David's intervention makes Ed Miliband look good

The odd couple - but at least Ed has some interesting ideas.
The odd couple - but at least Ed has some interesting ideas.

Reading David Miliband's Statesman article is a dreary, depressing way to start your day. Like the perfume of an old girlfriend you never liked very much, it takes you straight back to the New Labour years, with potential leadership rivals firing off vague missives and the press dutifully trying to decode them.

On the face of it, David's article is a response to a Roy Hattersley piece which, near as I can tell, was published five months ago. Quite why it would be published now is anyone's guess. He does the current Labour leader the service of mentioning him, unlike his Gordon Brown intervention, where the only real criticism of government policy was the calculated absence of the prime minister's name.

Politically, it is monumentally uninteresting, parroting the Blairite formula of "notions of merit, reward and responsibility" and a politics which "mobilises people, whether as patients or parents or employees or citizens, to make choices". Its tedium is in direct contrast to the frantic self-examination it triggers among the political classes, who are desperate to paint David as a messiah in the wings, primed to cut through the Tory ranks once his younger brother falls on his sword.

David is not, and has never been, the hero he is described as. His current status is a product of the need for a media narrative. As the more charismatic and centrist of the two brothers, he was preferred by the press. His victory – were it not for those pesky unions – cemented the idea that he should be leader. But David would have received as hard a drubbing from the media as Ed did, for the simple reason they had mostly thrown in their lot with the government. It would be at least one parliament before they felt able to switch allegiances back to Labour.

Remember that photo of David with the banana? Or clumsily ducking a confetti storm? That was how the media would be treating him now. Instead, we are offer ministerial, statesmanlike photos, shot from below, to cement the narrative of a fratricidal political rivalry.

If anything, David's sneaky intervention demonstrates why Labour picked the wrong leader – and got the right one. Whatever you make of his politics Ed must be credited with speaking clearly on big issues. His phrase 'squeezed-middle' entered the political lexicon in way these agendas rarely do (remember Nick Clegg's 'alarm clock Britain'?). His boldness in taking on Murdoch in plain terms paid off. His criticism of capitalism, which relied on a distinction between productive and predator companies, was criticised at the time, but the public has a better idea of what it refers to than David's vague scribbles about the role of the state.

As far as it's even decipherable, there's nothing bold or eye-catching in David's intervention. Rhetorically, it is tedious in the extreme. It shows he has not moved on from his default political tactic of sending baffling, vacuous political messages at carefully calculated moments in order to keep eyes on him. He is as hesitant, uninspiring and slippery as he ever was.

Ed is no saviour, and despite his success this week, he is dangerously close to being written off by the public. But his brother's intervention reminds us that at least he is using clear language to express big ideas - something we would not have got with the elder brother.


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