Mother knows best in this fraternal struggle

Mother knows best in this fraternal struggle

Ian Aitken, Tribune


Perhaps the nicest idea to have been put up in the seemingly endless contest for the leadership of the Labour Party came from Justin Webb on the Today programme recently. There had been a bit of tedious argy-bargy between two contributors about the rival merits of the brothers Ed and David Miliband, and a despairing Webb wound it up by suggesting that maybe the choice should be left to their mother, who was best placed to know.


This is an interesting idea, because she is the widow of the late, great Ralph Miliband, the ultra-left Marxist theoretician who saw himself (with some justification) as the inheritor of the mantle of Harold Laski, the brilliant figure who presided over the London School of Economics in Ralph’s student days. But there is one problem: according to The Guardian, Marion Miliband intends to vote for Diane Abbott.


So the issue therefore comes down to who Mrs Miliband is going to pick as her second choice on the multi-choice ballot paper. And, as a first choice Abbott-ite myself, I think I can guess the answer; she will go for the more left wing of her sons, who is Ed. That is the rational course of action for a realistic lefty – which I guess is just another way of saying that that’s what I intend to do.
By the time these words appear in print, it is probable that I shall already have cast my vote, so the debate is pretty nearly over now, thank goodness. But I am sure that will not stop the newspapers continuing their ludicrous efforts to portray the contest between the Milibands as a vicious, fratricidal battle which will break their mother’s heart and leave her two sons deadly enemies for the rest of their lives.


You would expect that sort of nonsense from the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. But alas, even The Guardian has been engaged in the same game, albeit at a less fevered pitch. Happily for The Guardian, there is the sober and sensible analysis of my old colleague Michael White to restore the balance. As he put it: “Cain and Abel it ain’t.”


Personally, I think the contest has been conducted by all five candidates with a degree of comradely restraint never seen in any previous Labour Party election that I have witnessed. Coming so soon after the vile smears which marked the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown confrontation over a period of more than 10 years, it shows an almost miraculous change of spirit which even that incorrigible troublemaker Lord Mandelson has been unable to sour. And that, I suspect, is largely down to the good humour of the Miliband brothers.


Yes, of course there have been implied criticisms by each brother of the policies advanced by the other. That’s what debate is about, for God’s sake. How else could a contest be conducted? But there has not been the slightest trace of personal vindictiveness from either side – or none that I have been able to detect. I bet they were much beastlier to each other over the family dinner table when they were youngsters