“Did you ever get up in parliament when you felt awful? Like you were about to drop dead?” The opening few minutes of Ed Miliband’s weekly podcast, Reasons to be Cheerful, are always like this: a slap-bass theme tune reminiscent of Seinfeld’s, followed by the former Labour leader and his co-host, Geoff Lloyd, “lightly teasing” each other, in ways that rarely make the toes curl because Miliband doesn’t sound gauche.
In the latest episode, he told an anecdote about rushing around hospitals looking for steroids the night before an important PMQs, because he was losing his voice. “People would have said I was having a breakdown,” he noted, before adding, without rancour, “which I was.”
It’s during the interviews with guests (Victoria Budson on equal pay, Emmannuelle Cosse on rent control) that Miliband excels. Most recently, there was Sadiq Khan on the subject of air pollution (hold me back!). “Yesterday, I spent time with Paddington Bear,” said Khan, narrowing his eyes. “He flees Peru because of an earthquake. A metaphor for modern London!” This cliché Ed allowed, but he soon went in subtly for the kill: “Tell us about this ultra-low-emission zone again.” He got Khan to go over stats concerning pollution in the capital several times and in different ways until what was said was distinct and useful – until a point had actually been made.
Miliband is prone to saying, “Oh, crumbs,” and paraphrasing slave abolitionists (“The arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice…”), which is endearingly Charles M Schulz. It goes to show how politics can disguise what a person is like, while presenting podcasts cannot. In politics, you’re on the defensive pretty much all of the time, barking, aghast. Presenting, there are fewer places to hide. Listening to Miliband reminds you that only two classes of political leader exist: the kind you grumble about but has the authority to keep it together for a time (Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, David Cameron), and everybody else. How savage and distant the difference.
Ed Miliband is a talented podcast host. As compliments go, perhaps it isn’t the greatest in the world, and God knows it’s a lot easier than running the country. But really, he is.
This article appears in the 25 Oct 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Poor Britannia