David Miliband should have better managed his personal brand
Today is Maundy Thursday, the start of Easter liturgies, but coverage of the demise of the man who said he wanted to shake up the establishment is already well into its third day.
Isn’t this a little bit over the top? No one died. No office holder has resigned.
On the other hand there is a great story. Brothers in battle! Fratricide! Backstabbing! The stealing of birthrights! Romulus vs Remus all over again. For the Tories, there’s the chance to paint Labour as in some kind of ‘hard-left’ cage – and to escape the Boris problems from earlier this week. For Blairites it’s a chance to call foul over their comparative demise since 2007 – and of course the papers love that.
There’s no doubt that the absence of D Miliband makes the Labour front bench weaker. But let’s not pretend that this is really a moment of national mourning. Miliband was the Blair wing’s Gordon Brown. He thought that a reputation as a big beast would be enough to get him the top job.
But David didn’t manage his Mili-brand. It may be news to some but he actually lost the leadership election. Did he, does he, believe his own hype? Had he not learned from the case of John Moore, and other predicted leaders of the future?
Had he not learned from Denis Healey, who failed to charm his electorate, famously telling the Labour right that they had ‘nowhere else to go’? But who, when they went off to form the SDP, none the less supported the elected leader, Michael Foot?
Had he not learned from Al Gore who allowed himself to be painted as a sore loser? David Miliband stood for an election and was one of five candidates. Handling a potential loss should have been thought through. And in that regard, had he not even spoken with his wife, Louise Shackleton, who seems to have gone out of her way to blame Mrs E Miliband, Justine Thornton, for not telling her partner to stand aside? Poor Ms Shackleton. Luckily she appears not to have any bitterness herself about not becoming first lady. (Which just goes to show how easy it is to descend into catty comments.)
Some of the criticism of David Miliband is – to a point – unfair. According to one analysis, David Miliband should have stood against Gordon Brown in 2007 (why? He would have lost heavily), or should have moved to bring Brown down the night of James Purnell’s resignation. I am not sure that there is logic in saying that David Miliband was not much of a leader on the grounds that he failed to follow someone else’s putsch.
And this is not to say that Ed Miliband has been much better at defining himself. One interesting speech, not especially well followed up. A moment of balls against Murdoch, but none against Balls. ‘Red’ Ed has failed to stick except as a particularly tiresome trope. But neither has the country shown much enthusiasm for Labour’s economic plan – and until it does, those poll numbers will seem soft.
Maybe the best route for Ed is to embrace the fact that he, er, won the leadership election. Despite not being the front runner, he showed determination, planning, stamina and organisational strength to win. He did what he thought he should do, not what others thought he should do. If I were looking for a leader for my party, that’s the kind of guy I’d pick.