Ed Miliband is a leader in progress. After nearly a year in the job, the British public is still making up their collective minds about who he is and what he stands for. Initially dubbed ‘Red Ed’ in the aftermath of his victory over elder brother and leadership favourite David, Ed Miliband is only now finding his feet with the media, speaking with confidence and projecting leadership. He was written off as a ‘dud’ only a few weeks ago but has garnered enthusiastic praise from the left and (some of the) right-wing press for his handling of ‘Hackgate’. ‘Ed: the Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader’ by Mehdi Hasan and James McIntyre, profiles the man charged with the task of bringing Labour back into government by 2015.
The Milibands could not but have been politically engaged; the authors description of parents’ Ralph and Deborah’s nurturing of the boys considerable intelligence shows that David and Ed had an essentially happy childhood. Ralph and Marion were Jewish, but secular, intellectuals; Ralph Miliband was one of the foremost ‘New Left’ thinkers of the time and a giant in the sociology world; they had both escaped from Nazi occupied Europe to find freedom as British citizens. The boys attended Haverstock, a local comprehensive, where former MP Oona King was a fellow pupil.
Hasan & MacIntyre chronicle Ed Miliband’s time at Oxford where he studied PPE and honed his political skills in the university Labour branch. He was a popular, if geekish student and made many friends and few enemies. The irony of Ed’s Labour leadership slogan ‘Ed Speaks Human’, an obvious dig at David, was that Ed, while by no means dull or emotionally detached, was never the life and soul of the party (although ‘Ed Speaks Robot’ would be a more apposite response to a recent ‘youtube’ mash-up of Miliband repeating a soundbite to death).
The authors give a particularly good account of Miliband’s time as a Special Advisor (SPAD) to Gordon Brown; Brown worked him hard and came to greatly admire his ability, mind, and potential and this feeling was reciprocated from Miliband to Brown. Such was the Brown’s inner court’s disdain for the Blairites post-Granita, that Ed, as a SPAD, when delivering news in his (usually) customary mild-mannered way, became known as an ‘Emissary from the Planet Fuck’. He was and is a wonk but has, according to the authors, usually sought to persuade, rather than cajole.
Miliband became an MP for Darlington in 2005 and was rapidly promoted to the Ministerial post of Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The authors contend that even though the 2009 Copenhagen Summit on the environment and climate change was adjudged a failure, Miliband’s efforts, application and achievements deserve high praise. He remained deeply loyal to Brown during all the aborted heaves on his leadership, saying that overthrowing the Scot would ‘be like killing our father’.
The leadership race, saw a huge breach in fraternal relations between the two brothers; ‘In the space of a single summer, David and Ed had gone from political allies and friends to sworn political enemies.’ Hasan & MacIntyre hear from friends of Ed and of David and there are some sharply different views of the leadership contest coming from each camp. The brothers themselves may patch up their relationship sooner rather than later but it could take longer for their respective followers to do so. Married with two children, Ed is a family man himself now and will be conscious of how family and politics can be a difficult mix.
Miliband has been in the role for less than twelve months and had been accused of failing to connect with swing voters on the ‘shares our values’ scorecard. The News International implosion has been a game changer for him however; gone is the view of Miliband as hesitant and overly cautious so typified in his hedging during recent public sector strikes. The authors present an Ed Miliband that’s more than capable of leading from the front on a post- New Labour platform.
At 41, Ed certainly has time on his side. If he can continue his recent form, then there’s every reason to think that there’s a bright future ahead for him and his party. Anything can and does happen in politics, just look at the Murdoch collapse of the last fortnight; who could have predicted the speed and impact of the story over the past two weeks? Ed Miliband has his window of opportunity now and he can’t afford to waste it.
Mehdi Hasan & James MacIntyre have written a highly readable, informative and observant biography. Both have excellent contacts in the Labour Party, on either side of the Miliband divide. A book more for the cognoscenti of the Blair-Brown era and politicos rather than for the general reader, ‘Ed, the Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader’ makes for an enjoyable, comprehensive and well written account of Ed Miliband’s (mostly political) life so far.
‘Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader’ – Mehdi Hasan &
James MacIntyre – Biteback Publishing – £17.99 – pp336′