Much has been made of David and Ed Miliband’s fraternal fight for the leadership of the Labour party already, perhaps too much. As Sophie Elmhirst of the New Statesman wrote despairingly on her Twitter, “a whole summer’s worth of “ooh they’re brothers” articles is an exhausting prospect”. I share your pain Sophie; share, and propose to deepen. Sorry.
Like many lefties desperate to bury New Labour’s era of remorseless compromises, I have wondered aloud whether the best Miliband to replace Gordon Brown would be the brothers’ Marxist father, Ralph (see David Herman’s blog on First Drafts). Admittedly, sadly, he is no longer with us (he died 16 years ago this week): but death was no impediment to the man recently elected Mayor of Tracy City, Tennessee.
A close friend and ally of the parental Milibands was Labour veteran Tony Benn—aficionados of the latter’s (highly entertaining) diaries may remember sporadic mentions of Ralph’s sons; Ed worked for Benn in his office as a teenager (one of the ‘Teabags’, as Benn calls them), and it’s fascinating to follow an old-fashioned socialist watching the brothers grow up from a near distance, affectionate but still sad at the path they take away from socialism, and away from their parents. I spent an afternoon with my head in Benn’s diaries to dig out a few highlights:
Thursday 3 July 1986 Edward Miliband, Ralph’s son, turned up for the first time and was very helpful in the office. He had just taken his O levels and is at a loose end.
Saturday 26 November 1994 Leo [Panitch] commented that David had said to him of me, “what a giant of a man.” That may be his personal view, but in his little gang at the top of the Labour Party they will dismiss the left… he was about twelve when Thatcher came to power and he has never seen or heard anything else. Leo said that David was seen as being a figure of the left in the little team at the top, which was interesting.
Thursday 30 September 1999 Who should get on the train with me but Edward Miliband. Edward used to work in my office, as a teenager. He’s a…