If you’re like me, you find the inherent fratricide of the UK Labour Party a deliciously fascinating element of UK politics, with a weak Ed Miliband in office and his older and more experienced brother David Miliband waiting in the wings.
So imagine my delight to see this article by big brother David in the New Statesman earlier this week. As The Guardian‘s Nicholas Watt notes, it’s really a slap at Neil Kinnoch, the Labour party leader from the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Labour was out of office.
David’s article even coins a term — “Reassurance Labour” — as a mocking retort against the trade unionists and other more stridently leftist voices who argue that Labour should return to its traditional roots, voices to whom little brother Ed owes his election as leader. It’s hard not to read the New Statesman article as David laying down his marker for a leadership campaign after the failure of his brother’s Labour leadership. (Don’t forget that last year, David’s camp actually leaked the speech he would have given had he won the leadership). Notwithstanding that the article praises little brother Ed four times, it’s hard not to read between the lines.
In fact, when I read the following quote in The Guardian, my eyes actually misread the first line as “David wants to succeed his brother.”
“People should calm down,” one friend said. “The simple truth is that David wants his brother to succeed and wants the Labour party to succeed. These two things go together.”
The David vs. Ed battle turned out about as horribly as it possibly could have. The final result, announced in September 2010 after four ballots, ended with Ed’s winning with 50.7% to David’s 49.3%. Due to the nature of the Labour leadership election rules, which involve a complex balancing of MPs, union members and rank-and-file party members, David actually won more party members and MPs (140 to Ed’s 122), which leads to the awkward result that Ed leads a parliamentary Labour party that actually preferred big brother David.
Even more remarkable is that all of this occurred immediately after the conclustion of a 17-year Labour epoch that, notwithstanding three terms of consecutive government, was marked by an equally fratricidal relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown — with many of the same Blairite vs. Brownite dynamics continuing to play out in the era of the Milibands.
The result is that the more experienced Miliband, who served as a fairly popular and capable foreign minister, and remains one of the undisputed stars of the Labour Party, remains outside of his own brother’s Shadow Cabinet. Not unreasonably, “Red Ed” has been painted in the media ever since as a tool of the labour unions that put him over the top. Perhaps worse is the constant briefing in the media from Labour MPs that Ed’s not quite up to the job; indeed, he had the shakiest first year as a major party leader since the Iain Duncan-Smith era from 2001-03 in the Conservative Party.
Although Labour has historically been less willing to sack its party leader (including David’s own relectance — twice! — to challenge Gordon Brown in advance of the 2010 general election), Ed certainly can’t rest easily knowing that another Miliband is standing ready to pick up the pieces if Ed’s hold on the Labour Party leadership crumbles.