The Miliband brothers: a rare joint interview

Snippets from the Jewish press on Israel, being rivals, and family.

David and Ed Miliband have given an interesting joint interview to the Jewish press that features on the totallyjewish.com website. Here are a few highlights:

Ed Miliband confirms he knew David would stand as leader:

Ed, did you consider not standing after David threw his hat into the ring?

EM: No. I knew he would stand when the time came and I had plenty of time to weigh up all the issues and come to the decision that I should stand in order that Labour Party members could have the widest possible choice.

Both brothers comment on standing against one another, with David admitting it is "unusual".

DM: It is certainly an unusual situation. I love and respect Ed as a brother and politics needs to take second place to that. I want this election to be a battle of ideas. I want it to be open, honest and a credit to our party.

EM: It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I love David and nothing that happens in this election will shake that love. Both of us will make sure of that.

Ed gives a more critical general answer than David when asked about Israel:

Would you speak up for Israel and on issues of concern to the British Jewish community if you became Labour leader?

DM: A stable Middle East has a secure Israel at its heart; this is non-negotiable. My trips to Israel show a deep yearning for peace. I think the vision of Israel living side by side with a Palestinian state is not only just but necessary. I have spent a good deal of time over the past three years as foreign secretary making the case for peace and building strong relations with the UK's Jewish communities. In fact, I have done that during this campaign and it will of course continue.

EM: I will always stand up for Israel's right to live in peace and security, and work towards a settlement in the Middle East in which a stable Palestinian state can coexist next to an Israel that is secure in its borders. And I will always be open to issues that concern the British Jewish community, whether they concern issues of the treatment of Jews in Britain or issues to do with relations with Israel. I intend to lead a Labour Party that remains a true friend to Israel. But friendship is both about supporting your friend when they are treated unfairly or victimised, and speaking honestly when you feel they aren't making the right decisions.

But then, conversely, David is slightly firmer on the Gaza flotilla and blockade:

What is your view of Israel's interception of the Gaza flotilla?

DM: I am afraid it was self-defeating. In fact, I have spoken to many in the Jewish community and in Israel who feel the same way. It isolates Israel and strengthens its enemies. I welcome the announcement by the Israeli government to move from a list of permitted goods to a smaller list of banned goods. But the approach to Gaza is not delivering.

EM: I support Israel's right to act in self-defence of its borders, but think Israel's interception of the flotilla was not the right thing to do. It led to deaths and injuries that I believe were avoidable. I support the United Nations Security Council's expression of concern about Israel's action as well as its call for an international investigation. Israel faces a security threat that cannot be met without international support. This incident has clearly made it harder for Israel to win this support around the world.

On the perceived rivalry between them, David emphasises the closeness of their family while Ed points out the age difference.

DM: No. We are a very close-knit family.
EM: With four years separating us, we were never quite in the same age group growing up. That distance meant we weren't in a position to compete with each other.

PS: There is an interesting new line in the Times (paywall) feature on the brothers today, in which it is revealed that Gordon Brown always expected Ed Miliband to "stand against David", saying "Watch him" as early as 2007.

The question that raises is: did Brown encourage him to run in those agonised days following the election this year?

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Getty.
Show Hide image

Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.