David’s story

by Dan Hodges

History is written by the victors. Just ask David Miliband.

He’s been plotting. Briefing. Generally making an embittered nuisance of himself.

We know this thanks to Ed,  the racily entitled stab ‘n tell biography by James Macintrye and Mehdi Hasan, trailed last week in the Mail on Sunday. Not that all of these allegations are actually contained within the book itself, but its serialisation unleashed the biggest frenzy of speculation, allegation and recrimination since…well… the last lot.

Supporters of David Miliband had been bracing themselves for fall-out from the book’s publication for several weeks. Although they cooperated with the authors, and received assurances that it would be a balanced look at the leadership election, they were under no illusions: “Ed won and David didn’t”, said one insider, “That sets its own narrative”.

The narrative has basically three elements. An enraged elder brother, his political ambitions thwarted by his younger sibling, has been actively plotting his revenge and preparing a bold Blairite counter-coup.

Exhibit A in the case for the prosecution has been the speech-that-never-was, the address, leaked to the Guardian on the eve of the book’s publication, that David would have delivered had he himself been crowned leader.

“The idea that speech was leaked by David is bollocks”, says an insider. “Do you think he’s stupid? If he really wanted to damage Ed would he do it in a way that tied himself so directly to the act”? Other sources point out that, contrary to popular belief, the speech had quite a wide circulation. The Labour party was furnished with a final draft. A copy was left on a teleprompter after a leadership announcement rehearsal, although some former Miliband  staffers say it was an early version. External advisors, such as Jonathan Rutherford and Maurice Glasman, worked simultaneously on both David and Ed Miliband’s victory speeches. And Ed Miliband’s team approached David Miliband after the result to ask if they could have a copy to assist in producing their own address. David Miliband is said to have considered this, though his team reacted angrily to the idea, with selected passages eventually being passed across instead.

The fact is that, whatever the intent, the leaking of the speech damaged David Miliband more than his brother. “It didn’t do David any good to have that floating around”, said a friend, “It just hyped the story and made it look like he was agitating”. The result was the release of a statement by David urging people to “move on” from the leadership election, and calls from senior DM supporters such as Jim Murphy to rally around Ed.

That said, there’s no doubt that David Miliband has himself found moving on a difficult thing to do. “He’s been in a dark place”, said one friend. To be fair, even members of his own campaign team reject some of the more fanciful charges laid at the door of his brother, such as the claim that David wasn’t aware of Ed’s final decision to stand until it appeared in the media. “That’s rubbish”, said one source, “There were extensive discussions, involving both of them and the wives. David knew Ed was running, and when he was going to announce”.

But what David Miliband did apparently find hard to take was the nature of that campaign once the contest was underway. “David thought they had an understanding”, said one former aide, “They weren’t going to brief against each other. They were going to steer clear of personalities. He stuck to that agreement. Ed’s team didn’t”.

This is confirmed by a journalist who attended an editorial dinner with David Miliband during the campaign. “We’d been getting some pretty heavy briefing from Ed’s people against David. When we asked him about it his face fell. He obviously didn’t know it was going on”. “That really hurt him”, said a shadow cabinet colleague, “He couldn’t believe Ed would allow that sort of thing to happen”.

Members of his team urged him to hit back. But he refused,  not just out of a sense of propriety, but also through a fear of what would happen to both campaigns if they become engaged in a destructive briefing war. “David thought it would be a catastrophe”, said a source, “If the whole contest had descended into a bitter and public family feud it would have been the end for both of them. They’d have taken each other off the cliff”.

Although the briefing hurt David Miliband  personally, those around him acknowledge the political impact was relatively minimal: “We’re talking Ed Miliband and Polly Billington”, said an insider, “Not Gordon and Damian McBride”. Perceived as much more significant was Ed Miliband’s astute repositioning as the anti-New Labour and change candidate, keen to move on from an election manifesto that actually he’d written himself.

“David was too slow to appreciate the danger”, a former advisor acknowledges, “You have to remember, he and Ed had been part of the New Labour project all their political lives. An attack like that, from the left, he just didn’t see it coming”.

Key supporters urged him to move away from his safety first messaging. Jon Cruddas never told David Miliband to punch his brother. But he did warn him that he had to stop running such a conservative, mechanistic campaign, and begin  to make some bold, eye-catching statements. “David, I don’t think you’re winning this”, he told him in one meeting, “You’ve got to open up. Stop nuancing and start painting in primary colours”.

David responded with a speech at the Keir Hardie lecture that was regarded as his best of the campaign. But by that point Ed had the definition and the momentum. David’s team, nervous that the contest was slipping away, urged him to reach out to Ed Balls and try to secure his second preferences.

Again, he hesitated, “The problem was Balls’ Bloomberg speech”, said an insider, “David thought it was much too weak on deficit reduction. It made it very hard for him to offer Balls the position of shadow chancellor”. By the time David Miliband began to tentatively  court Balls it was too late. Key members of Balls’ team had already begun to mobilise behind his brother, along with Gordon Brown, who personally telephoned selective wavering MPs. Their intervention proved decisive.

It did not help that David had allowed himself to be characterised as the last living Blairite. As the contest developed Miliband’s team became desperate to put distance between themselves and the other living Blairites. They sought, and received, assurances from Blair himself that he wouldn’t intervene directly in the contest. But they failed to elicit a similar guarantee from Peter Mandelson, whose claim that Ed Miliband would lead the Labour party “into a cul-de-sac”, proved to be a crucial turning point. “It was a disaster”, said one David supporter, “Those MPs who were sitting on the fence all started shifting towards Ed. David was furious with Peter. In fact, he still is”.

So is all this history as ancient as some would claim? Since “bloody Sunday”, which saw the revelations in the book, the leaking of David’s victory speech and broader concerns about Ed Miliband’s leadership collide, both brothers have been making efforts to stress that the tensions of the past will remain there.

Some insiders are, to put it mildly, sceptical. “Perhaps we’re all just going to get along now”, said one David Miliband supporter, tongue pressed firmly to his cheek. Others claim that both brothers peered into the abyss, and recoiled at the sight. “David and Ed witnessed what happened to Tony and Gordon at close quarters”, said a shadow cabinet colleague. “They saw how, in the end, it destroyed them both. They know the party can’t afford a repeat of that”.

David Miliband has not relinquished his leadership ambitions. But those closest to him are adamant, in a  pointed way, that he doesn’t intend to trample over his brother to fulfil them. “Look”, said a friend, “what’s David supposed to do? If he stays on the outside he’s plotting and scheming. If he comes back in he’s a distraction and a back seat driver. He can’t win”.

He’s certainly not at a loss for advice. “It’s time for him to return to the shadow cabinet”, says one former aide. “I’ve been arguing that for a while. It’s the only way to begin to draw a line”. “He’d be crazy”, says another shadow cabinet insider. “Every statement would be set against what Ed had said. He needs to stay precisely where he is”.

So will he? “Look, the defeat hurt him personally”, says a friend, “And Ed hurt him personally. But he’s not under any illusions. A lot of the problems and criticisms Ed’s facing are problems and criticisms that would have been directed at David even if he’d won. Yes, he’s still angry. But there’s also a little bit of him that thinks, ‘there but for the grace of God’”.

History is indeed written by the victors. And for the moment David Miliband can do little except hope their verdict isn’t undly harsh. But that doesn’t mean he has given up all thoughts of eventually penning a chapter or two of his own.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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12 Responses to “David’s story”

  1. Stol1975 says:

    Very interesting Dan. I truly believe that Ed will lose the next election because people will not warm to him but the trouble is we are likely to have missed the boat to get the Tories out. If the economy improves by 2015 Cameron will be given another chance and then it could be difficult for David who I believe will be leader after the next GE to win in 2019/2020. This of course all depends on events dear boy as another PM once said.

  2. Anne says:

    As a Labour party member I did vote for David M to be leader.

    However, since Ed did win the leadership contest I feel that David’s response to his brother’s victory has been less than gracious, and I feel this reflects on him as a person – if I can’t play I am taking my ball home! Very childish and immature. I don’t think this is the kind of person that should be leading the labour party.

    What David should have done was congratulate his brother, and offered to do anything he could to support him. Yes I sure he must be hurting, but we don’t always get everything we want in this life and we have to move on to another day. The leader’s position is important, but it is also about teamwork – together and with a united front would be a far better approach to challenge the Tories and win back power. As it is we are now left with a family dispute which is detracting from the important job in hand of establishing the labour party to one which the ordinary person in the street feels they can vote for.

  3. Bob says:

    Ed Milliband is ridiculous. The man can’t control his own face. Cameron was voted in as the least-worst candidate and that is the only way EM will ever be elected PM. Trouble is, he is so unappealing to the electorate that even if photos were uncovered of Cameron and Clegg abusing under-age prostitutes in a Bangkok brothel, Milliband would still struggle to get 30% of the vote.

  4. AmberStar says:

    2015 will be a dirty campaign. Ed comes across as mild-mannered but I think he is the tougher brother; he & his team will do whatever it takes to win.

  5. AmberStar says:

    This is the most recent article, so although this isn’t related I’ll post it anyway.

    A YouGov London only poll has Boris in the lead over Ken because 5% of potential Labour voters say they are voting Boris. Let’s hope Ken’s team can win them over.

    Now, the good news:
    Voting intention, if a GE were held tomorrow – Con 32% Labour 51%

    Yes, 51% – I thought it was a typo when I first read it.

    Quite stunning when compared to the low-beat, cross-break analysis posted a couple of weeks ago on Labour Uncut. Let’s hope the actual London polling is closer to the truth. 🙂

  6. Lucien says:


    ‘What David should have done was congratulate his brother, and offered to do anything he could to support him. Yes I sure he must be hurting, but we don’t always get everything we want in this life and we have to move on to another day. The leader’s position is important, but it is also about teamwork – together and with a united front would be a far better approach to challenge the Tories and win back power. As it is we are now left with a family dispute which is detracting from the important job in hand of establishing the labour party to one which the ordinary person in the street feels they can vote for.’

    Isn’t this exactly what David has been saying for the last eight months?

  7. Sunder Katwala says:


    Thanks for the piece. Personally, I agree with what you say about how David has conducted himself with dignity, but has not been well served by comments from those described as friends in the newspapers on the weekend before last.

    For interest, how much of the book had you read when you wrote the piece? I don’t feel the piece’s anticipation of what the book is like fits it so well.

    I finished reading it Sat AM and am currently reviewing it. Like you, I had somewhat expected it to be rather pro-Ed partisan – given Mehdi’s New Statesman commentaries – but the text seemed to me a straight attempt to report it from sources. Actually, I would have liked more commentary.

    There didn’t seem to me much, if anything, negative about DM in it (with the exception of the MoS comments from MPs that he seemed too aloof to canvass the bars and tea rooms; and there are stories about EM being a bit geeky at college too) though it does try to work out why he didn’t win.

    I think everything in the MoS was certainly in the book, and didn’t spot anything they’d flammed up, beyond obviously choosing the most personality based bits. In fact, the headlines seemed to me to be more about what was in other papers – especially the Sindy – than in the MoS serial.

    As you say, it seemed likely to me that the timing of the speech leak on the Saturday was about the book. I wonder if perhaps that whoever did do that thought the book was more negative about DM than, on my reading, seems to be the case.

  8. Real Chris says:


    “he is so unappealing to the electorate that even if photos were uncovered of Cameron and Clegg abusing under-age prostitutes in a Bangkok brothel, Milliband would still struggle to get 30% of the vote.”

    Interesting hypothetical but more a reflection on you than anything else, I wonder what happens when you’re presented with a Rorschach test.

  9. Dan Hodges says:


    I haven’t read any of the book, except what was in the papers.

    I don’t think anyone around David expected a total hatchet job, hence their cooperation.

    But they were expecting it to promote a David was bitter, is plotting and is hoping to lead a Blairite counter-coupnarrative, and that’s certainly what we’ve seen over the past week.

    I don’t think David, or anyone close to him, was behind the leaked victory speech.

  10. Bob says:

    @Real Chris

    “I wonder what happens when you’re presented with a Rorschach test.”

    I don’t ‘do’ porn, thank you very much.

  11. Sunder Katwala says:

    Hi Dan

    Thanks for reply.

    If and when you do read it, I think you would find that it simply doesn’t do what you anticipated when you wrote the piece about it, though I understand that you are putting the perspective of one group (who won’t have had time to read it either, given that the serialisation was out a week earlier).

    So the piece isn’t in fact about the history written by the victors.

    It seems to be attempting a loser’s history to counter that of the victors, but it isn’t quite that either.

    Rather, you have written up what the losers imagine the victors have written, even though they haven’t!

    There is simply no “David is bitter, is plotting and is hoping to lead a Blairite counter-coupnarrative” content whatsoever in the book, nor was there in the Mail on Sunday extracts. There was a good deal more “did Ed understand what impact it would have/had had” stuff. Ie, the impact on David stuff is laid at his decision to run.

    The style is reportage running stratight through the chronology. After David returns from Manchester to London to rule himself out of the shadow cabinet, and makes his statement, he basically disappears from the text for the next 50 pages, returning in the epilogue about the brothers’ relationship. If you read the 3 pages in the epilogue on David post the contest, around page 300, I would be surprised if you did not think its account of his choices is descriptive of what he has chosen to speak on, not speak on, etc in a difficult position.

    The narrative did pop up in the Independent on Sunday, atttributed to (very unhelpful) so called friends of David, perhaps speaking in anticipation of what might have been in tthe book, or for whatever reason. I very much doubt this was authorised. The problem was the “waiting for his brother to fail” line. I can’t see any reason whatsoever to think there is some black ops conspiracy, so that the IoS attributed these daft remarks to David supporters


    There are three red herrings here about the speech.

    Firstly, I don’t think it was the speech release which was bad for David (unless anybody really thought it was the signal of a coming putsch, which of course it wasn’t, which is why it was different to August 2008).

    Secondly, the detail of your alternative possibilities for its release don’t seem to work.

    Ed’s people asked for the speech – but didn’t get it. They had extracts. This was the whole text. (I also don’t believe that Glasman and Rutherford, feeding in ideas, had the full text). It was on an autocue. I think that’s unconvincing. This was the Tuesday speech, while the Saturday speech was on the autocue. It strikes me that those mentioning this are making a conflation between the two. Why on earth would the Tuesday speech be on the autocue?

    It seems much more likely that a very tight group had it. Now, if I had written the speech, I think I might be keen for people to read it. And I don’t think that makes it part of a coup attempt, but rather an interesting and now historic artefact. i can’t myself see why the leadership shouldn’t be perfectly relaxed about its appearance.

    Thirdly, the speech is very well crafted. But it doesn’t demonstrate a major difference on the deficit between the brothers. Rather, it confirms that there wasn’t one. They are both pro-Darling and anti-Osborne on cuts. They both apologised for the claim to end boom and bust and the business cycle. Releasing a speech which had a fundamentally different economic So the text was a really interesting curiosity, not an intervention with significant political legs, partly because it in fact confirms that policy differences on the deficit between the Miliband brothers are much exaggerated.

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