Wednesday 13 December 2017

Why can't our political siblings battle like Britain's Milibands?

OH BROTHER: A bit of competition would spice up life at Leinster House

David Miliband tried to make it all sweetness and light when he withdrew from the Labour Party's shadow cabinet following his younger brother's victory in the leadership race -- but anyone who has observed sibling rivalry will assume he was actually just walking off in a huff.

And Irish observers will be wondering why we don't get similar battles between political siblings in this country.

The Lenihans, from Mary O'Rourke and her brother Brian Sr to Conor and Brian Jr have never played out sibling jealousies in public. Neither did the Mitchells, Gay and the late Jim, the Aherns, Bertie and Noel or the Kitts, Tom and Aine or the Brutons, John and Richard.


Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that they haven't been competing for the same prizes.

Yes, they've all been in politics -- but they have been fighting for different seats and different roles.

Imagine how it might have been if former Fine Gael leader John Bruton and little brother Richard were battling for the leadership at the same time.

That's what happened with the Milibands.

They went for the same big prize -- leadership of the Labour Party. And it has to be extraordinarily galling for David, the elder brother, that Ed, the young whippersnapper, dashed onto the pitch and stole his ball when, in the natural order of things, it should have been his.

He can't take the ball home -- it's Ed's now -- so all he could do was walk off the pitch and sulk.

Many prominent psychologists say the position of children in the family affects their outlook on the world.

The eldest is King of the Hill, fawned over by parents and other doting relatives -- until the next one comes along.

Then the eldest is knocked off the throne while the newly arrived rival is lauded by all and sundry. The eldest may react either by competing with the new arrival or by deciding to protect and care for the younger child.

For the younger child, things are very different. If the younger child is a middle child he or she gets to wear hand-me-downs and to see the next arrival getting all the attention while the oldest one has the status. The youngest child, in turn, has all the others to compete with and may spend a lifetime trying to out-do them notwithstanding that he or she is usually the "pet" of the family.

So, back to the Milibands.

There's older brother David as heir apparent to Gordon Brown, so secure he even turned down opportunities to challenge for the leadership earlier -- and when he embarks on what might have felt like a victory lap what happens?

Little brother Ed scoots onto the field shouting "I want to play too." And because it's all in public and because it wouldn't work anyway, he can't just give him a kick in the shins and send him home.


So it must have been with some bitterness that David went to the backbenches after the unthinkable happened and the young lad stole his prize. Psychologically speaking, this thing isn't over yet. There's no way David can avoid being deeply dismayed by the turn of events.

And there may be no way Ed can stop competing with David -- that dynamic is too deeply embedded.

In fact, he might have to persuade David to come into the shadow cabinet just so that he can compete with him. Maybe we could do with a bit of that kind of sibling rivalry in Leinster House.

Padraig O'Morain is accredited as a counsellor by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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