On brotherhood and the Milibands

The psychology of brotherhood can be challenging at times; as someone with four brothers (and one stepbrother), I feel not so much qualified but overqualified to talk about it! Admittedly in my case the relationships are a bit less stultifying than the norm; the five of us have three different sets of parents in all, so the chain has always been fixed with strings and sealing wax. What I presume to be the usual fierce clash of love, pride, play and the joy of commonality is there, but it can be compartmentalised. It doesn’t just come out in a gush when we are all together – in part because we are never all together – and this has probably never been more the case than it is today. The youngest is about to turn 18 and finish school, ending an era, the eldest is in London typing this and watching Antiques Roadshow, and the middle brother has this year moved to Nova Scotia and married his online girlfriend. One could be forgiven for thinking that the “brothers” have fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole.

As at least some will be aware, over here in the United Kingdom we have just seen a fairly magnificent public feud play out between brothers, with David Miliband and Ed Miliband both contesting the leadership of the parliamentary Labour Party. The psychology of the whole thing has been fascinating. David Miliband is four years the elder (incidentally like myself and my full brother), and is closely associated with the “New Labour” years under Tony Blair and indeed Gordon Brown. He raised his profile whilst serving as Foreign Secretary under Brown, and like Blair was in his prime, he is a consummate politician. Setting aside policy for just a moment, there can be little doubt from anyone that the elder Miliband would be a credible mouthpiece for Labour and one that could effectively challenge the credibility of the Cameron/Clegg alliance of convenience.

Interestingly, as revealed at Labour’s annual conference on Saturday 25th September, Labour collectively chose Ed to lead, the younger brother. Unlike in Australia, in the United Kingdom the leadership of the Labour Party is decided by not only parliamentary members but also rank and file members of the party and affiliated union members. Somewhat inconveniently, Ed Miliband charged to the leadership only on the back of preferences (his elder brother scored more votes in the first three of the four preferential run-offs), and indeed apparently on the back of votes from affiliated union members. There is a whiff of illegitimacy about his victory, underscored by the fact that he may have dealt a mortal blow to his talented older brother’s political career.

“Red” Ed Miliband (as the News Limited papers have already labelled him) stands ready to give Labour a more progressive voice on a number of issues – a promising development for a party which has been dragged slowly but steadily towards the Tories’ turf over the course of the last decade. On the other hand, there are still some clear question-marks hovering over his leadership credentials. Ed does not have a particularly big public profile, like his brother. Unlike his brother, he occasionally comes across as a rabbit caught in a game hunter’s headlights during media slots. Miliband the elder has already stated his intention to move to the back bench for the time being, instead of rejoining the Shadow Cabinet, leaving Ed in the spotlight.

How Ed will cope in the leadership role is one thing; how the two brothers cope with these somewhat difficult circumstances in their personal lives is another. I am sure David is thrilled for Ed, but gutted for himself, and Ed vice-versa. These two feelings must be so very hard to reconcile for both of them.

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