The departure of David Miliband from British politics will provoke mourning amongst the sensible centre of the Labour Party, just as Michael Portillo’s decision to retire from the House of Commons ten years ago had the same impact amongst liberal Conservatives, myself included.
But the loss of such real talent from political life is a tragedy for everyone, not least for those of us who believe that politics should be led from the centre not the extremes. Whilst I don’t blame David or Michael for their decisions to move on to pastures new, the message it sends about their moderate brand of politics is palpable.
In the absence of a balancing influence, the opposition leadership of Ed Miliband now and Michael Howard back in 2003-05 moved their parties away from the centre ground. Of course, there will always be differences of emphasis between parties and within them (see my earlier post on ‘unhappy coalitions’) but heading for the extremes and creating wedge issues to divide the electorate is more likely to alienate the people from politicians rather than create a cohesive society.
So today we should be sad at David Miliband’s decision to leave Parliament, whilst being pleased that he is taking on significant humanitarian role, it is the longer term impact on politics that we should be really concerned about.