Every now and again the question is raised as to why Ed Miliband, the current leader of the British Labour Party, stood against his older brother, David, for the leadership of the party. Apparently, the issue was raised during Ed’s recent appearance on radio’s Desert Island Discs, so that what should have been an exploration of his taste in music became a more personal family matter – as if his recent defence of his father, the esteemed sociologist Ralph Miliband, had not been enough.
Of course, we may be aware of situation with British royalty (as are, I would hazard a guess, William and Harry) that the line of succession flows through the eldest male – hence the British have a clear idea of who will be their monarch for the next inordinate length of time. It seems to have been the historical understanding with British royalty that, where three or more sons were in the family, the first became the monarch (as will, barring a republican revolution, William), the second took a primary role in the military (as did, much to his apparent satisfaction, Harry), and the third entered the established church (Charles, with his desire to be “the champion of all faiths”, would have appreciated this, but alas…).
However, do all matters affecting male siblings have to reflect this reversion to an earlier period of human evolution? Did Ed commit a crime against the gods and, in consequence, be daily sacrificed for his misdeed? As in the biblical story of Cain and Abel, did the younger brother steal the older brother’s birth-right and is, therefore, to be forever judged for the impertinence?
Of course, the reasons as to why Ed defeated his older brother for the leadership of the Labour Party may have more to do with the fact that David did not enjoy the support of the Labour trades unions, or he took his election too much for granted, or he was too identified with the New Labour government. Or it may simply have been the fact that Ed is different to David and that those who elected the Labour Party leader preferred what he had to offer.
I have an older brother. He is quite different to me in many respects – and he is probably quite thankful for that! Fortunately, whilst we have shared a life-long interest in sport, with just a little competition along the way, in most other areas our lives have taken differing directions. It was not naturally the case that he would become the successful business man (though he did), or that I would enter the church (which I did). My brother has always been generally more practically-orientated than me; I have probably aspired towards more academic pursuits. So, our two lives and their proclivities have not been naturally inclusive, nor, for that matter, have they been mutually exclusive.
Neither of us had an innate right to become what we have become, nor always had the luxury of choosing what we would become. Yet, I feel sure, we both celebrate the successes we have each enjoyed in the spheres of life in which we have participated, without wishing to take each other’s place or diminish each other’s accomplishments. So too, there has been a mutual appreciation of each other’s disappointments.
Why are people obsessed with the fact that Ed Miliband stood against his big brother? Perhaps it is because the two brothers share common elements in life that encourage strong competition, or perhaps they are both seen as being too dependent on the legacy of their father. The answers may go very deep. Of course, it may also be that the Ed and David are more at ease with each other than people are capable of observing or for which the critics are prepared to give them credit.
Public obsessions do not always reflect private confessions.