You failed as David's keeper, Ed. Here's what Cain did next

By Norman Lebrecht, January 19, 2012
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It's difficult to feel sorry for Ed Milliband. Even Labour diehards cannot suppress a smirk as over-eager Ed slips on his own banana skins. When he rings Diane Abbott on live TV to berate her for a Twitter error, the smirk turns to a smile. And when, a day later, his own "Blackbuster" tweet gives racial offence, chuckles are heard all over Westminster.

His blue-sky thinker Lord Glasman announces that Ed has "no strategy, no narrative and little energy". And the leader pops up on a relaunch with phrases like "there is another point which speaks to my agenda about responsible capitalism".

It gets worse. This week, Mr Miliband performed a perfect Nureyev-like pirouette. Instead of fighting Tory cuts, Labour now agrees to a freeze on spending - including public wages - but will try to find a better way of allocating scarce resources. Within 24 hours, two of the biggest unions - the very unions whose support propelled Ed into office – were writing in the Guardian of their dismay at the u-turn and threatening to disaffiliate from the party. MPs spoke of "overwhelming disappointment" among party members, and it doesn't get much worse than that.

Hapless or hopeless, Ed Miliband can simply do no right - and I think we all know why.

Ed lacks points of reference to life

You don't have to be a Bible scholar to grasp that stiffing your brother is wrong. Rabbis go into painful contortions to explain away Jacob's deception of Esau with a mess of pottage, and even Jeffrey Archer, slippery as sin, cannot quite exonerate Cain over Abel. Doing your brother out of his birthright is about as low as you can sink on the moral barometer. Doing him out of his life's dream is unconscionable.

The most devious efforts of Labour's spin doctors - and BBC4s unmissable Danish political drama "Borgen" rightly credits London as the world capital of the dark arts - will never erase the memory of that day at the 2010 Labour Party conference when Ed, with a grin, took from David all the older brother had ever wanted.

Raised by doctrinaire Jewish Marxists, the brothers were likely never told bible stories over Friday night dinner and probably think them unedifying. Yet, even unbelievers accept that there may be lessons to be learned from folk legend and Ed would do well to pay attention to the Cain story if he is to extricate himself from present agonies. There are bookies all over the UK offering odds on his demise and a pair of avid Balls, Mr and Mrs, anticipating his fall. Reading the papers over breakfast cannot be much fun. What Ed needs is a back-to-basic course in core texts.

The story of Cain has inspired few great poems and no grand operas. It's a narrative of sibling jealousy in which Cain, failing to please the Creator with a vegetarian offering, goes into a rage at the divine acceptance of Abel's meat dish. So he picks a fight in an empty field and kills innocent Abel. Asked by Heaven where the lad might be, he replies: "Am I my brother's keeper?'

That's about as far as nursery teachers read. But early commentaries reveal an extraordinary transformation in Cain after this. According to the Midrash, once Cain finally confesses to the killing he becomes a perfect penitent. He goes into exile with a mark on his brow, raises a family and builds a city. He names it after his son, Enoch, who "walks with God"and is of such noble character that several Christian churches include him in their calendar of saints. Enoch is a credit to his father, erasing his disgrace.

How did that come about? The 12th century scholar David Kimchi, one of the great influences on the English Bible, wrote that Cain was personally instructed by the Creator in the art of repentance. He becomes a symbol of hope to mankind that no sin it too great to be unforgiven.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe reflected that Cain was the very model of the ba'al teshuvah, the person who wants to be reborn, fault-free. The road to repentance runs straight: he leaves home, gets married, does good deeds and finds fulfilment in his children's achievements.

Might that be Ed's salvation?

The trouble with Ed is that he lacks points of reference to life and legend. Politics has been his education from nursery school up and, apart from two terms teaching economics at Harvard, he has no concept of a world in which most people get up in the morning and go to bed at night without worrying, or knowing, who is prime minister. I suspect the reason ambulencemen are trained to put that question to trauma victims is to make sure they don't have a Miliband in the cab.

For want of a third dimension, Ed is struggling to escape from the worst kind of nightmare - one of his own making. There is, however, a simple solution. Ed Miliband will look much better to history and his bathroom mirror if he quits now as leader, quickly before he's sacked, enters political exile and applies his fine analytical skills to some higher social purpose.

Any half-qualified Hampstead shrink will assure him that life will be much happier once he has addressed his fratricidal error, apologised and made amends. If his repentance is sincere, he can still make a comeback ten years from now. And what's the alternative? If things continue as they are, there's not much hope for Ed. The truly radical, redemptive option for the Labour leader would be to adopt the life of Cain.

    Last updated: 11:39am, January 19 2012