LONDON – Britain's former foreign secretary David Miliband said Wednesday he was quitting front-line politics in the U.K. after losing to his younger brother in a battle for the leadership of the country's main opposition Labour Party.
Miliband, 45, confirmed he would not seek a position in brother Ed Miliband's alternative Cabinet — opposition legislators who follow the activities of particular government departments and debate the leaders of those departments in the House of Commons.
His 40-year-old brother, Ed Miliband, won a contest to succeed Gordon Brown, securing a victory over by 1.3 percentage points in a ballot of legislators, party activists and about 3.5 million labor union members. David Miliband, the elder brother, had long been predicted to win the contest.
In a statement, David Miliband said he would remain in the House of Commons, but feared his presence on his brother's team would lead to constant speculation about divisions between them.
Lawmakers had until Wednesday to put themselves forward for an election to win a place in the new leader's so-called shadow Cabinet. The Labour Party said 49 legislators would compete for the 19 slots — but not the man described as "vibrant, vital, attractive (and) smart," by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"The party needs a fresh start from its new leader, and I think that is more likely to be achieved if I make a fresh start. This has not been an easy decision, but having thought it through, and discussed it with family and friends, I am absolutely confident it is the right decision," Miliband said in his statement.
He said he feared that opponents would make "distracting and destructive attempts to find division where there is none, and splits where they don't exist," if he continued in a front-line role.
Speaking at the party's annual rally in Manchester, northern England, the new leader praised his brother's "thoughtful and gracious" decision to stand down.
"He is my brother and I am very clear that, as leader of this party, my door is always open for him to serve in the future, either in opposition or back in government," Ed Miliband told reporters.
During Labour's 13 years in power, beginning in 1997, the party was riven by feuds between its two highest-profile figures, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which often overshadowed their record in office. In his recent biography "A Journey," Blair acknowledged that Brown could be "maddening."
Miliband, a close ally of Clinton, said he could not risk critics attempting to stir up a similar rift between him and his brother. In a speech Monday to the Labour Party's convention, he had said there should be "no more soap opera."
David is a former adviser to Blair, while Ed is a former aide to Brown — meaning opponents have been quick to look for divisions. They are the sons of Polish-Jewish leftist intellectuals who fled Nazi Europe.
"This is now Ed's Party to lead and he needs to be able to do so as free as possible from distraction," David Miliband said. "I believe this will be harder if there is constant comparison with my comments."
Some observers have speculated that David Miliband — whose wife, Louise, is American — may seek a high profile international post, possibly in the United States.
In a debut speech as leader Wednesday, Ed Miliband promised to lead a new generation of legislators to office and to reflect deeply on the party's ouster at Britain's national election in May.
The new chief broke with recent party history by claiming he believed Blair's decision to join the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq had been wrong.
His brother David — who backed the war — did not applaud at that point, and was seen asking a colleague: "You voted for it. Why are you clapping?"