Ed Miliband and the problems of being Ralph’s heir apparent
Does Ed’s victory over his brother have a bearing on his fight to defend his father’s reputation?
ED MILIBAND is no stranger to being attacked in public. On a walkabout in August in Walworth’s East Street Market, he laughed off the egg that was dripping down the side of his head, thanking the market for his warm welcome and the “easy availability of eggs”.
Last Saturday the Daily Mail threw a rotten egg at Miliband’s socialist father, Ralph. In his article, ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’, Geoffrey Levy portrayed Miliband senior as fundamentally anti-British, suggesting his Marxist views were “fuelled by a giant-size social chip on his shoulder as he lived in his adoptive country”. Levy then tarnished Miliband Jnr for paying homage to his father’s Marxism by pledging to bring back socialism.
The truth, as many commentators have pointed out, is that it is more likely that Ralph Miliband would turn in his grave if he knew the nature of the socialism his son is promoting.
This time, however, Ed Miliband has thrown the egg back, accusing the Daily Mail of publishing “an appalling lie” about his father.
While it may be considered below the belt to attack a politician by smearing his father’s reputation, isn’t this part of the slings and arrows of politics – especially when the father in question was such an important public figure? Obviously, Ed Miliband disagrees. This was an egg too far and it seems to have hit a sore spot.
In his rebuttal, published in the Daily Mail, he castigated Levy for “overstepping” the boundaries of decency and civilised debate by “besmirching and undermining” his father.
He sought to set the record straight on his father’s love of the country that effectively saved the lives of both his Jewish refugee parents and enabled the family to flourish intellectually and materially. He also made it clear that he has taken a “different path” from his father politically, emphasising that his loyalty to his father is filial rather than intellectual.
Is this a simple story of a son defending his father? Or does Ed Miliband’s quest to honour his father reflect a more complex family dynamic?
There is no doubt that both Miliband sons had a close relationship with their father and that political debate was at the core of family life. During a teaching stint in the United States, Ralph Miliband wrote to Ed, his younger son: “If anyone else read this, and did not know the way we talk, or you talk, they would think I was crazy to be writing this to a twelve-year-old boy – but I know better, and find it very nice.”
This closeness may have easily instilled in the young Ed both a desire to fulfill his father’s vision and a conflict in disagreeing with this vision. By the time of Ralph Miliband’s death in 1994, on the cusp of Tony Blair’s takeover of the Labour Party, both David and Ed had embarked on political careers aligning themselves with what was to become New Labour. David worked for Tony Blair, while Ed worked for Gordon Brown. David in particular had established himself in a different camp.
Both sons were beginning to pave the way for the sibling contest that eventually led to Ed’s victory in the Labour leadership race.
Damian McBride, spin doctor to Gordon Brown, claims that it was Ed’s obsession with the legacy of his father – rather than his rivalry with his brother - that spurred him to challenge David, a Blairite, to the party leadership. This might suggest that Ed had a closer bond to his father than his brother did.
On the other hand, David was described as his father’s intellectual heir and this might have well been a thorn in Ed’s side.
Whatever favouritism might have taken place in the Miliband family, Ed’s vigorous public defence of his father makes it clear that his father is his territory. It is striking that neither David nor their mother, Marion Kozak, has made any public statement.
The debacle with the Daily Mail has provided a platform on which Ed can declare himself as heir apparent to his father – but an heir who is also candidly critical of the old order. In the background is Ed’s victory over his brother and whatever residual guilt he may feel about this. Does this additional guilt make it even more important for him to profess his allegiance to his father?
And how could this play out in the upcoming general election campaign? How will Ed steer his way through trying to please the ghost of his father and at the same time compete with him? Strong bonds are needed to withstand a victory over brother and father.
- The author is a Jungian analyst who writes regularly for The Week.