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Miliband vs Mandelson: The battle for the best job in British diplomacy



Miliband vs Mandelson: The battle for the best job in British diplomacy

“David and Peter both have huge strengths,” Knight says. “You could make an argument that Peter’s someone you want close to home. My sense is he has been advising the leader’s office in the run-up to the election. And that went well. If David’s ready to move on from IRC he would be a brilliant diplomat. And he knows his way around things.” 

Miliband might not want the job. At International Rescue, his salary is reported to be over $1 million, considerably more than the £120,000 or so he would earn as the ambassador. Taking the job would mean returning to the cutthroat capriciousness of political life. One misstep and he might be out again. He knows better than anyone in British politics how ruthless it can be. At International Rescue, he is lord of all he surveys. His politics and straight-laced approach would be at odds with Trump’s style. Former government colleagues say that while Miliband is extremely able and improved whichever department he went into, he does not suffer fools gladly. 

Miliband has not held back on his criticism of Trump. In 2019, during the former president’s first term in office, he said that Trump’s policy around the border with Mexico amounted to “disorder by design” and that the “US government is failing in its most basic responsibilities.” When Trump left the White House two years later, he added: “President Trump left office today as he arrived onto the political scene – smashing norms and flouting laws. The lesson from America is that tackling the abuse of power is up to all of us.” The 45th US president has been known to bear a grudge; Miliband might be better suited to working alongside Joe Biden. When Miliband was asked about a possible return to politics earlier this year, at an event at the Irish embassy, he was coy. 

“You know, I haven’t lost all of my political antennae,” he said. “I’m just not going to go there in terms of my future. That’s for other people to discuss if they want. I am the wrong guy to ask.”

Another figure said to be in the running is Peter Mandelson – who was first touted for the role back in 2002 when he found himself out of a Cabinet role during Sir Tony Blair’s second term. Unlike Miliband, he has not spent a decade in America. But he is close to Starmer, having advised him on his campaign. Having been trade secretary, Northern Ireland secretary and EU trade commissioner, he has no shortage of overseeing complex factional relationships. His talent for adapting to political circumstances might also stand him in good stead if he did end up in a Trump-led America. Miliband might stick more closely to his principles, while Mandelson would be more likely to find a way to work with the president. Notably, in 2018 he penned an article in the Guardian declaring that Trump had spoken “perfect sense” in his critique of Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Mandelson at Mar-a-Lago? You would not rule it out. 

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