
Disliked by trade unions
But the Oxford-educated Londoner, who became a lawmaker in 2001, is disliked by the trade unions who provide a large slab of the party’s funding.
Derek Simpson, head of Britain’s biggest union, Unite, used a flurry of swear words to attack Miliband in an Observer newspaper interview this month — “smug” and “arrogant” were among his printable comments.
Other influential Labour figures are more flattering.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson, who some commentators see as another possible future premier despite his having ruled himself out of the job, told the Times on Saturday that Miliband was “a huge talent” and he was “a big fan of his”.
Blair himself once said Miliband, a keen Arsenal fan, was the Wayne Rooney of the Cabinet, referring to the Manchester United and England star.
He is certainly popular with Labour activists — a quarter of Labour members want him to take over if Brown does fall on his sword, according to an Independent/LabourHome.org poll last week.
Bookmakers William Hill made him 2/1 favourite to be Labour’s next leader last month.
While activists admire Miliband, though, they seem to have little appetite for a leadership switch at the moment. — AFP