Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Brother V Brother

This afternoon I'm going to see David Miliband talk to students at Goldsmiths College where I am a part-time lecturer in journalism. We've spent much of the morning researching his policy positions on things and discussing what to listen out for when it comes to identifying a top line for the news stories I have asked them to write on it.

Perhaps because baby number two has been kicking me throughout the morning and because I'm wondering how our own family dynamic will change when this one arrives, two years on from the leadership election (and from the arrival of our first child) what I really care about is not who would make the best Prime Minister but the whole brother versus brother thing.

Sibling relationships are complicated, necessarily so as you can't walk away from a complicated relationship the way you can from a simple one, and family ties are important. But regardless of the complexity, of feelings of rivalry, of love and hatred and grudges and emotional tangles, I just still don't understand how one brother can publicly stand against another in a fight where there is only one winner. Even the word itself, brother, should be one of togetherness, not conflict - we call people we are not related to our brother or sister to show we see them as part of our community, that we walk in solidarity with them.

Those on the right might take a different views of siblings. It is the unionists and oppressed minorities most likely to use this fraternal or sororal term greeting after all. Tories might put family before society when it comes to their rhetoric, but only when that family knows its place. It is still the party of inherited privilege and inherited wealth and this of course also means primogeniture. Cameron may have invoked his stokebroker dad in his recent conference speech, though his line "My dad was a stockbroker from Berkshire" is disingenuous in its suggestion that he was the Berkshire equivalent of a self-made Essex man, what with wealth and aristocracy in his line for generations, but he doesn't once mention his three siblings.

By contrast, those on the left should reject thoughts about whether it is the younger or older sibling who should get opportunities. As a younger sibing myself I've even rejected the kind of double buggy that places the older child on top of the younger child to the detriment of the younger child's view, feeling it is unfair for the baby to automatically get the raw deal. So it's not that the younger Miliband, Ed, beat the older Miliband, David, that bothers me, but that they couldn't reach a deal together, behind closed doors. In fact they should have been fighting to stand down, each wanting the best for each other.

My mum says that when my brother and I were young children she used to feed the ducklings in the local park when we went to feed the ducks. When we were teengers she'd go for the half white and half grey adolescent swans, in their own awkward phase. Once we were adults she switched her feeder attentions to the grown ducks with their flashes of green and purple. Now she has grandchildren she's gone back to the baby ones again. I understand that - we identify, be it ducks, or public figures, with the creature at our own stage of life. So I, like most parents I suspect, still think of the Milibands and think, first of all, about their poor mother, and to be even more biblical than the obvious Cain and Abel comparisons, think about the Judgement of Solomon* and his suggestion to cut a disputed baby in half in order to flush out the real mother. (Perhaps the Labour Party should have suggested a leadership job share, with the candidate who said 'oh go on, let him have it then' being awarded the job).

See, I think about it a lot, every time I see either of the brothers in the news in fact. So of course there are multiple angles my students may take this afternoon, and many directions their questions may take,  but still, yes still, what I really want them to ask David, when it comes to the Q&A part of proceedings, is about his relationship with his brother.


*(I Kings 3: 16-28) Solomon must decide which of two women claiming to be the mother of a baby is the true one. He suggests cutting the baby in half so they can each have part of him. The 'fake' mother agrees. The true mother says in that case the other woman can have him so the baby lives, and it is therefore decided she must be the real mother as she wishes above all no harm to come to the baby.

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