Miliband: Prime Minister In Waiting

There is no grander office in Whitehall than the tennis-court-size expanse of gilt, silk, burnished wood and hand-woven tapestries afforded Britain's secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Still, the current occupant, David Miliband, should know better than to keep saying he pinches himself every morning. At 42, and having served as a minister under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the astute politician tucking into his breakfast yogurt and fruit smoothie amid the imperial splendor is less babe in the woods than prime minister in waiting.

With Brown stumbling after six months in office, the on-again, off-again Miliband ascendancy is on again. Once a high-profile devotee of Blair—as his policy chief and then Environment minister—Miliband successfully navigated the crossing to the Brown camp. A rebel band of Blairite "ultras" tried to get him to challenge Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party. He declined—and instead assumed the role of rift-healer in chief.

The transatlantic relationship isn't in such dire need of mending (although Britain is heading for the exit in Iraq). Still, Miliband's pro-American credentials should serve Britain well. He was a Kennedy scholar at MIT. His wife, Louise Shackelton, a violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra, is British-born but a U.S. citizen; her family moved to the United States when she was 12. Miliband and Shackelton have adopted two American-born children.

Washington is central to Miliband's view that Britain can be a geopolitical Heathrow, a hub linking all the world's powers. "If you want to be a global hub," he says, "you've got to be connected to the global power, and the global power is the United States, and the global power will still be the United States in five years' time, in 10 years' time."

Asked about his prime ministerial ambitions, Miliband regularly declines to answer directly ("I've got plenty to do right now …"). In fact, his reputation as a whip-smart policy wonk—Blair's communications czar Alastair Campbell called him "Brains"—could probably use some broadening. "I think I've always been pretty square," he says. The job isn't available at the moment anyway. Amid signs that the economy is slowing, Brown will probably not call an election until 2009 or later. Time enough for Miliband to grow into his grand suite.

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