It sounded too good to be true: "Gloves off! Miliband rounds on his brother." The announcement, issued from my morning radio, caused rather more excitement – so prolonged was its coming – than was, perhaps, advisable. And, like a sucker, I fell for it.
So did the newspapers. "Attack risks rift," screeched one. "Miliband's jibe at brother's policies." The most trudgingly turgid of leadership contests looked like it might – finally – get interesting. Seven days later, I've yet to discover what the fuss was about. "Look!" say frenzied spat-watchers, "David told Labour to stop being so comfortable." For those of us who don't speak Milibandese (Miliblandese?) this roughly translates – or so I'm told – into a dig. A mega-dig. A mega-dig by David, about Ed. A mega-dig that neither mentioned him, nor any of his proposed policies, but which was, nonetheless, aimed at him. Kind of like calling your brother a moron, but not.
Naturally, there are those who've quipped that the Brothers Milibore are no Ray and Dave, no Noel and Liam, no Bart and Lisa. Pffff.... Bart and Lisa Simpson? They're not even me and my sister. Indeed, this is the most unfraternal of fraternal contests – if, that is, by fraternal you mean truly brotherly, rather that some cuddly Hallmark version of the idea. When I was seven, and my sister a barely talking toddler, she nicknamed me "Door". This wasn't, as my parents initially suspected, a function of her barely nascent vocabulary. It was an early adopted, long held indication of my insignificance. I was seven. I had a lunchbox, a school uniform, and a flowing, mousy ponytail. In short: I had everything a nappy-clad pipsqueak might covet. In return, she christened me Door, in one cunning move making me butt both of Sunday Lunch jokes and prank phone calls. To her, I was nothing but a plank of wood. Something to be exited, to be slammed. Round one, Little Sister. And so the contest began.
Of course, I had my defences. I took great pleasure in keeling over dramatically – preferably when no adults were in calling distance – and pretending to suffer some terrible attack until she, panicked, was on the verge of calling the police. This never seemed to get old – and Little Sister never seemed to learn. She did, however, learn other things. To pinch, for instance – a particularly effective tactic given her (relatively) diminutive stature. And to kick. I couldn't pinch back (that was forbidden, old enough to know better) but I could suggest she had been swapped at the hospital. Who else had freckles in the family?
As we got older, our methods became less subtle but more effective. "Freak!" I would yell. "Loser," she would riposte. "You're fat," she told the then-string-bean-me. "You're short," I replied, not untruthfully. It wasn't pleasant, but it worked. Were we two running for Labour leader, the contest would look considerably less like drying paint.
Milibands, to you I say this: watch and learn. This is how it's done. Ed – there's a ready-made joke for you in there. Think banana. Have them delivered to him. Start dropping them into conversation, preferably on live television with your mike still on. Arrive chez David ("brother dear") clutching one, or – even better – make sure your brother leaves with one. Remind us, not too subtly, what a fool he looked back then. And David, can't you... I don't know. Just sing the Annoying Song. Or answer all Ed's questions with the words "silly socks". Or pinch him. Trust me, it works every time. Failing that, call each other "Door". At least your non-digs might sound more interesting.
Things have calmed down in my own sibling rivalry. A bit. Little Sister is less little, and the (grossly underestimated) enjoyment of being the Eldest diminishes somewhat once you pass a quarter-century. Friday was my mother's birthday, in advance of which my sister and I actually engaged in a few enthusiastic texts: "R U going? Looking 4ward 2 seeing U!" And then there came the cruncher. "Wat U getting Mum?" she asked. As if. "Ha ha ha," I replied, "not telling!" David, Ed: do keep up.