On being Hannibal

When I was a kid, the big show on TV was the A-Team. In breaks and after school, my friends and I used to enjoy playing at being the A-Team. This mainly involved acting out invented episodes whilst running around back lanes or climbing trees down the local park.

I don’t know, Dear Reader, if you’re familiar with the A-Team but it had four main characters and (in the eyes of an eight-year-old) only two of those characters were cool. In case you’re wondering, that was John ‘Hannibal’ Smith and Templeton ‘Face’ Peck.

This of course caused difficulties. Among six or seven of us, only two could be the cool characters, two others had to be the boring characters, and the rest were the ‘baddies’. This should have led to squabbles, arguments, sulks and tantrums, but as a rule it didn’t. Eight year old minds are creative and open and we usually managed to rotate the roles in a democratic fashion before killing each other by the climbing frame.

Except for one kid. There’s always one kid isn’t there? In the case of my childhood, it was a kid I shall call Paul. Mainly because that was his name. Paul was a pain in the arse. He insisted on being Hannibal. If he couldn’t be Hannibal, he would refuse to play. And worse, he’d generally end up sabotaging our game as we played around him. So, more often than not, Paul got to be Hannibal. In primary school this was fine. We just accepted it and got on happily with our days. By the time we got to secondary school, we’d moved on from childish games and played british bulldog or football instead. We matured and grew.

Except for one kid. There’s always one kid isn’t there? And it was still Paul. By the time we were 12, he wouldn’t play football with us unless he got to be team captain. He had to be the one picking the team or he wouldn’t play. And worse, he’d generally end up interrupting and spoiling our jumpers-for-goalposts games. As 12 year-olds, we usually let him pick a team just to keep the peace. It became the norm. It was just expected that Paul would be one of the ones leading the teams. In year 8 that was fine, but by year 10 we’d moved on and matured and grown. We’d tired of Paul and left him behind. Come year 11, and Paul* was friendless and our games of football much less hassle.

My reason, Dear Reader, for this parable from my childhood, is a concern that David Miliband is morphing into my childhood friend Paul. He has wanted to be the leader of the Labour Party for a very long time. He was Tony Blair’s protegé at one time, the heir apparent after Gordon Brown, and the focal point of the plots against the previous leader. He stood for leader immediately and fought a hard campaign, only to find on Saturday that he’d been beaten to the leadership. And not only beaten, but beaten by his little brother.

That’s bound to hurt. Especially if you had never considered any other option. But to turn around and say “if I can’t be Hannibal, Captain, Leader, then I don’t want to play at all” doesn’t sit well with me at all. And that’s exactly how it looks. How dedicated to the Labour movement can David Miliband be if he’s not willing to stand for shadow cabinet and use his talents in the service of the party he apparently loves so much? Did he really not consider when he entered a contest of five equals that he might not be first among them? Did he never think through the possibility that he wouldn’t win?

I don’t want you to think this is some anti-David rant. It’s not. Although I supported Ed Miliband from the outset, I wouldn’t have been devastated if it had been Miliband Senior who had won. He is a huge talent for the party and I’d like to see him the shadow cabinet taking the fight to the Coalition. I’m not sure what he’ll do. He was obviously annoyed at Ed’s comments on Iraq in the leader’s speech and has reportedly left Manchester for London. If he leaves, he may say that he wishes to focus on continuing the work on training community leaders that he began during his election campaign.

I understand the quandary he is in. He can stay in the front line and support his brother as he has asked others to do. He would prevent a visible rift in the Miliband family. And he would follow through on all his campaign rhetoric of fighting the government. On the other hand, if he goes he prevents the media keeping the sibling rivalry alive. He stops the Blair-Brown axis turning into the Ed-Dave axis. I’d prefer to see him leading the front line and using his experience to fight the Coalition alliance and defend the people in this country who have no voice. But do I want him to stay around if he thinks so little of the party that he only wants to play if he can be Hannibal?

*Paul doesn’t show up to reunions. He lives on his own above a fish shop in Whitley Bay and works in a call centre. We do see a lot of his younger brother Ben, though. He’s the life and soul of the party. 

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