Behind the united front, the loser's wife sobs backstage

Reaction suggests leadership battle has left family scarred

On the Labour conference platform yesterday, the Miliband brothers embraced each other again after David, gracious in defeat, heaped praise on Ed. But behind the stage, David Miliband's wife was in floods of tears. Away from the cameras, emotions are running very high.

Louise Shackleton, who is said to be urging her husband to quit front-line politics, was consoled by him when he left the platform. Ed Miliband hovered uncomfortably, before eventually going into a side room for a nine-minute meeting with his brother.

As he agonises over whether to run for the Shadow Cabinet or return to the back benches, David is desperate not to overshadow what he calls "Ed's week". Yet the psychodrama of the Milibands continues to run and run.

Ms Shackleton, a concert violinist, is dismayed that her brother-in-law stood against her husband for the Labour leadership and upset at David's defeat.

"She cannot understand how Ed could have embarked on a course that could end David's political career," said one friend of the family.

There are still twists to come. David does not want to announce his big decision until after his brother's keynote speech today. Allies insist he has not made up his mind. "David will wake up on Wednesday morning and decide," said one. Another supporter said: "It's 50:50."

While his wife would be happy for him to turn his back on the front bench, political allies are pressing him to stand in the Shadow Cabinet election – the members are decided by Labour MPs.

Shadow ministers including Tessa Jowell, Jim Murphy, Alistair Darling and Liam Byrne are thought to have lobbied him not to walk away.

MPs recalled that Ms Jowell led a similar operation by Blairites to persuade Tony Blair not to stand down as Prime Minister in 2004 at his nadir after the Iraq war. That pressure paid off. The lobbying of David Miliband may prove less successful.

"He will be accused of petulance if he doesn't stand," said one of his campaign team. "But if he stays in the Shadow Cabinet, he will be accused of sitting on his brother's shoulder.

"The media will constantly be looking for differences between them and asking 'What did David mean by that?' There is a strong argument for giving Ed the space he needs as leader."

However, a prominent Blairite argued: "David is being urged to stay and fight. If we don't win under Ed, we will need him to be around to pick up the pieces after the next election – even if he were not the candidate next time."

Some Blairites are urging Ed Miliband to appoint his brother to the key post of Shadow Chancellor. They say that would reassure middle-class voters that the party would not veer to the left under its new leader. But other MPs fear that would be a recipe for trouble since the Miliband brothers have different views on how quickly the £155bn deficit should be reduced. David backed Mr Darling's policy to halve it over four years, while Ed regards that as only the "starting point" and wants to "improve" it.

Another option would be for David to remain in his current post of Shadow Foreign Secretary. That would limit the scope for disagreements with his brother and give him a longer period to reflect on his future. It would also allow him to quit British politics if an international job came up in the future – though there is no guarantee that would happen.

There is bitterness among David's allies that Ed did not make his leadership ambitions clear when David was offered the chance to become the European Union's first "foreign minister" last year.

David won a standing ovation at the conference when he opened a debate on foreign affairs, leaving some delegates to wonder whether the party had made the right choice on Saturday when it elected Ed by a wafer-thin majority.

Urging Labour to end the "cliques, factions and soap opera" that disfigured the Blair-Brown era, David said: "We have a great new leader and we all have to get behind him. I am really, really, really proud. I am so proud of my campaign. I am so proud of my party. But above all I am incredibly proud of my brother.

"I see Ed as a special person to me. Now he is a special person to you and our job is to make him a special person for all the British people."

Ed Miliband sought to play down the tensions: "There is no psychodrama. David and I have been extremely close during this contest, before the contest and after this contest, and the graciousness he has shown since Saturday speaks volumes about him as a person."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Advisors

£14564 - £15311 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Adviso...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific