Review: Ed: The Milibands and The Making of a Labour Leader by Mehdi Hasan and James MacIntyre
Biteback Books €16.99
The story of the Miliband brothers is very often compared with the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, with Ed cast in the murderous role of Cain and David as his innocent victim.
There are indeed elements of this Bronze Age tragedy, but the story of Jacob and Esau is arguably a more exact comparison.
This slightly later tale, set in the age of the Abrahamic patriarchs, does more justice to the darkness and moral complexity of the fraternal rivalry between the two Milibands. Esau, through his carelessness and arrogance, plays a central role in his own downfall.
Meanwhile Jacob, ruthlessly and with the support of a scheming mother, seizes control of his personal destiny in a way that clearly commands the admiration of the biblical writers.
The story of how the younger Miliband stole his brother's patrimony will be told again and again because it stretches so deep into the human psyche. Mehdi Hasan and James MacIntyre have made an excellent preliminary investigation.
Their book is shrewd, scrupulously researched and provides revelations on every page: for instance, the fact that Gordon Brown adores Ed Miliband "like a son"; the strength of the collusion between Ed and the trade unions; the decisive role played by Neil Kinnock in persuading him to run against his brother. It provides the basis for any serious understanding both of Ed Miliband and the modern Labour Party.
This epic tale starts with Sam Miliband, a Jewish leatherworker from Brussels who was suddenly forced to flee with his son Adolphe from the advancing German armies in early 1940.
Upon arrival in Britain they discover a nation at war: to avoid confusion Adolphe changes his name to Ralph.
Like so many Jewish immigrants, young Ralph flourishes in Britain. He settles in leafy Primrose Hill and becomes a widely revered Marxist social scientist, urging revolution to bring down the hated British ruling class.
He and his wife, Marion, have two sons. David, the eldest, is brilliantly successful. He reads Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Corpus Christi, Oxford, does a postgraduate course in the US, then returns to Britain as a Labour Party researcher and, later, a highly regarded special adviser in the Blair government, and is in time elected and promoted to the cabinet. Younger brother Ed follows David's course every step of the way. But he is quieter and more introspective than his brother, and it is widely assumed that he is content with this secondary role.
Then comes the general election defeat of 2010, and a moment of dramatic crisis. In the leadership battle that follows Gordon Brown's resignation, David expects that Ed will act as his loyal lieutenant. But Ed has other ideas. He tells friends: "I am not my brother's keeper", and in due course emerges from the shadows to challenge, undermine and then defeat his brother.
It is at this stage that the authors of this book come into their own. They tell in penetrating yet sympathetic detail the growing bitterness and sense of betrayal, leading up to a final breakdown of relations. According to a briefing from the Ed camp, the younger brother visited David late one night to break the news of his treacherous intention and secure his brother's blessing.
Tellingly, David denies such a meeting ever took place. Most absorbing of all is the role of Marion. The authors suggest that she voted for Ed, thus repudiating her eldest son David in an echo of the conduct of Rebekah in the tale of her sons Jacob and Esau 3,000 years ago.
It may well be the case that she believed Ed more closely reflected the views of her late husband Ralph than the Blairite David. Nevertheless it is all too easy to understand the hurt and bafflement of David, and family reconciliation appears difficult to achieve.
The story is far from over. Ed Miliband's leadership of the Labour Party is now in question, in part because David has withheld his support. It is by no means certain that Ed will survive as Labour leader long enough to fight the next general election.
If he does fail, then the politician currently best-placed to replace him is none other than the brother he so dramatically betrayed.
I understand there were problems, and many rows, in the production of this book.
Mehdi Hasan, senior politics editor for the New Statesman, is a left-wing writer and squarely in the Ed Miliband camp.
Meanwhile, James MacIntyre is a Blairite who came close to being appointed as David's spin doctor.
Yet the authors of this book have synthesised their talents to create a first-class early draft of a fascinating tale.
There may be many chapters yet to come.