I haven’t been able to watch much of the contest for the new leader of the Labour party.  I felt as if I was watching a car accident in slow motion, between my fingers, hardly daring to look, steeling myself for the inevitable catastrophic impact.  Which never came.

As the younger brother, Ed Miliband, stole the victory from his older brother, David, by a last-minute whisker of just over one per cent, the two brothers rose to embrace each other.   In his acceptance speech, Ed spoke first of all of his love for his brother and we now know that his first thoughts were what his victory would have done to his brother.

His older brother won the majority of support from Labour MPs, from members of the Labour Party, and from members of the shadow cabinet.  It was the union vote that won the leadership for the younger brother.  And now it looks as if the older brother will walk away from the front-line of the opposition – unable to take a place behind his brother.

Most of us have siblings and many of us can imagine how we would feel if we were one of the siblings in this very public contest for support for we have experienced similar events in our own lives, in the history of our families.  I identify with David’s position very easily.

How can David be pleased for his brother?  How can his own feeling of frustration at losing not cloud out any love for his brother. How can he not hate his brother for stealing his show?   Perhaps he is just resigned to Ed always creeping up on him and stealing his thunder.  Perhaps his expressionless face is the frozen face of a man who’s been kicked once too often by his brother.

Listen to this analysis here from Nick Robinson on today’s Radio 4 Today programme:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9043000/9043142.stm

and a few minutes later this clip in which political commentator, David Aaronovitch, and left-wing blogger, Will Straw, of Left Foot Forward, discuss Ed Miliband’s first speech as leader of the Labour Party.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9043000/9043413.stm

David Aaronovitch paints a picture of the younger brother triumphant in his acceptance speech, twisting the knife in his supplanted brother’s back by dismissing policies supported by David Miliband.  No overt cries of “Finally, I’ve won”, but the delight is nonetheless there.  David Miliband lashes out, but at Harriet Harman sitting next to him.  “Why are you clapping?” he asked her about the criticism of a decision that she, too, had voted in favour of (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/sep/28/david-miliband-harriet-harman).

In which case, David Miliband’s anticipated decision to leave the front benches is a passive aggressive response to being ‘done over’ by his brother’s triumph.  In a tight knit family of first generation immigrants, where the world outside is the enemy, and no divisions are allowed, and in the media spotlight, David cannot express his anger and upset in any other way.  So he distances, leaves the field, and hands the hollow victory to his brother: “See, you’ve won the crown.  But see how heavy it is, what a price you have paid, and see how much it hurts to wear it”.

I find it so easy to identify with the older brother.  My younger sister out-performed me academically at every level, driven by a ruthless need to compete and win.  She went to a private school, had considerably more success at public exams at 16 and 18, gained entry to a better university and was awarded a better class of degree.  And always in the mostly the same subjects that I had chosen.  French and English became our battlefields.  It wasn’t as if I was jealous, because her successes always came exactly two years after mine.  Perhaps I would have felt jealous if her successes came before my failures, but instead I just felt a sense of defeat, a sense of never having been quite good enough, and a dread of the next achievement that would be overshadowed by my younger sister.  I gave up.  It was not worth the aggravation, and I handed her the trophy.  She always knew that she had done better than me, she was always driven to do better than me.  My nightmares are populated by her smug Cheshire Cat face leering down with her most recent triumph.  Later, once we had both left education, I managed to secure a place on a prestigious EU programme for graduates – a singular success in an otherwise mediocre record –  and she cried when she heard.

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