There is no doubt that David Miliband is bright, intelligent – and on occasions charming. However, becoming Foreign Secretary seems to have gone to his head. He has made too many accidental gaffes, and too many serious errors of judgement, for him to be considered as being a serious contender for the post of the European foreign affairs chief.
Yet the campaign for him to get this important post is gathering momentum as the front page headline in today’s Sunday Times, “No 10 backs Miliband for Brussels”, seems to suggest. As the article goes on to say, “senior No 10 sources have revealed that Brown believes Miliband is ideally qualified for the job”. What does this say about Gordon Brown? What does it say about others in Europe who seem to be supporting his campaign? Indeed, what does it say about the European Union itself? While Miliband currently denies that he is a candidate, the Sunday Times has been told that “he has had a series of conversations with senior European politicians about the Brussels job”.
First there was the banana incident – when he was photographed smirking at the Labour Party conference in 2008. His defence according to the BBC: “Asked about the picture of the banana on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr Miliband said he was holding it because it was his breakfast, adding that worse things could happen and he did not take such things too seriously”.
But then there were also the photographs of him shaking hands with Gordon Brown at the conference – his face looked so pained that, although he avowed that the Prime Minister had his support, many suspected otherwise.
Whatever one thinks of the notion that a single person should represent the European Union’s foreign policy, if such a post is created it is of critical importance that its incumbent is someone who is widely respected, who has astute political judgement, and is cultured in a deep understanding of foreign diplomacy. It is here that Miliband seems to have failed so surprisingly in his role as the UK’s Foreign Secretary. Take, for example, his visit to India at the start of 2009. Underneath a headline “Miliband’s trip to India ‘a disaster’, after Kashmir gaffe”, the UK’s Indpendent newspaper commented that “David Miliband was beginning to look as accident-prone as Mr Bean last night after yet another adventure backfired. 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. He was accused of being “aggressive in tone and manner” in a meeting with the Indian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and dismissed as a “young man” by senior officials”. Typical of comments in India was V. Isvarmurti‘s political blog: “When he was appointed as Britain’s Foreign Minister he was supposed to be the youngest to that post for some thirty years. As such he was looked upon as a man of promise and also a bit too young or too premature to that post. He now proves, once in India, he is both premature and a bit over-excited too. Considering he comes to India with the knowledge that India was Britain’s one-time colony, he must have imagined and as most, it seems, may be still people there in Britian seem to imagine they can take India and the Indians granted. Much more shocking was the conduct of this visiting dignitary. He was both arrogant, aggressive as well as a bit hectoring. He seems to have imagined that he can talk and behave as he is used to, may be at home, back in Britain where such conduct and behaviour might be appreciated and considered as a sign of cleverness. But the young man was not only brash he was also a bit crass in not knowing good manners and etiquette”.
In the light of such comments, I find it difficult to understand why so many eminent people think that he should become Europe’s foreign affairs chief.