by Kevin Meagher
This morning’s Sun reports that Ed Miliband held “hush hush” talks with his brother David following the resignation of shadow chancellor Alan Johnson last month. The paper reports that:
“…during their clandestine conversation, the possibility of him replacing Mr Johnson was raised”.
Quoting an “insider”, the paper reports that “Ed stopped short of offering his brother the job when David made it clear he wanted to stay on the backbenches”. The party denies an explicit job offer was made to David: “The only person offered it was Ed Balls”, insists a spokesman. This does, however, amount to a non-denial denial of the Sun’s allegation that the idea was floated.
But, as we now know, the post was amply filled by Ed Balls. Common sense prevailed. But it is worth stating why the idea of David Miliband taking on the shadow chancellor’s role is a disastrous, indulgent idea.
Last summer, the sight of the Miliband siblings campaigning against each other for the Labour leadership was not endearing or novel in most people’s eyes. It was solipsistic and a bit weird.
To now see a rapprochement that would have the top two positions in the party dominated by them does not so much generate a Jack and Bobby Kennedy aura for the party as a Gaadafi-style keep-it-in-the-family vibe.
To be fair, David Miliband knows that his very presence on the frontbench will serve to undermine his brother’s leadership. It will daily revisit the soap opera of the leadership contest. Commentators would never be able to leave it alone. Every utterance would be judged for a hint of division between them. Clichés about “blood brothers”, “family feuds” and “sibling rivalry” would be played out endlessly.
The relationship between a Labour leader and the chancellor’s role is fraught enough to begin with. Dalton and Cripps with Attlee. Jenkins and Healey with Wilson. Blair and Brown, anyone?
Labour’s disastrous cult of personality would transmit down to the next generation. More nightmare scenario than dream ticket.
If David were to perform well (as he surely would) he would be billed as “the lost leader”, ever poised to make a move. If he were to do badly, he would be sniped at for owing his place due to his brother’s guilt at beating him. Both characterisations are unfair; but Labour should not contemplate wasting energy and political capital refuting it every five minutes. The Labour party generates enough psychodrama as it is.
For that reason, David Miliband should stay on the backbenches – for now. The shadow cabinet is not the only place to contribute to Labour’s renaissance. Opposition is a gerbil wheel of sheer pointless drudgery. As Sunderland football club’s newest board member, he should take a leaf out of the manager’s book and sit on the subs bench, read the game and be prepared to come on later in the interests of the team, if needed.
As Ed Miliband’s leadership matures, his brother’s presence at the top table may become less of an issue. But for now, it is. Both brothers are keen students of American politics, and in their heart of hearts must know that a Jack and Bobby act simply would not work.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut.