I have an idea in my mind’s eye of what certain politicians might have been like as teenagers. In my imagination, Ed Miliband was a gawky youth in a green anorak who attended Labour Young Socialist meetings and didn’t have any girlfriends — or any other interests for that matter.
Listening to his Desert Island Discs, I realised that I was pretty much spot on. As a youth, Miliband was indeed obsessed with politics (as was his entire family). He was not musical, a fact confirmed by presenter Kirsty Young, who was forced to listen to him singing along to A-ha, one of his choices. He also confessed that he did not have a girlfriend until after his graduation from Oxford.
This might have had something to do with his fashion sense, as he recalls wearing a purple top and white trousers to a school disco.
But although he might be the ultimate political nerd — his opening song choices were Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa) and Jerusalem — he certainly showed himself to be dedicated to his family.
Miliband described the journey of his Jewish refugee parents. His mother was a child Holocaust survivor who came to Britain alone at the age of 14. And his father, Marxist academic Ralph, travelled to Britain with his father on the last boat from Ostend in 1940. He did not share Ralph’s Marxism but was clearly influenced by him. “Unlike my father, I don’t think you can abolish capitalism but it throws up injustices and I want to banish injustice.”
His father clearly loved his children but was not the most practical of dads. Miliband remembered as a 12-year-old having to tell him that he should really heat up the jar of pasta sauce before pouring it on to the spaghetti.
Not unreasonably, Young was keen to explore Miliband’s relationship with brother David, whom he followed to Oxford to read politics, philosophy and economics, followed into Parliament, followed into the cabinet and then defeated him in the Labour leadership battle. Miliband put a brave face on it, saying that although he and David were speaking, there were clearly still some fences to be mended. Had the relationship healed? asked Young. “It’s healing,” Miliband replied. Edith Piaf’s Je ne Regrette Rien was among his choices and he had no regrets about contesting the Labour leadership. “I tend to think that you regret the things you don’t do rather than the things you do.”
When a teenager, he used to irritate his father by sneaking off to watch fictional capitalists the Ewings in the TV series, Dallas. He also spoke of his love of the Boston Redsox — he began watching baseball when his family lived for a while in the US.
It came as no surprise to learn that he is not the kind of man who can be relied upon as a Mr Fix-It around the house. So how would he survive on the island? He thought he might just be OK if he was permitted an Indian takeaway once a week as his luxury. And there was me thinking it would be his green anorak.
Ed’s Desert Island MUSIC
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika
Ballad of Joe Hill — Paul Robeson
Take on Me – A-ha
Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
Angels – Robbie Williams
Change of Time – Josh Ritter
Je ne Regrette Rien – Edith Piaf