Magazine article The Spectator

The Miliband Brothers May Yet Drown Each Other in a Butt of Malmsey

Magazine article The Spectator

The Miliband Brothers May Yet Drown Each Other in a Butt of Malmsey

Article excerpt

From a distance, Tony Blair might be able to persuade himself that the Labour party contest now underway is the fulfilment of his dreams. The 'brothers' everyone is talking about are not trade union heavies but two Oxford PPE graduates who have worked their way up through the New Labour machine. But to listen to what they say, there is scant evidence of Blair's election-winning philosophy. The candidates are outbidding each other on making punitive levels of taxation on the rich permanent, denouncing Labour's rapprochement with big business and committing to abolishing tuition fees.

Not that anyone is listening much to what they say. At Monday night's hustings there were no television cameras - their absence a nasty reminder to the candidates of the diminished status of opposition. When they do appear on television, as they did on Newsnight on Tuesday, they are treated like dancing fleas - not big beasts of the political jungle. In the House of Commons, the Miliband brothers are offering friendly waves to people whose existence they barely acknowledged before.

But this leadership contest matters in many ways. Historically, it would be unusual if the leader of a British party with as many seats as Labour has now (258) did not become the next prime minister. The reason that the Lib Dems are in the Cabinet is not because they did well but because Labour got far more seats than expected. George Osborne, who remains the Tories' chief tactician, is taking a keen interest in the contest because he believes it will play a part in determining the political opportunities for the coalition government.

One does not need to be a political obsessive to find the Labour contest intriguing.

The spectacle of two brothers running against each other makes the hustings surprisingly compelling viewing. Adding to the oddity of it all, Ed Miliband is running in large part on what his family background taught him - the Milibands are the son of the Marxist thinker Ralph Miliband. This produced the bizarre spectacle on Monday night of David earnestly taking notes as his brother talked about growing up in the Miliband household. With every encounter things are getting increasingly less fraternal and the smiling high fives they exchanged at the end of Monday's hustings may yet be replaced by a butt of malmsey.

Watching David and Ed, you see two quite different characters and two quite different approaches to winning the leadership. There is a touch of Michael Portillo about David: he wants the leadership but only on his terms.

Miliband major has made it a theme of his campaign that Labour must stop asking its members to choose between their families and the party - that is to say, politicians should have time to see their spouses and children.

David Miliband gets quite passionate about his plea that a leader should have time off. At Monday night's event, he demanded with feeling that the candidates have a non-campaigning pledge for part of August so they can all go on holiday. At times, his eye-rolls and body language suggest that he could imagine better uses of his time than yet another hustings.

When you remember that there are at least 48 more of them between now and polling day, you can see his point.

Nor is David an instinctive panderer. When an audience member asked the candidates at Monday's hustings if they would call themselves socialists, he replied rather grudgingly that 'it says on the Labour party card that we are a democratic socialist party, and I am happy to subscribe to that'. …

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