Andrew Grice: Cain versus Abel, this leadership contest has come alive at long last

Inside Politics

Share
Related Topics

I once shared a taxi with the twentysomething Miliband brothers in a rain-swept Blackpool during Labour's annual conference.

Bizarrely, they knew who I was but I didn't know which one was David and which one Ed. To my discomfort, the traffic didn't move. I tried not to let my ignorance show – and failed.

With one of them set to be crowned Labour leader four weeks today, we can certainly tell them apart now. In the past week, the relationship between the two sons of the Marxist historian Ralph Miliband has probably changed forever. They may still speak of their "love" for each other but this weekend there is little love lost between them as they vie for the crown.

Perhaps it was always a bit naïve for the brothers to think they could stand against each other without harming their relationship. Despite David Cameron's brilliant gibe about the Labour race looking like a "Star Trek convention", the Milibands are different people with different views. In a close contest – and it could be a photo-finish between them – the relationship was bound to be stretched to breaking point.

Unlike The Godfather, now it's personal as well as business. The great irony is that, at the start of the race, all five Labour runners agreed on the need to move on from the psychodrama of the Blair-Brown years. Now the danger for the party is that it replaces one psychodrama with another. First, the endless, debilitating struggle between the modernising blood brothers. Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were described as Peter Mandelson's "son number one and son number two", although he preferred to call the three of them a "band of brothers". Now we could have a Cain and Abel fight between two real brothers. Why? For the most part, Labour's leadership election has been conducted in a civil and coded way. It is a million miles from the first Labour election I covered – a bitter left-right battle for the deputy leadership between Tony Benn and Denis Healey.

Labour's ideological differences have narrowed since 1981. But the Miliband brothers diverged this week over how the party should respond to its election defeat. Ed is spitting blood, claiming that David is portraying him as a latter-day Bennite who wants to target Labour's core working-class vote rather than the middle classes central to its three victories under Mr Blair.

David Miliband's camp, which won the backing of 1,000 Labour councillors yesterday, believes his brother is fighting a carefully calculated campaign to win the second preference votes of those candidates most likely to be eliminated first – Diane Abbott and Andy Burnham. But they argue that his tacking to the left could not be washed away after the event; leadership elections define leaders in the public's and the media's minds.

So David's followers fear Ed Miliband would lead Labour into a cul-de-sac. Likening him to Neil Kinnock, they claim Mr Brown described Ed Miliband as a "preacher" who tells people what they want to hear. Mr Brown is remaining neutral but is said to want Ed Miliband to win, seeing him as offering the best hope of defeating his brother.

Ed Miliband rejects the charge that he would take Labour back to its "comfort zone". He argues the party can no longer take its natural supporters for granted and that it is time to move on from the "New Labour comfort zone".

Their differences becomes starker in their responses to my questions to all five candidates, published in The Independent today. Ed pronounces New Labour dead, while David insists it is very much alive. Ed hints at higher taxes to minimise spending cuts.

Ed Balls, who is having a good war fighting the Coalition Government, reveals his understandable frustration at the media turning Labour's contest into a two-horse race; he fears a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yesterday he showed he is not about to throw in the towel by revealing he opposed as "too fast" Alistair Darling's decision to halve the deficit over four years, hinting that the then-Chancellor even overruled Mr Brown. "I thought it would be very difficult for them to command wider market and public support because it could put growth and jobs at risks and it could put public services at risk," Mr Balls told the BBC.

At least a rather soporific contest has now come alive. The brothers' war of the comfort zones may sound esoteric but goes to the heart of the debate about Labour's future. David M's allies believe it is a turning point, expressing optimism that Labour will not risk sending a signal it is not interested in affluent voters by choosing Ed M.

David Miliband is no Blair clone but, inevitably, is struggling to rip off the Blairite label that is stuck to him. It will damage him because the party does want to move on.

Publication of Mr Blair's memoirs next Wednesday, the very day that Labour's ballot papers go out, will hardly help David Miliband.

Mr Blair is also keeping out of the Labour race but it is no secret that he would want David to win.

However, some close Blair allies fear that, in defeat, Labour will turn to a "therapist" rather than a strong leader who would challenge his own party in order to win power. That would mean Ed, not David.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery assistants required across Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

SEN 1:1 Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a qualified teache...

SEN Teachers and Support Staff

£50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher or L...

English and Media Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English & Media Teacher - ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Young voters leave a polling station in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh  

Scottish referendum results: The independence question is resolved for a generation at least

Douglas Alexander
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband addresses the public and media as he walks in Edinburgh  

Scottish referendum: Now let’s redraw the map of English politics

Janet Street-Porter
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week