No regrets. No crisis. Ed Miliband hits back

Angry opposition leader spells out to Jane Merrick how he intends to win the next election

Sunday 23 October 2011 02:32

Ed Miliband attempts today to reassert his authority over his fractured party as he warns supporters of his brother David that the Labour leader is "sticking to the mission" of returning his party to election-winning form. He urges them to "move on" from the bitter leadership contest.

In his first interview since an unauthorised biography exposed deep tensions in the Miliband family and revived complaints that he is not up to the job, the Labour leader says he has "no regrets at all" about running against his elder brother.

Despite claims, reported by The Independent on Sunday last week, by friends of David that the former foreign secretary is "waiting for his brother to fail" so he can take over the top job, the Labour leader says his brother has "moved on, so everybody else should too".

Ed Miliband, however, hints at the difficulty his surprise narrow defeat of David last September is continuing to cause between the pair, admitting that they have been unable to "look back and laugh" with each other about the contest.

And he all but confirms that there is disagreement between the brothers about whether Ed kept David in the dark about his intention to stand.

But he tells The IoS: "I'm a pretty level-headed person. I know what the task is and the task is not to be distracted by all of this stuff, and I haven't been. The main thing to know is where you're taking the party, and I do, to know where you want to take the country, and I do, and stick to the mission."

He reveals that he has taken advice on leadership from Tony Blair, that "the most important thing in politics is that you are who you are". Mr Miliband says: "That's what I am and that's what I'm going to be."

Mr Miliband responds to critics who say he has no "big picture" idea to equip the party with an election-winning formula. He calls for "your neighbour is my neighbour" responsibility across society, a Labour twist on the notion of the Big Society.

He also speaks candidly about his leadership leaving him less time to spend with his two young sons.

The Labour chief was speaking at the end of the most difficult period of his leadership, centred on a new book, Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader by Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre, which claimed the brothers and their wives are barely on speaking terms.

A poll for The IoS this weekend puts Labour and the Tories level on 37 per cent, while Mr Miliband's net personal rating has fallen from minus 14 in April to minus 27 today. Some 27 per cent believe David would make a better leader than Ed.

Sipping tea from a Labour mug in his office in Westminster, Ed Miliband, who says he hasn't read the book or any extracts, fails to deny that there is a fundamental disagreement between the pair about how much he told David, following the general election, about his intentions. According to the book, Ed's version of events is that he went to David's house on Wednesday 12 May 2010 and left his brother in no doubt that he would run. The book also says that David has no recollection at all of the meeting.

Can the Labour leader clear this up? "I'm not going to get into the detail of this. What we both agree on is that we talked before both our candidacies were declared and talked to him about the position too and we're both on the same page on that."

Mr Miliband denies that he dreamt of becoming Prime Minister since he was a teenager. "I think if you told me as a teenager I'd be leader of the Labour Party I wouldn't have thought that was going to be the case. I only became an MP in 2005 and I wasn't certain before that that I wanted to become an MP."

So how does he characterise the relationship with his brother? "I am not going to get into that. I'm just going to say that we've both moved on." Does he regret that his decision to stand against David has caused tensions in the family? "I don't regret my decision to stand at all."

Mr Miliband tries to make it sound as if there is no issue, but he is not altogether convincing. Are there any tensions at all between him and David? "Everybody knows that we fought a leadership election last year. As I said at the time I was pleased to have won and disappointed for him, but both of us have moved on."

He told The IoS in an interview exactly a year ago, when the contest had just got under way, that he and David would "look back at all of this and laugh". Have they done so? "I don't think we've done that yet, but I think what I would say is that both of us have moved on."

What about their wives, Justine and Louise? Reports are that Louise, David's wife, is so furious with Ed that the sisters-in-law have also fallen out.

"Nonsense, nonsense, that's nonsense. It's nonsense. David and Louise were at our wedding a few weeks ago, and we had a great day. It was great that they were there and enjoyed themselves." He doesn't add that the couple didn't make it to the post-wedding party later that day in north London.

The Milibands' mother, Marion Kozak, is rumoured to be "in despair" that her once-close boys have fallen out. What does she make of all of this? "I'm not going to get into my conversations with her about it."

With each question about his brother, the wives, or his mother, Mr Miliband becomes tenser, and it feels like intruding into private grief – which, of course, it is. But, more than any other political leader in modern times, Mr Miliband's family relations are intertwined with his political life, so it is impossible to ignore.

Mr Miliband relaxes only when he talks about his sons Daniel, two, and Sam, six months. Last year, he said he would advise his sons not to go into politics. Has that changed? "My advice to them would be: do the right thing – do what you want to do. And that's what I'm doing."

Daniel's favourite song his father sings to him at bedtime is "The Grand Old Duke of York", which, says Mr Miliband, "he claims I sing too noisily. 'Too noisy, Daddy', he says, 'too noisy', which I think is a comment on my singing voice, I fear."

"Too noisy" is not a complaint his MPs have made about their leader. But, perhaps energised by the fresh talk of crisis, Mr Miliband found his voice at Prime Minister's Questions last week. There remain questions about how long this will last. So what is his big picture idea?

In a speech last Monday, Mr Miliband said he wanted to end Labour's support for those who are "ripping off our society" such as benefit cheats and bankers, and called for more responsibility across society. It drew praise from Blairites, and The IoS understands that Mr Miliband has spoken to Mr Blair more times recently than to Gordon Brown, his mentor.

But Mr Miliband insists he is not the "heir to Blair". "I'm not the heir to anyone. I'm my own person." His speech fed into his vision for the "promise of Britain". Mr Miliband explains: "The mission that I have, the single most important thing that I think matters is how do we reverse the sense of national decline. How do we give people a sense that you can be optimistic about Britain, that the next generation can do better than the last?

"It is not just about earning and owning ... but it is also about the fabric of our society. What kind of country do we want to create for our kids?"

It's early on Friday evening, and this interview means that Mr Miliband is missing bathtime with his sons.

"The most difficult thing about this job is not having enough time to see your kids. There are always frustrations in politics, but actually the thing I care most about is having the time to see them."

He adds, poignantly: "Actually Daniel's now got to the age where he sort of notices me not being around."

With the hint taken, the interview is over, and Ed Miliband is off for another rendition of "The Grand Old Duke of York".

In his own words

On ambition I think if you'd told me as a teenager I'd be leader of the Labour Party I wouldn't have thought that was going to be the case. That's not the way I've thought about my life.

On his brother What we both agree on is that we talked before both our candidacies were declared.

On 'wives at war' Nonsense, nonsense, that's nonsense. It's nonsense. David and Louise were at our wedding a few weeks ago, and it was great that they were there and enjoyed themselves.

On his mother I'm not going to get into my conversations with her about it.

On Tony Blair I'm not the heir to anyone. I'm my own person. I think you do it in your own way and that's the thing you've got to do.

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