David Miliband will replace George Rupp as president and CEO of International Rescue Committee. Photo by: Chatham House London / CC BY

David Miliband, a leading figure in British politics and member of parliament for over a decade, has decided to take up a position with the United States-based International Rescue Committee.

Once in the running for the leadership of the Labour Party, losing out to his brother Ed in the 2010 vote among the party’s rank and file, Miliband’s exit from U.K. politics has garnered much attention.

Some say this exit may not be permanent.

Tony Blair, under whom he served as policy chief and in various junior ministerial posts, said: “I hope and believe this is time out not time over.”

Miliband would not explicitly confirm nor deny this possibility in an interview with the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson.

He would only say: “I have not even started this job, let alone thinking about the next.”

Indeed, Miliband will officially start work as president and CEO of the IRC in September, replacing current incumbent George Rupp.

Miliband is not new to the international development scene. He once served as foreign secretary under former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and was well-respected in diplomatic circles, a gaffe on Kashmir when meeting with top Indian officials in 2009 aside.

Although rumored to be somewhat aloof with his U.K. parliamentary colleagues, his engagement and steely determination to tackle climate change has been notable. Indeed, he has long called for rich countries to help developing nations switch to cleaner technologies. And previously, as U.K. secretary of state for the environment, he worked to advance the Climate Change Act, which calls for a low-carbon economy.

The same could be said for his record on human rights and calls for better aid spending in Afghanistan.

As outgoing IRC leader Rupp notes on the organization’s website: “David is an experienced world leader and a man of both action and character, as his record as Foreign Secretary — including his work for conflict resolution in the former Yugoslavia, his leadership in calling for a political settlement in Afghanistan, and his drive for education reform in Pakistan and human rights in Sri Lanka — attests.”

But while some see his new role as an opportunity for him to bring out his talent, there are those in the aid community that fear his coming on board would make negotiations for humanitarian access difficult in conflict settings.

“I do not doubt that Miliband is an admirable candidate, nor do I doubt [prime minister’s wife] Samantha Cameron’s genuine concern for the Syrian refugees. But with each of these appointments, it becomes harder for all humanitarian organisations to negotiate with armed groups such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Shabaab in Somalia or Aqim in the Sahel, to allow medical treatment for people under their control,” Michiel Hofman of Médecins Sans Frontières writes in The Guardian.

Miliband describes his new job as a “repaying [of] a personal debt.” IRC was founded in the 1930s, at a time when his ancestors left for the United Kingdom to escape Nazi persecution.

“This job brings together my personal story and political life. It represents a new challenge and a new start,” he said in his resignation letter to Alan Donnelly, Labour Party chair of the South Shields constituency of which Miliband was an MP.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.