Let’s bury this ‘back-stabbing Miliband’ myth

The Guardian, 10 April 2015

The Labour leader’s ‘betrayal’ of his brother is used to attack him. But who wants hereditary privilege? They’re not the royal family, after all

I’m not sure how I managed to miss the fact that leadership of the Labour party is a hereditary position. Apparently, Labour hasn’t even got round to abolishing the rule of primogeniture, as the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, reminded us on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday. Fallon suggested that Ed Miliband “stabbed his own brother in the back”, appearing to suggest that modern political parties operate a line of succession similar to the royals.

According to this hitherto unknown rule, David Miliband’s expectation that he would become Labour leader was no less solid than the Prince of Wales’s claim to the throne; Ed’s challenge was a constitutional outrage, a bit like the Duke of York suddenly announcing he’d like to have a go after his mum dies. The whole point of male primogeniture is that it’s an immovable thing, ensuring that the firstborn son smoothly assumes his rightful place when his turn comes round.

What’s that you say? The previous Labour leader, Gordon Brown, is neither dead nor father to either of the Miliband boys? Look, we’re talking about myths and archetypes here: think Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Romulus and Remus. True, none of these individuals aspired to become leader of the Labour party, as far as I know, but obviously the same rules apply. Just ask the defence secretary. And, sadly, Fallon isn’t the only person who thinks like this.

Later this month, the Duchess of Cambridge will give birth for the second time. Where are the crowds, waiting eagerly outside Buckingham Palace? Two years ago, the birth of Prince George was a massive event, at least as far as the media were concerned; in the days leading up to it, camera crews and correspondents set up a long line of stalls in The Mall. Whether the public was quite so fascinated is another matter, with just over half the population telling a polling company that they weren’t interested in the birth. But TV and newspapers breathlessly anticipated an announcement that the third in line to the throne had finally arrived. Prince George can expect a pretty long wait, judging by his grandfather’s experience, but something about the idea of a firstborn clearly entranced the media.

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