The Miliband journey: ‘Brains’ to ‘bananas’

The united denunciation of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband by the Indian political class after he aired his views on the “root causes” of the Mumbai attacks may have been slightly unusual...

Written by Asavari Singh | New Delhi | Published:January 19, 2009 12:16 am

The united denunciation of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband by the Indian political class after he aired his views on the “root causes” of the Mumbai attacks may have been slightly unusual for a visiting foreign dignitary,but this is not the first time the young Labour MP has courted controversy. He has been called plenty of other names as well,not all of them flattering. He has been accused of being everything from a “puppet” to Tony Blair to a Brutus-like figure who stabbed his long-time benefactor in the back to get into Gordon Brown’s good books.

Now 43,Miliband was the youngest Foreign Secretary that Britain had seen in three decades when he was given the post in 2007 in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Cabinet. However,he has been most closely associated with former British premier Tony Brown,who recruited him as his Head of Policy in 1994 after being much impressed by the young man’s work at the Institute for Policy Research. He quickly became Blair’s blue-eyed-boy and enjoyed a rapid ascent in the political hierarchy. After the Labour victory in 1997,he was appointed the de facto head of the Policy Unit and served in that capacity until 2001,when he was elected to Parliament. Within a year,he was made a junior minister in the Department of Education and then Cabinet Office minister. He received his next major leg up after the Labour Party’s third consecutive victory in 2005,when he was inducted into the Cabinet.

It was during his many years with Blair that Miliband earned the nickname “Brains” from Alastair Campbell — the moniker was not entirely flattering,as Brains was the name of a puppet character in the TV series,Thunderbirds. It is believed that the former prime minister wanted Miliband to take over from him,reportedly even trying to convince him to challenge Gordon Brown.

But that’s when equations changed and Miliband started issuing statements in support of Brown,such as,“Gordon will be the best Prime Minister and best leader of the party.” The avowed atheist was soon rewarded for his loyalty by being given the Foreign Secretary’s post,but his critics also became more voluble,accusing him of being brash and thoughtless. His popularity in the party was also waning. “He sweeps into the Commons with his Foreign Office advisers and doesn’t speak to backbench MPs,”

The Times quoted a journalist as saying.

This is also around the time his image took an unprecedented beating — a photograph of him holding a banana appeared and he was ridiculed for his “silly face”,with some sections of the media comparing him unfavourably to his younger brother Ed,who is currently serving as the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Miliband has been unable to live down this image as a somewhat clownish individual and the ‘banana picture’ was resurrected by The Independent after his gaffes in India. “Miliband was beginning to look as accident-prone as Mr Bean… After ruining his chance of the Labour leadership by gurning at the cameras while brandishing a banana,the Foreign Secretary’s visit to India last week was labelled a ‘disaster’ by the country’s leading politicians,” the report said. Other newspapers also rued that it was extremely unbecoming for the Foreign Secretary to allow himself to be photographed with his face close to a cow’s behind in Amethi so soon after the banana incident.

But the unfortunate outcomes of his photo-ops are not the only criticism levelled against Miliband,who has not enjoyed much popular support recently. While out of the country last week,he came under fire in the UK for writing an article in which he declared the “war on terror” had been a “mistake”. The remarks,in the last days of George W Bush’s presidency,were flayed for being ill-judged and ill-timed.

In the same article,he wrote that resolution of the Kashmir issue would deny extremists in the region one of the main reasons for taking up arms. His blog expressed similar views.

The Independent also quoted statements of Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari criticising Miliband’s attempts to link terrorism and Kashmir as also BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s comments describing the visit as a “disaster”.

William Hague,the shadow Foreign Secretary,said: “Good relations with India are very important to Britain,and must be handled with care and consistency. If these statements are representative of how David Miliband’s visit was received,then those relations will have been damaged.”

Meanwhile,Miliband’s office continues to insist that he had a “good visit” and had been “open and honest”. “The Foreign Secretary was very open and honest about his views,which are those of the British Government. He gave the same message in New Delhi as he did in Islamabad,” said a spokeswoman for Miliband.

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