Oh Brother


First, can I apologise to my readers for a little “mission creep” in this blog? I’m afraid the politics of the last few months in Britain have been way too fascinating and I realise I have strayed into commenting too much on them rather than the central concern of this blog – public management issues. I will endeavour to correct that in the next weeks and months, but first…..

Is it just me or has some of the commentary on the Ed Miliband and David Miliband saga been just slightly north of daft?

The first bit of potty-ness is those who have been saying that Ed somehow ‘betrayed his brother’, ‘stabbed him in the back’, etc. You only have to turn this around to see just how daft such comments are – would the same people have said that David had ‘stabbed Ed in the back’ if he had won? Or even more bizarre, would they have said that David had thwarted Ed’s rightful ambitions if he’d pressurised Ed into not standing at all?

The semi-feudal “oldest son’s rights” assumptions that lays behind this twaddle is amazing. One commentator even suggested that the North Koreans way of doing these things was preferable. John Cruddas, the slightly lefter-of-centre Labour MP, was quoted as saying that Ed wouldn’t have been allowed to do what he did in his family. Glad to see his family upholds good old 16th century feudal values.

In Britain they used to say that the oldest son inherits, the next one is a spare (and the above commentator even talked about Ed as the ‘spare’) and the third becomes a priest (or goes into the Army, or something like that). Fortunately we don’t live in such benighted times anymore, and a younger brother has exactly the same rights as his older sibling.

Obviously two brothers vying for the same prize is difficult – but only for them, and for both of them equally. Does anyone seriously suggest that Serena Williams ought not to play her older sister Venus, or worse yet actually beat her, to avoid ‘stabbing her in the back’?

The second argument supporting the ‘Ed did the dirty on David’ thesis is that somehow David was the ‘leader in waiting’. This is equally potty, especially for the Labour party. It has just had one of its worst ever leadership experiences precisely because it allowed itself to get trapped into a seemingly inevitable ‘leader in waiting’ scenario.

So strong did this become that no-one even bothered to challenge Gordon Brown’s succession and he was duly anointed leader without a contest. Look where that got them. You would have thought, after such an experience, no-one would have been daft enough to suggest that somehow David Miliband – who had far less support than Gordon Brown – should somehow have been allowed to walk into the job without a serious challenge.

So all the main arguments that Ed somehow stabbed his brother in the back are complete and utter nonsense. there are clearly some real differences of policy and style between the brothers Miliband. Which one would have been best for the future of the Labour Party we’ll never know, because only one of them could win. But please can we dispense with all this feudal-clap trap about David’s implied right to win?

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About Colin Talbot

Professor of Government. Universities of Cambridge and Manchester, England.
This entry was posted in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Oh Brother

  1. Andy says:

    Excellent post. Glad to see other people find this brothers non-sense in the British media strange too. The focus on trivia surrounding individual people seems to prevail, rather than their substantial political ideas and policy directions.

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