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

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 Hasan 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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor