Ambition for Breakfast

Ralph Miliband’s 1977 Marxism and Politics is dedicated to his sons David and Edward – both of whom now stand an excellent chance of winning the Labour leadership contest.

What did they have for breakfast in that household?

Scriptwriters who write the inevitable docudrama about how a left-wing historian raised these Premier League politicians will try to recreate the dinnertime conversations.

It is fascinating that his offspring did not follow in the master theoretician’s footsteps but instead jumped headlong into the political arena.

Each brother could have thrived in academia. David followed his time at Oxford with a spell at MIT, while Ed took a break from politics to go to Harvard.

Democratic politics is a rough business defined by fierce competition and constant insecurity, and contrasts with the comparative coziness of a tenured academic life.
But the Miliband home was a place where the cocktail of confidence, ambition and sense of purpose was stirred.

Similarly, the celebrated London-based Renaissance scholar Evelyn Welch did not coax her daughter into the academy. Instead, Florence Welch picked up a microphone and fused art and pop music in her own blaze of creativity with the 2009 album Lungs.

The Milibands’ father’s writing documents a world in which Marxism was a vital political force and theorists argued over whether reform or revolution was the best course.

His sons are no doubt deeply proud of their father but they do not seem diehard disciples.

Each was a central figure in the modernisation of the Labour party; David was Tony Blair’s head of policy and Ed was a special advisor to Gordon Brown. Their work helped bring the bourgeoisie of Middle England into the party of the red flag.
But what they have taken from their father is a belief that rather than sitting back and watching the narrative unfold it is possible to influence the shape of the story.

A similar brand of lightning crackled around the home of Lancashire cricketer Neville Neville, whose sons Gary and Phil are two of the outstanding footballers of their generation – and whose daughter Tracey set the world of netball alight.

In a way, this is a more remarkable achievement of fatherhood than raising his own cricket team. Rather than imparting the skills of a particular sport, he has passed on the personal qualities of determination and discipline.

Great parents do not try and duplicate their careers in their children or push them to pursue their own unfilled ambitions. But they can give them the belief that in a world of six billion-plus people they have the chance to make an extraordinary contribution.

If UK politics, pop culture and sport seem underwhelming, perhaps the solution is not to bemoan the ineptitude of today’s managerial class but to raise some kids and suggest they should have a go at doing better.

A Thursday column


You might enjoy this football chant to the tune of David Bowie's Rebel Rebel:

Neville Neville, they're in defence
Neville Neville, their future's immense
Neville Neville, they ain't half bad
Neville Neville, the name of their dad