In 1991, Hillary Clinton famously tried to woo voters with her promise “If you vote for my husband, you get me—it’s a two-for-one, blue plate special.” Similarly, in her bid to become President in 2008, she often invoked the experience of her husband. For Ed Miliband there could be real merit in the “two-for-one” approach too.
After a year as leader of the Labour Party, he still lacks a proper identity. Ask members of the public to say something about him, and they will describe Ed as the man who shafted his brother to become leader. Worse, if they have anything else to offer they will likely describe him as lacking purpose for his power. If a vision was laid out in his party conference speech, then, as with any conference speech, most of the public weren’t listening. This is Ed’s cold reality.
And how could his older brother help with these problems? Well, rather a lot.
The New Statesman recently advocated David Miliband taking up a special policy post in the shadow cabinet, and there is much merit in this suggestion. A conventional shadowing role would probably hold little appeal for David and, in any case, wouldn’t be the best use of his talents – at least with so long to go until 2015.
David could begin with a proper analysis of the current political scene – a report on ‘How politics has changed after the crash’ might focus Labour’s minds on how they can win the next election – and then chart ideas for Labour’s future across all the key policy areas. He may have been desperate to lead from the front, but his vitality would be well-suited to a role as a back-seat driver.
As well as bringing an extremely talented politician back into public life, such an arrangement would have other beneficial effects for the Labour Party. It has been remarked that Eds Miliband and Balls are almost co-leaders of the party – but the public don’t think two Eds are better than one. David’s visible presence would be a most effective way of rebranding the party, and undermining the charge that Labour is too inward looking. Ultimately a party defined by its two Eds stands little chance of winning a majority; one defined by its two Milibands would have more hope.
This brings us to the crux: the return of David would improve Ed’s image like nothing else. Most of the public aren’t very interested in politics, but Ed beating his older brother in a manner almost worthy of Shakespeare is something they remember. His brother’s absence from British politics since, whilst wholly understandable, creates the impression that Ed chose power over family – not an attractive quality for a prospective PM. No number of soundbites from either can destroy this impression quite like a happy, smiling David on the front bench.
David’s skills could then be used where he really wants them to be: against the Conservatives. There’s a reason why Tory HQ celebrated his defeat in the leadership election: they recognise him as a formidable all-round politician, and hope his exile from the political frontline continues until after the next election.
Even if one subscribes to the view of David as Labour’s great lost leader – and that judgment would be premature towards Ed – it would be a fallacy to say he couldn’t make a real difference, in terms of both policy and getting public support, under his brother. After all, Vince Cable’s reputation as an economic guru, and personal popularity, was a vital facet of the Lib Dems’ appeal at the last election; Clegg-mania wouldn’t have happened without Cable establishing the Lib Dems as a credible party.
A “two-for-one” Miliband strategy would make Labour a much more formidable proposition at the next election. A reinvigorated David would offer dynamism and give his brother a more human face. And his presence would also prevent Labour being caricatured as a party in thrall to Balls.
– Tim Wigmore