David Miliband's ambition to become Labour leader got off to a bad start when he was photographed at the 2009 party conference brandishing a banana. He also disappointed Blairites by failing to take on Gordon Brown for the leadership, issuing instead a lukewarm endorsement of the PM. Miliband showed himself willing to wound yet afraid to strike.
Miliband's stewardship of British foreign policy has been characterised by more than his fair share of gaffes and misjudgments. In January 2009, not long after the Mumbai Islamist terrorist attacks, he went to the Taj Mahal Hotel to lecture the Indians that, "resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders". What was striking about this homily was not just its insensitivity — though the main Indian opposition Bharatiya Janata Party remarked, "in recent years, there has been no bigger disaster than Miliband's visit". Rather, the remark revealed how little Miliband understood the nature of globalised Islamism, and an extraordinarily narrow view of what should be a common struggle. Imagine if the Indians had told him that the presence of British troops in Afghanistan was causing a disturbance which was distracting Pakistan from tackling terrorism in Kashmir? This and similar incidents caused a largely sympathetic Independent to wonder whether Miliband was "as accident-prone as Mr Bean". No wonder he and his somewhat less hapless brother, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, have been dubbed "Dedward" after the vacuous Irish twins from the X-Factor.
All this matters greatly as the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme escalates. When Tehran notified the International Atomic Energy Agency last month that it would begin enriching its nuclear fuel stockpile in order to achieve the 90 per cent weapons-grade uranium required to make a bomb, London hardly reacted. It is telling that the state-run militia, the Basij, retaliated against recent European criticism of Tehran's nuclear equivocations not by demonstrating outside the British embassy, usually the default scapegoat, but by stoning the missions of the much more outspoken French and Italian governments. Miliband's caution is in marked contrast to the robust stance taken by Angela Merkel's Germany.