In Depth

Ten things we’ve just learned about Ed Miliband

Labour leader talked to The Guardian about snooker, Larry David and why ‘decency’ is not a weakness

No one can accuse Ed Miliband of getting an easy ride from the British press: a reasonably friendly press interview is a rare thing. Here are ten things we’ve learned from Simon Hattonstone’s extensive interview with the Labour leader in The Guardian on Saturday:

1. He looks better in real life:

Hattonstone was sitting on the train at King’s Cross London, waiting to travel to Lincoln with Team Miliband. “I see a small group strolling along [the platform], a tall, handsome man at the centre. I do a double take. It’s Ed Miliband. He looks so different from the man I’m used to seeing on TV, the one with the unfortunate facial expressions.”

2. He’s obsessed with snooker: 

Miliband, it quickly transpired, is obsessed with snooker. When Hattonstone tells him he ghost-wrote two books for Ronnie O’Sullivan, Miliband can’t believe it. “He wants to know everything: how often does he practise, is he friends with Jimmy White?” Miliband recalls watching the classic 1985 World Snooker Championship final between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis. “My dad let me stay up late. He loved snooker, too. I was desperate for Dennis Taylor to win because I thought Steve Davis was boring. It was terrible how he was called Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis, wasn’t it?”

3. He actually likes bacon sandwiches: 

Was the disastrous bacon sandwich photo-op the result of his willingness to be persuaded to do something that wasn’t natural to him?  “No!” said Miliband. “I like bacon effing sarnies. I think eating one on camera was clearly a mistake.” Was he trying to convey his secular non-Jewishness? “Nooooooo! I was about to start a long day, and I was hungry.”

4. He thinks he’s a ‘decent guy’:

Hattonstone shared a theory with Miliband - that we, the public, hate alpha-male politicians, but we don’t trust them when they aren’t alpha males. Is this a problem for him? “I don’t think decency is a weakness... I’ve got strong convictions… If people know me as a decent guy who does things his own way, I think that’s incredibly important.”

5. He worries about not seeing his family:

“Not seeing my family [his wife Justine and two sons Daniel, 5, and Sam, 4] is probably the hardest thing [while he’s on the campaign trail]. Daniel did say yesterday, ‘You’re always on the phone.’ That’s what I worry about. I don’t want to be an absent dad. That’s a challenge in this job and it’s a challenge if I’m prime minister.”

6. He’s a Larry David fan:

Hattonstone, who shared several train journeys with Miliband in the course of writing his Guardian article, found himself talking to the Labour leader one morning about great television comedies. Not The Nine O’Clock News was a Miliband favourite, as was Larry David. “What happened to series nine?” Miliband wanted to know. “They said they were going to do a ninth series of Curb Your Enthusiasm.” 

7. The split with his brother David was painful:

“I knew it was a big decision [to stand against David for the Labour leadership] at the time, but it was an even bigger decision. It had bigger ramifications for my family, and for my relationship with David, than I had anticipated.” Had things improved? “It’s a massive, massive amount better than it was.”

8. He’s resilient:

Hattonstone asked him about the 2014 Labour conference speech when Miliband forgot to mention the national deficit. “Well, quite rightly I kicked myself. But I’m pretty resilient. Kipling was right about triumph and disaster, and the gap between the two being very narrow. The times I have felt less enthusiastic is when I feel, ‘Is that actually what you believe?’ You’ve got to do what you believe. That’s my lodestar.” 

9. His mum and dad were opposites:

His father, the socialist intellectual Ralph Miliband, “wasn’t a particularly sociable person. He was quite… fixed in his views… He took his views and where you stood on the political spectrum incredibly seriously.” His mother Marion was very different. “My mum was warm, patient, selfless” - he had to correct himself – “is warm, patient and selfless. I’d say her politics are more grounded in the here and now.”

10. He’s now an even bigger Ronnie O’Sullivan fan:

At virtually every meeting between the two men, Miliband asked Hattonstone if he’d heard from Ronnie O’Sullivan. Finally one morning, on the train to Leeds, Hattonstone handed Miliband his phone. “It’s not?” Ed said. “Hello? Hello, Ronnie? Yes, it’s Ed Miliband here. I am such a fan… Yes, I’ve always loved snooker… How are you doing?… And when’s the World Championship?… Do you remember the Steve Davis versus Dennis Taylor final?” This went on for some time until a beaming Miliband handed Hattenstone his phone: “What a lovely man. He’s so nice! He said we could have a game.” 

Read The Guardian interview in full

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