The Bible could have helped the Milibands
THE LABOUR Party’s continuing descent into the moral and electoral abyss has felt allconsuming during the past 18 months.
It seems an aeon ago that we were discussing the remote possibility of Britain having a Jewish prime minister in the form of Ed Miliband, and even longer since he battled his brother David to be Labour leader.
Despite the campaigns of 2015 and 2010 now resembling ancient history in the wake of the Scottish referendum — or referenda? — Brexit vote and Jeremy Corbyn’s impotence, there are many in our community whose minds remain on the Milibands.
A fortnight ago, at an event marking the 250th anniversary of Jewish life in Hull, I heard actress Maureen Lipman — unexpectedly, given the circumstances — outline her desire to see David return from his role as president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee in New York to save the party he previously represented.
There was a sort of pantomime “ooh” from the audience at the mention of his name, as if her wish was as desirable as it was fanciful.
But you hear Ms Lipman’s view repeated almost whenever you speak to British Jews on the left. It is a phenomenon I find baffling, and one which can be founded only in pure desperation.
Few, having observed the leadership failings of the younger Miliband, are likely in future to be enticed by the prospect of David becoming prime minister.
Accept my assertion that the political careers of the brothers will never again reach their considerable former heights — the first siblings to sit together in the cabinet since the 1930s, the elder in one of the great offices of state, the other later becoming a party leader — and we can only look to the future with sorrow over their broken relationship.
Reading Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks’s commentary on last Shabbat’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, brought pangs of sadness for the brothers, and not because of their political failures.
The parasha focuses on Moses and Aaron, and Rabbi Sacks writes: “The brothers work together from the very outset of the mission to lead the Israelites to freedom. They address the people together. They stand together when confronting Pharaoh. They perform signs and wonders together. They share leadership of the people in the wilderness together.
“For the first time, brothers function as a team, with different gifts, different talents, different roles, but without hostility, each complementing the other.”
Applied to the Milibands this is heartbreaking. Could David and Ed not have found a way to unite on their mission?
To bring together Labour’s left and right? To create a “dream ticket”?
Could they not, after the General Election defeat of 2010, have shared the leadership or led Labour through the barren coalition government years side-by-side, using their obviously differing talents and gifts to complement each other?
Rabbi Sacks sat alongside David Miliband in New York last April to discuss the refugee crisis and a fractured world. Perhaps the former Chief Rabbi had the familial fracture in mind while writing his commentary.
He concludes on Aaron and Moses by quoting Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”
In politics, at least, there is little room for such wishful thinking.
Can the Miliband brothers be blamed for the slow death of their party? Had they taken a different path seven years ago and declined to stand against each other would things be so different? Maybe, maybe not.
But, ultimately, the most saddening outcome was the damage done to their relationship as brothers.
Political careers come and go, but, unless they can fashion a family rapprochement that has so far proved elusive, then the Milibands — once the most prominent Jewish politicians in Britain — face a future dominated far more heavily by the pain of that split than by anything related to their time in Westminster.
The way they were: David Miliband puts on a brave face as brother Ed beats him to be elected Labour leader in 2010