The "Miliband-Tendency" destroying the Labour Party
Despite a bloody few days, anyone dreaming that David Miliband could possibly seize the Labour leadership needs their head-examined, writes The Commentator’s UK Political Editor, Harry Cole.
Cain and Abel, Edmund and Edgar, Michael and Fredo, Liam and Noel.
Brothers sometimes fight dirty, especially when the stakes are high, but history and the arts have nothing on the current fraternal battle at the heart of the UK’s Labour Party. Where Labour was once held back by the extremist “Militant Tendency”, it’s the “Miliband Tendency” causing a very public problem these days.
Once again there is a huge shadow cast over a Labour leader by someone waiting in the wings. And this is much more than about tired old sound bites.
After a disastrous outing at Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday, things went from bad to worse this week for Ed Miliband, the so called Leader of the Opposition. It seems his karma-overdraft suddenly maxed out and the past came raining down on him from every angle.
First, the Telegraph did what they do best - a slow, painful and deep political assassination. Everyone knew Miliband, and his current Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, conspired for years to oust Tony Blair, while loyal yes-men to Gordon Brown.
Finally here was a still warm cache of written documents that showed just how vicious and calculating the two men, who are now at the top of the Labour Party, were when they were on their way up. Miliband, to be fair, played a much tamer role than the bullying and thuggish bruiser Ed Balls. But the blood of their most electorally successful leader ever is on both their hands.
How can Miliband and Balls call for loyalty, with a straight face, when evidence has emerged that while Blair and his team were dealing with the fall-out from the 2005 London bombings, in the office next door Brown and the two Eds were in a meeting to discuss knifing the PM?
Friday’s media storm came at the end of a bad week for Ed Balls, with some suggesting this could even be Miliband himself giving his No. 2 a shot across the bow. But then things just got worse. Enter stage right, Labour’s uncrowned king and Ed Miliband’s heartbroken older brother, David.
Come through the heather, around him gather
Come, Ronald, come Donald, come a’ the gither;
And crown your rightfu’ lawfu’ King
For wha'll be King, but Charlie?
David has every right to stick the knife into Ed, the little brother who ran against, and beat him to, the leadership, but could he really take the crown? David pledged loyalty early on Sunday morning, but the damage by then was already done.
A speech emerged in Saturday’s sympathetic Guardian that is said to be the victory speech David would have given were his brother not to have won on the back of inflated union votes. The Blair-plot leak could just possibly have been an attack from the governing Tories, but suddenly this became a fully fledged crisis. This was red on red. Brother on brother.
The party was shown an alternative, a glimpse of what might have been. There is no denying the speech was eloquent, brave, realistic and worthy of a recent Foreign Secretary, especially when coupled with the lump-in-the-throat detail that David is said to have recited the speech in the back of the car as he sped away from the contest results in Manchester, his career and family in tatters.
And as if it couldn’t get any worse, two Labour supporting journalists who were expected to be loyal in their unauthorised, but certainly aided, biography of Ed, sold out to the Labour hating Mail on Sunday with a toxic serialisation that wrenched open the old wounds.
News of the publication and its likely content emerged early enough for the other missiles and attacks to be coordinated around the date, but it’s more likely these two might have caught a lucky publicity wave, with the media already smelling blood.
Amongst the juiciest allegations is that Ed hasn’t been entirely truthful about how he told his brother to his face that he was about to stab him or whether it is indeed true that David found out Ed was running from the TV news. Word of wives at war also reached the once cheer-leading hacks. There is a glimmer of hope though for the embattled leader:
The book recalls someone saying to Ed, before he ran, that there cannot be two Miliband leaders in a row, to which he replied immediately "I know". David may be the King Over The Water but the fact remains true, you can’t swap the brothers, which is why Ed ran in the first place.
Lest it be forgotten, David had many flaws that were highlighted endlessly before he became a martyred cause. He was seen as too wonkish and aloof, and dangerously close to Blair. However, the healthy dose of realism displayed in his unheard acceptance speech must make even the most ardent of Ed’s supporter wonder if David wouldn’t be doing a more coherent job holding this wobbly government to account. He might even have them on the ropes. Like the Pretender Charles Stuart, a rose tinted myth of what might have been still plays heavy in the hearts of the lost brother’s supporters.
Bonnie Prince Charlie was a poor military tactician and completely flopped in his attempt to regain his father’s lost crown, but that’s not how Jacobite legend remembers him.
A hero, but an unsuccessful one. The King Over The Water is all David can ever be, a dream living on in the hearts, and often deluded minds, of loyal supporters who will never forget the “injustice”. Through rose-tinted glasses David will forever be the “what if?” man of Labour politics. Despite professing he wants to move on there will always be those willing to rock the boat in his name, with or without his permission. It’s plausible that close colleagues are upsetting the apple cart without David’s blessing. Either way, the ammunition is coming from somewhere and someone close to him.
It's extremely tough to get rid of a Labour leader, especially one that is of the left of the party. So, while David Miliband has every right to stick a knife in his brother's back it’s not going to get him to the top. David won’t kill Ed’s leadership, but the situation leaves the little brother in such a weakened position that David will forever be the wound that will not heal, never allowing Ed to be as strong a leader as David would have been if Ed had backed him. He bears the mark of Cain.
It’s not just awkward, inter-party problems that this situation is creating . In a week when the Prime Minister should have been hounded for u-turns, flip-flops and the very worst example of governing by focus group, Miliband was not able to fulfil his most important job - holding the government to account.
Because of Ed’s divided attention (and divided party), a stage has been reached where Clegg is able to play the opposition leader from within the government. Which is indeed as absurd as it sounds. It says a lot about the state of Labour when the only reason they get any press is due to regicide, fratricide or electoral suicide.
Ed may be struggling but he’s not going anywhere just yet. The only thing odder than “weird Ed”, as the Tories have recently started to paint him, would be Labour replacing one Miliband with the other. The public, already disillusioned with the nepotism and aloofness of the political class, would laugh in their faces. Like Bonnie Prince Charlie, David looks set to rule the hearts and minds of his supporters and very little else. And with the justified charge of (political) fratricide forever coming back to haunt him, Ed won’t achieve much more.
Harry Cole is UK Politics Editor for The Commentator. He is a writer and journalist and the news editor for the must-read Guido Fawkes blog.
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