Miliband avoids ‘Heseltine moment’

David Miliband fuelled speculation about his ambitions for the Labour leadership further last night as he was heard to claim he had toned down his speech to conference yesterday.

The foreign secretary derailed days of carefully crafted denials against his ambitions for the top job after delegates in Manchester spent the week downplaying talk of leadership uncertainty.

After a speech which praised prime minister Gordon Brown for his work against cluster bombs and for international development, Mr Miliband was heard to tell an aide he toned down his speech.

“I couldn’t have gone any further,” the BBC quoted him as telling an aide. “It would have been a Heseltine moment.”

Mr Miliband is referring to Michael Heseltine, the former Conservative grandee, who was widely expected to succeed Margaret Thatcher in the run-up to the Iron Lady’s fall from power. She was succeeded by John Major.

When confronted about the overheard comment later he denied the “allegations” and, grinning, dismissed them as “ridiculous”.

Earlier in the week Mr Miliband had pressed home his opposition to a leadership election, as called for by several of Mr Brown’s most vocal opponents.

Cameras will be trained on the foreign secretary’s face as he watches Mr Brown give one of the most important speeches of his career this afternoon.