THERE was a time when every attempt at creating a scene of soft-focus harmony in the heart of what we somewhat optimistically called our home, ended in the kind of bloody violence you’d have banned if only it had entered your life in the form of an Xbox game.
Such was the sibling rivalry between my three boys that a game of Scabby Queen could have them tearing each other’s hair out and screaming “cheat”. And as for when we played Cheat…
Like all desperate parents, we switched on Supernanny and hoped for a miracle; but Jo Frost’s normally transformative team-building exercises were lost on them. If we asked them to collaborate on a joint venture such as building a Lego model or creating a den, the results were predictable – little plastic blocks lodged up one another’s nostrils and a room that looked more like a crime scene than a gleefully constructed childhood retreat.
It was even worse when we went outside. Since football was the boys’ one common pursuit – and each of them fancied themselves as Lionel Messi – every casual kickaround took on the tense atmosphere of an Old Firm match. Not for them the sporting camaraderie of Andy and Jamie Murray. My boys were more like Liam and Noel Gallagher, but with a third, even sulkier, brother for good measure.
When I look back, what I remember is the sheer physical effort of hefting one flailing, tear-stained little hothead over my shoulder, while the other two followed truculently behind, carrying their muddy goalpost jumpers and nipping each other surreptitiously as we wended our miserable way home.
Thankfully, my boys’ hostility diminished as their interests diverged. No longer competing for the same turf, they are now more willing to applaud each other’s triumphs and overlook each other’s flaws. Sadly for Marion Kozak, the mother of the Miliband brothers, that doesn’t happen to everyone. For the last two years she has had to watch her middle-aged sons sparring in a very public arena. How galling it must have been for her as they briefed against each other; how grating to witness their false smiles and bear hugs as they slid knives into one another’s backs.
Now, unable to come to terms with Ed’s betrayal/victory in the Labour leadership election, David is flouncing off to the United States in high dudgeon. He has played his situation for pity, saying he found it hard to accept he could best help the Labour Party “not just giving the space between the front bench and the back bench to Ed, but the space between the front bench and 3,000 miles away”. He has played it for respect, saying he joined the International Rescue Committee because it was the only way he could give “full vent to his ideas and ideals”. But when it comes down to it, he’s no different from any other brother who throws a massive tantrum after being bested. Except that he’s 47 and is getting a six-figure salary as opposed to time on the naughty step for his efforts.
The power struggle that has divided the Miliband brothers is vaguely Shakespearian; it features betrayal, hubris and an uppity, resentful wife (David’s – Louise Shackleton – who apparently hasn’t spoken to Ed and his wife Justine since battle commenced), but in the greater scheme of things it’s pretty tame. When you think of all the fraternal feuds history and legend have yielded, it wouldn’t make the Top 10. Cain killed Abel; Romulus killed Remus. All Ed did was to court successfully the union vote to become leader of the opposition despite speaking in a nasal whine which has the same effect as chalk on a blackboard.
Even in a modern context, the Miliband feud pales in comparison with the likes of the aforementioned Gallagher brothers, whose entire working relationship was characterised by bust-ups and whose rift culminated in threats of court action. And what about the Hitchens brothers, Christopher and Peter, two men – one left-wing, one right-wing, one religious, one atheist – who came to be defined in opposition to one another? Neither could let any opportunity for a dig pass. If one of them wrote anything, the other would rush out an angry rebuttal, mocking not only the work itself, but the beliefs that underpinned it.
Of course, up to a point, sibling rivalry can be a good thing. It can drive brothers on to work harder and achieve more (albeit more so they can stick their middle finger up at one another than out of a desire to succeed). But, as the Milibands have found out to their cost, too much competition can distort and poison a relationship to the detriment of both parties.
The question for poor, beleaguered Marion Kozak, I suppose, is can the breach ever be repaired? Separated by the Atlantic, will old enmities fade or sharpen? If Ed were to become prime minister it is hard to imagine 3,000 miles would be enough to shield David from the constant reminder of the glittering prize that should have been his. Yet if, after everything, the Hitchens could reach a rapprochement before Christopher’s death; if a jubilant Liam could text Noel over a Man City win (a brief lull in the ongoing storm); and if my once warring sons can spend a few hilarious minutes together watching a 20-stone Welshman show off his footballing prowess, then I guess anything is possible. «