I met a Traveller from a Mancunian land,
Who said, “Two vast and union-less supported legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the conference floor,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold New Labour bore
Tell Blair its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is David Millibandias, would be King of Kings!
Look on my works New Labour, and despair!”
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
With thanks to Percy B. Shelley.
My dear brothers and sisters,
As regular readers of this blog may know, Anna kindly allows me to post my musings here and a constant theme from my 1600 year old perspective is that there is nothing new under the sun.
Take fratricide, for example. There are plenty of historical examples there. We can start with Cain and Abel, and we can add Romulus and Remus (although I can’t remember who killed whom).
Those of a historical bent will also know that the Battle of Hastings was lost because of fraternal strife. Bear with me, my brothers and sisters, before I get to the modern day. There is a point to this.
Harold Godwin’s Son, the last lawful King of England (just my view) had brothers of varying degrees of character, as well as two sisters, one of whom, the delightful Elgifu, I remember very well indeed – but, ahem, back to the story.
It came to pass that one of these brothers, Tostig, was given control of Northumbria as part of the Godwin “family business:” running England. But whilst Harold was King in waiting Tostig abused his position and ran the place like a cheap drug baron on the make. Harold had a hard choice to make: uphold the famous Godwin clan solidarity in favour of his brother against the locals and landowners; or play to a wider constituency and reign little Tostig back in.
Harold chose the latter, but Tostig fled abroad to Scandinavia where out of pique he helped ferment a claim to the English throne by the most infamous and savage general of the day, the Viking Harold Hardrada.
Urged on by Tostig, Hardrada raised a powerful Viking army and even as William the Bastard lay waiting becalmed in France, in late September 1066 Hardrada invaded northern England, intent on the throne, accompanied by the vengeful Tostig.
The Northern Saxon Earls disobeyed Harold’s orders and joined battle with the heathen Viking horde at Fulford. It was brave, but foolish. The pagan axes cut them and their forces down. The Norsemen took back their old capital of Jorvik (York) and felt safe. But Harold force marched his elite Huscarls 200 miles up the old Roman road on foot from London in 4 days, gathering the amateur Fyrd as he went. On the fifth day he drew up his troops in battle order at Tadcaster, relieved York, marched on, and found most of Hardrada’s men – and Tostig – lazing unprepared at Stamford Bridge. It is a quiet little village now with a couple of decent pubs. On that day, 25th September 1066, it was the scene of terrible combat and slaughter. By evening the heathen Norsemen were almost annihilated, and both Hardrada and Tostig lay dead.
But almost as soon as the battle was over, news of the Bastard’s landing arrived. Harold had to do it all again, and more. Another 200 mile forced march back to London and then on again (I did tell him to rest and wait, but poor Harold had his reasons). There could be no help from the Northern Earls now, and the remaining army – particularly his elite Huscarls – was sorely depleted and exhausted. And really that is why, ultimately, Harold lost at Hastings. Or, as Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts it so poignantly why the “Frenchmen had possession of the place of slaughter.”
Thus, the feud between brothers changed the course of English history for ever.
Now to modern times.
I watched the finale of the Labour leadership contest with some little interest. There was a particular moment after the result had been announced when “Millibandias” senior – Banana Man – stood mechanically clapping his sibling’s triumph. I am sure I am not alone in thinking he appeared utterly ashen, shocked, and stunned. It was like looking at a man who had turned up at the church expecting to marry Cheryl Cole, only to discover that she had come out as gay and eloped with a bridesmaid and all the wedding presents. Disappointed is not the word.
A common suggestion about politics is that it should be about policies, not personalities. It is a particular slogan of the Left, and often of those who have either no personality, or an unattractive one.
It is also utterly misconceived, stupid, muddle headed, and largely wrong.
Of course policy is a factor. But from Cicero to Clinton, Sulla to Blair, politics always has and always will be the province of raw, visceral emotion. Of class and tribe. Of the mob, and command of the mob. Of personalities that attract, beguile or repel a particular constituency. Of advocacy, of envy and of greed for power and influence. Of lust (all that power, dear brothers and sisters – I am told there’s nothing like it). Of jealousy. Of those we (whoever “we” are) instinctively cheer and love and those whom “we” instantly loathe, distrust and despise. Can one separate Thatcher’s policies from the personality? Was it policy that gave Blair three terms? Which one? Or was it that he “seemed a pretty straight kind of guy?” Why did the British respond so poorly to the all powerful Stats-Meister Brown? Because he was stupid? Or because of the unerring sense of a dour, vengeful Calvinist bully?
To hell with “policy.” It plays its part. But it’s raw gut instinct and emotion that drives men and women to the ballot box and, occasionally, the barricades.
To return to the matter in hand, fratricide has form. It always causes trouble. Let’s get to the meat of it. Banana man was Big Brother, ex foreign secretary, and the heir apparent. Head of the Family. Freudian father. From his perspective, all he had to do was be patient and play his cards right. Cleggaron and the ConDem alliance would take the flack for the inevitable hard, hard cuts on the way. Labour could rebound and step back into power on the back of that. It was all there, laid out like a tantalisingly real mirage, maybe, just maybe a couple of years away if things went right and the coalition fell apart.
Consider what it would feel like. You will be Party Leader. One election away from The Prize. No 10. Weekends at Chequers. Your wife, at night, Lady Macbeth like, is whispering, urging you on to your Glory. The Glory that you deserve. The Glory that at you have earned with all those grins and handshakes and putting up with the hoi polloi with their chips and beer and stupidity.
The chauffeur driven cars! Addressing the UN! Saving the World from climate change!
Looking still further ahead, you will be young enough to retire from The Glory as a well paid academic or media figure, or a roving ambassador like Tony perhaps, feted, dispensing wisdom to the in the Board Rooms of the City, where you will be paid so well for your well for your experience and contacts…
And then – all gone. All gone and at the hand of his brother. His younger brother. His little brother. What humiliation. What irony.
What hate will brew!
I feel for neither. Most of the Political Classes are unerring in their pursuit of power, utterly ruthless in their willingness to climb “the greasy pole” at the expense of anyone or anything. They are on the whole without morality, remorse, sympathy, conscience or any redeeming feature. New Labour was and is merely the ne plus ultra of this mindset
If either Milliband thought it could win them 10 votes and they could get away with it they would see you or I in a body bag and not pause as they consume their skinny latte and low fat humus dip.
I observed Red Ed looking on as his brother made a speech praising his younger brother, as he was required to do. In a brief moment I thought I caught a sudden understanding on Milliband junior’s face. It said simply:
“Oh my God, what have I done?”
Let me be not misunderstood. I do not believe for one second he felt personal regret at defeating his brother. I merely suspect he did not realise till then that he had made an enemy forever of his own kin. That’s what happens if you read PPE at Oxford, but never learn to think. That is what happens when life is a policy statement or a sound bite, but never the empty seat at the Christmas dinner, caused by cancer or war or bankruptcy or the trepidations of the real life of the real people.
No. I think that rather like that famous scene with Darth Vader in Star Wars, Red Ed momentarily sensed something danger he could not define. Something he is not old enough or wise enough to have contemplated till then. That someday, some way, Banana Man will repay his little brother. In spades. And between the shoulder blades.
Of course, I could be wrong. Let us see. What next for the Brothers Grim? Can’t wait for Christmas dinner – if that’s allowed in the Milliband household!
Gildas the Monk