Posted by Tania Kindersley.
One of the dear readers made the very big (but very kind) mistake of saying she liked my political 'passion', an exceptionally polite word for a slightly worrying obsession. So I'm afraid this has given me licence to write yet another post on the Miliband of Brothers. I can't help it. The whole thing is so impossibly strange. Andrew Neil is quite beside himself on the Daily Politics Conference Special; he says it is the most interesting political season he can remember. And, as he likes to joke, he can remember Lloyd George.
There is a great deal of discussion about whether it is the stuff of fiction, or whether even the most antic novelist might shy from this plot. Two brothers, brought up by an unrepentant Marxist father, both embrace the politics of the new centre left. (The ghost of the father, like in Hamlet, must hover over this entire drama, livid at the surrender to market forces of both his boys. So much for from each according to her talents to each according to his needs.) One goes to work for Number Ten, the other for Number Eleven, where the tribal lines are drawn so tight you can hear the twang half way down Whitehall. The detail I like most in this stage of the story is that Ed Miliband was known as The Emissary from Planet Fuck, because he was the only one of Gordon Brown's henchmen who did not tell the Blairites to fuck off.
As the New Labour project starts to unravel, and the nation gets to watch the curious sight of Gordon Brown going mad, sentence by sentence, as Evelyn Waugh once said of James Joyce, rumours start to circulate that the older Mili will step in and save the day. In the end, he steps back from a putsch, which is, according to taste, a demonstration of moderation and loyalty, or a complete lack of bottle. He knows his time will come. He is the most talented of the next generation, adored by Secretary of State Clinton; he will be the heir apparent.
But then the smooth linear narrative starts to stutter. There are unfortunate photo opportunities, one with an inexplicable banana. This goes to prove, as one sage commentator remarks, that no political hopeful should ever be photographed with oddly shaped fruit. The word goes out that he is too geeky, too aloof with the backbenchers, not matey enough to connect with the everyday voter. Suddenly a rival camp sets up for the younger brother, with the devastating claim that their man can speak 'human'.
Instead of the Rolls Royce acceleration towards the leadership of his party, David Miliband finds himself challenged by his own brother. The more I think about this, the more odd I find it. There are stories of ancient sibling rivalry, and rumours that the poor mother finds the whole thing so upsetting that she cannot bear to watch. (Latest reports are that Mrs Miliband has actually fled the country.) Even though he is favourite in the long, relentless contest, his odds are chipped away and chipped away, until, in the very last furlong, driven on by a union campaign set up to Stop David, the younger Mili races up and steals his crown, by a paltry 1.3% of the vote.
And then, he has to go out and tell the conference and tell the media that he loves his brother and is proud of him and will do all in his power to make the new leadership a success. He has to plaster a smile on his face while inside he must be dying. And the press goes crazy.
I think perhaps it is a story too strange for fiction.
Politics is not the end of everything. David Miliband is an accomplished fellow with a big brain, a talented wife, and two lovely children. He will rally. But I understand why it was reported that his wife was in flooding tears after the result. Years ago, I canvassed for a friend who was trying to get elected to parliament. He was beaten by three hundred votes, and when that count came in, I cried like a girl, in front of a room full of strangers. It is something about all that focussed work, all those hopes and dreams, so publicly dashed. It is sharp as that old serpent's tooth.
Who knows what will happen now? The journalists teem with questions. Will David Miliband serve as shadow chancellor? Will the Labour Party take a sharp turn to the left? Will the newly resurgent unions come to collect? What plots can Ed Balls hatch next?
I quite often regret that our politics can seem small and parochial compared to the grand, sweeping madness of the current American situation. We have nothing as theatrically nutty as the Tea Party and Mrs Palin and Newt Gingrich and the sight of the Dems tearing themselves apart. I feel quite proud that at least now we have come up with something that is like a myth from Ancient Greece in its strangeness and improbability. It turns out we can do the crazy too.
After all that, a soothing symphony of green:
Small housekeeping note:
Some of you have reported that occasionally the photographs do not load, or that you have been locked out of the blog altogether. I have absolutely no idea why this may be happening, or what I can do about it. I write the blog, as always, on the live writer, and then post it up to Blogger. The photographs are downloaded from my Picasa files. If anyone more technically literate than I might have any clue why these glitches are happening, or can suggest anything I might do to remedy the problem, I would be most grateful. And for any of you who are having problems, I keenly apologise.