David Miliband expected to be elected Leader of the Labour Party. His brother surprised almost everyone by winning the job by the slimmest of margins. And now questions are being asked about the form of the election itself and whether its bizarre nature (one person I know had three votes…) actually delivers the best outcome. A bit like our first-past-the-post system where someone can be elected by a minimal fraction of the electorate and still be thought democratically legitimate.
But, today Miliband Senior, David, has announced that he will withdraw from frontline politics in order to allow his younger brother to have a clear run at leading the party into the future.
Some see this decision as selfish or niggardly. They think David is being petulant because he didn’t get the top job. But, to my mind, the key element of his interview comments today was this:
“Staying in the shadow cabinet would be a route to real difficulty. Instead of focusing on winning in 2015 and beyond, the team would be subject to permanent scrutiny of body language – everything from sneezes to comments. Ed needs an open field to lead as he sees fit. It is the cleanest and clearest decision to take, though not the easiest.”
In the letter he addressed to his South Shields constituency party, he said:
…Ed is my brother who has just defeated me for the leadership. I genuinely fear perpetual, distracting and destructive attempts to find division where there is none and splits where they don’t exist, all to the detriment of the party’s cause. Ed needs a free hand but also an open field.
Now, I might be naive, but this sounds like a mature and personally costly decision made in the interests of his brother and the party. But it focuses on a side of life that continues (to my mind, at least) to be worrying. An able politician feels he cannot continue because the media would focus their attention on the potent yet probably spurious drama of his relationship with his brother – another Brown-Blair drama. The ‘conflict metaphor’ is the only one the media would use and the consequent interpretations of body language, statement language, etc would only be reported through the lens of fraternal conflict.
He decides to give his brother a clean run at the job he thought should have been his. Be cynical, if you want to, but I think this decision is mature, adult and takes family relationships seriously.
So, we lose an experienced politician because of – among other things, of course – how the media will inevitably handle his presence in the Shadow Cabinet. The country loses substance for fear of press obsession with its own story constructs.
Sad, really. Whatever you think of Labour or Miliband.