The Bi­ble could have helped the Milibands

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS -

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

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