Ed: The Milibands And The Making of a Labour Leader, By Mehdi Hasan & James Macintyre

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Ed Miliband's new biographers, left-wing journalists both, have been the targets of some gleeful sniping from the right over newspaper extracts from their book, which were not at all helpful to the Labour cause. Give the painfully short shelf life of most books in this genre, some political biographers have taken the conscious course of turning up information that inflicted sensational political damage on their subjects, thus making sure of lucrative serialisation rights.

Those who read the original extracts might think that the authors of Ed had set off on a similarly destructive path, concentrating as they did on Ed Miliband's rift with his brother, the fact that he had no girlfriend at university, and his failure to get a first-class honours degree. Actually, taken as a whole, the book leaves you thinking that if luck stays with him, the younger Miliband might yet confound the pollsters and turn into a winner.

Ed Miliband's poll ratings are low because the public knows almost nothing about him other than that he fell out with his brother David, married late, and has the geekish manner of a student politician. From the detail of this book, there emerges a picture of a man often torn about what to do, who does not like to be called "ruthless", and yet can be determined and single-minded in moments of crisis.

It was known at the time that when he was climate change secretary, Miliband had what is described here as an "epic" row with Gordon Brown over the proposed third runway at Heathrow. Brown was in favour, partly for a tactical reason: because David Cameron was opposed. Miliband was against because of the threat another runway would pose to the government's target for reducing carbon emissions.

According to the authors, the younger Miliband fought his corner so obstinately that Jeremy Heywood, Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet, was heard demanding: "Why is this new minister holding up the wheels of government?" It took nerve for someone so recently promoted to risk offending the notoriously unforgiving Prime Minister to whom he owed his career.

The first example the authors give of Ed Miliband's obstinacy and tactical skill in fighting a cause is when, as a student leader, he took on the staff of Corpus Christi, Oxford, over a proposed rent rise. In the authors' view, getting a disparate bunch of students to unite in a disciplined campaign is a rare achievement.

What is missing from Miliband's life story is any time spent in the sort of job outside politics and academia which would have brought him into closer contact with the people his party represents. That can be said of almost any front-rank politician.

This is a book written in a hurry, in which the minutiae of last year's leadership campaign take up more than a quarter of the whole text. One day, it will presumably be superseded by an academic study that concentrates more on policy and less on politicking. But it is an achievement to have assembled so much detail so fast, and to bring the story so up to date that it includes Ed Miliband's and Justine Thornton's recent wedding.