Silent assassin: How Ed Miliband plotted against his brother for months
A new book makes some startling claims about the way the Labour leader conducted his bid for power
Published 17/06/2011 | 09:07
Ed Miliband began planning his campaign to become Labour leader months before the party's general election defeat, according to a biography of him to be published next week. Ed did not tell his older brother David he would challenge him for the post until 12 May, six days after the election resulted in a hung parliament.
But the book, by journalists Mehdi Hassan and James Macintyre, reveals that Ed had been weighing up his options long before that.
A pivotal moment came in February last year, when Ed met the former Labour leader Lord (Neil) Kinnock, who told the authors: "I told him [Ed], if we lose, given the condition we are in, he should run for leader... He told me he had thought about it a lot... He couldn't give me the answer. I replied by imploring him to do it for the party. Think of the party, not David... He told me, 'Because it's you who has raised it I'll have to give it more thought'."
Ed's allies began mobilising support for his leadership bid on the weekend after the general election – while Ed was part of the Labour team trying to negotiate a Lib-Lab coalition with senior Liberal Democrats, who were holding parallel talks with the Conservatives. On the Saturday, Hilary Benn, a close ally of Ed, rang his cabinet colleague Peter Hain, to ask him to back Ed. The next day, Ed rang Mr Hain and told him: "We are going to run an insurgent campaign." Mr Hain said he was not interested in a campaign "simply to float a lot of ideas". Ed replied: "No, no, no – I'm serious about winning."
The Lib-Lab talks were still under way when Ed recruited a key member of staff – Greg Beales, now his head of policy, who worked in Downing Street for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. "It doesn't look like it is going to be successful," Ed told Mr Beales. "And if it's not successful I am going to run for the leadership of the party and I'd like you to be involved."
Revealingly, he added: "I have to run in this race. David will be a good leader, and the others will be good leaders, but I am the only person who can decisively move the Labour Party on from the Blair-Brown era."
Ed and David
The book also suggests Ed underestimated the impact of his act of "fratricide" on David and their mother Marion – and says the brothers' relationship has remained frosty since his wafer-thin victory in September.
At a party, Anji Hunter, – one of Tony Blair's closest aides – told Ed to "look out" for his family, especially his mother, because the press would be "all over" the leadership battle between the brothers. Ed appeared taken aback, one guest said.
Although Ed thought long and hard about "the David issue", he now admits to friends he "underestimated how difficult" it would be to oppose his brother.
The authors also claim that David consistently underestimated Ed's threat to his leadership ambitions. David's friends were surprised that he was "indifferent and relaxed" about Ed's rise. "He didn't see him as a threat," one said, "until it was too late."
However, David had his suspicions when Ed opposed the failed coups by Labour MPs designed to oust Mr Brown before the general election. If the plotters had succeeded, David, then Foreign Secretary, would have been the clear front-runner to become prime minister.
Ed told his fellow Brownite Douglas Alexander that toppling Mr Brown "would be like killing our father". The authors remark: "This vivid phrase again signifies Ed's loyalty to his political 'father', Brown, not his real-life brother, David." The book says: "Ed Miliband had a choice to make, between loyalty to his brother and loyalty to Brown. He chose the latter. As he told close friends at the time: 'I am not my brother's keeper'."
Rift between Ed and Douglas Alexander
Other relationships were also strained by Ed's leadership challenge, according to the book. Last summer, he fell out with Mr Alexander, now the shadow Foreign Secretary.
Although he was one of Ed's oldest political friends, Mr Alexander decided to run David's leadership election campaign. This was a blow to Ed. The two of them had gone on holiday together and their partners – Justine and Mr Alexander's wife, Jackie – had also become close. "Ed's desire to be leader meant his personal relationships were taking a battering," says the book.
Ed told friends Mr Alexander was annoyed that a man younger than him was standing and believed a brother should not challenge an elder sibling. Mr Alexander was said to believe that Ed's challenge had its roots in a long-established sibling rivalry and that the Labour leadership should not be "sacrificed" on the altar of it.
How Brown's inner circle broke up
Mr Brown was under no illusions about Ed's potential. It was no secret that he wanted Ed Balls, another member of his inner circle and like Ed Miliband a former adviser, to succeed him. But, in 2007, the new Prime Minister told his spin doctor Damian McBride to "build up" both Eds. "You've got to watch Ed Miliband," Mr Brown told him. "After me, Damian, you've got a big choice to make."
The book charts the fracturing of the Brown camp after the "election that never was" in 2007. Mr McBride was accused of briefing against Ed and Mr Alexander so that they, rather than Mr Balls, got the blame for allowing expectations of an election to get out of control.
It reveals a spectacular row in which Ed accused Mr McBride of being a liar. "I am not responsible for any of this stuff in the papers about you or Douglas or anyone else," Mr McBride told him. "Damian, I don't believe you," Ed replied. Mr McBride: "Ed, don't call me a liar." Ed: "But you are lying, Damian, I don't believe a word of what you are saying." Then Ed hung up.
According to the authors, the episode revealed a steely side to Ed. "It was also a demonstration of how bad feelings were between Ed – and indeed Alexander – on one side, and McBride and Balls on the other. The co-operation, the banter and easy familiarity between the three Brownite MPs would be strained from that moment onwards." They say Mr Alexander became "psychologically, if not politically, detached from the Brownites" after the non-election fiasco and began to take a more Blairite line on public service reform and the need to restrain spending.
How Ed won the crucial union votes
Ed owed his narrow victory over David to his strong support among the trade unions.
The book discloses how Ed unexpectedly secured the backing of Unite. Its leaders had been widely expected to urge their members to vote for Mr Balls, whose ally Charlie Whelan, Mr Brown's former press secretary, was the union's political officer.
Ed had other ideas. In the days running up to a meeting of Unite's national policy committee, Ed rang several undecided members, having obtained their phone numbers from a friendly source inside the union.
"As is so often the case, Ed, affable, charming, persuasive, was able to swing those committee members behind him in one-to-one conversations," say the authors. "What promises he may have made to them we do not know – but the brusque Balls never stood a chance. It was a secret yet crucial intervention by Ed."
At the Unite meeting, he won 24 votes, while Mr Balls and Andy Burnham each won four, and David and Diane Abbott one. The union's decision ensured the next Labour leader would be a Miliband, and provided clear evidence that momentum was building for the younger brother.
'Ed: The Milibands and the Makings of a Labour Leader' by Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre is published on Monday by Biteback (£17.99)