Brothers Grim: Of Course the Contest between David and Ed Miliband for the Labour Leadership Was Divisive. There's No Point Pretending It Wasn't-But Equally, There's No Point Undermining That Contest's Winner and Pining for a "King across the Water"

By Hasan, Mehdi | New Statesman (1996), June 20, 2011 | Go to article overview

Brothers Grim: Of Course the Contest between David and Ed Miliband for the Labour Leadership Was Divisive. There's No Point Pretending It Wasn't-But Equally, There's No Point Undermining That Contest's Winner and Pining for a "King across the Water"


Hasan, Mehdi, New Statesman (1996)


If just one piece of evidence were needed to illustrate how bad relations between David and Ed Miliband became during Labour's first leadership contest in 16 years, it came on 13 July 2010 when the two brothers arrived with their aides at the TUC's summer reception at Church House in Westminster.

Onlookers recall the elder Miliband looking confident, self-assured, a leader-in-waiting. His entourage was equally focused. Whenever the younger Miliband struck up a conversation with a union leader, one of David's supporters would walk over and hover nearby--or even try to interrupt the two men. "David's team seemed to be in military mode," says a union man who was present. When David started a similar conversation, his supporters would form a protective ring around him to prevent any interruptions. "It might have been a coincidence," a witness remembers. "But I've never seen so many coincidences in the space of 25 minutes." "It was fucking outrageous," a senior member of Ed's campaign team says. "David's people behaved like a tag team."

As my co-author, James Macintyre, and I report in our new biography of Ed Miliband, such antics only heightened tensions between the two men and their camps. As the weeks passed, the distance between the brothers increased. A close family friend told us of how he spoke to the younger Miliband and asked him, bluntly: "Are you guys still talking to one another?" Ed told the friend that David was "trying very hard to be nice to him but he felt it was forced".

To claim the contest between the brothers was anything other than bitter and divisive, as some spinners on behalf of David and Ed have done in the past week, is nonsense. The "Ed Speaks Human" placards, which first appeared at the launch of the younger Miliband's leadership campaign at a Fabian Society event on 15 May, personally offended and annoyed David. Ed's aides maintain that these signs were not co-ordinated by them but one told us that "of course, the line was an attack on David". A close friend of Ed's described it as "hardball". Meanwhile, Ed was subjected to a whispering campaign. He was referred to, under cover of anonymity, as a "Bennite", "Red Ed" and "Forrest Gump". By August, says an aide, the regular attacks on Ed in the press from unnamed David supporters had unsettled and upset him.

Nearly a year on, Ed tends to tell friends that his relationship with David is "on the mend". It isn't. The two cannot even agree on the events surrounding Ed's decision to stand a year ago. It came as a surprise to discover that the two brothers and their camps had versions of the same event that were totally at odds with each other. Ed says he went to David's home in Primrose Hill, north London, on the evening of 12 May--the day his elder brother declared his candidacy for the Labour leadership--to inform him of his own decision to stand. In a story that Ed has since repeated to friends and in interviews, he says David was polite and understanding. "I'd rather you didn't run," David is said to have remarked. "I'd rather have a campaign where my brother was supporting me, if I'm really honest." But, he then added: "I don't want me to be the reason you don't stand, so I think you should do it."

Or did he? Today, neither David nor Ed can agree on when or even if this crucial meeting occurred. David is emphatic there was no such meeting: his younger brother did not set foot in his house that week. Ed, for his part, is adamant he had the conversation with, and broke the news to, David in the latter's home | on that Wednesday evening, six days after the general election.

Given their failure to align their stories, or agree a common line for public consumption, what seems at first glance to be a trivial discrepancy is, in fact, a demonstration of the distrust that now exists between the brothers. Aside from the odd phone call, the two men now tend to communicate through each others' aides and advisers. …

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