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Meeting the Milibands. By Noah Sin

by on April 29, 2012

Last month, I had the rare opportunity to meet the Milibands – David and Ed – the most influential brothers in British Politics.

In mid-March, Labour launched a youth conference on jobs at the University of Warwick. Frankly, I had no idea about the event being a ‘conference’, let alone being an occasion for Mr. Miliband to announce his new jobs plan for Labour. Youth members were told that they could meet Ed Miliband and the shadow cabinet, no more than that. Anyway, that promise was fulfilled, and by chance, I had the bonus of sitting amongst the shadow cabinet, plus asking Ed Miliband a question.

Sitting next to Labour’s rising star

Sitting next to Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was a pleasant surprise. “Hi, I’m Rachel Reeves.” She made a polite but casual introduction. But of course, for Labour youth members like myself, she needs no introduction. Elected in 2010 and now already in a crucial position in opposition, she is one of the quickest rising stars of the Labour Party. I asked her how her job was going. She seems to be enjoying it, although it was getting “pretty busy ahead of the budget.”

As expected, much of Miliband’s speech was reported by the media. However, the unreported Q&A deserved much more attention. First, there was a young member who demanded an apology claiming that Rachel Reeves advertised an unpaid internship, an issue Labour Students fought against. (Not to forget I was sitting right next to her, rather awkwardly by this point.) Secondly, there were several ‘nasty questions’ by his own party’s youth member on the leader’s politics. For example, there was a trade union member who accused Miliband of twisting Keynesian economics, criticising his stance on spending cuts.

Q&A and the unreported ‘nasty’ questions

As for myself, I posted to him the question I asked Alistair Darling. (See previous article) “What did Alistair Darling say?” Ed responded quickly. “He says he likes you!” I responded even quicker. Although it was not an honest answer, it got the crowd laughing. “Well done!” Said Reeves with a smile.

In the answer, Ed Miliband admitted the party paid a “heavy price” on taking the decisions on spending cuts and dealing with the deficit. But the party must also recognise that it will take time before the public listens to Labour again. The message was largely similar to other Labour politicians I encountered recently – the party line. On that note, he ended his performance of the day. It was a decent one, as he left the stage with a largely content Young Labour crowd cheering him.

Mr. D. Miliband

Two weeks later, I had the privilege of meeting David Miliband, who happened to be at Labour’s Victoria Street headquarters, attending a phone-canvassing session with members for Ken Livingstone’s campaign for Mayor of London.

David was by far the preferred leader for me, and I believe, a large part of the party. Unlike Ed, he looked like a prime minister from the outset. This is important in modern politics; just take a look at the contrast between Gordon Brown and David Cameron in the 2010 election. Indeed, from meeting him personally, he was very confident as an individual.

But I also sensed that he was more than a politician in the Labour Party; he is a celebrity. As we carried on ringing up thousands of households across London to annoy them with our political message in the middle of their dinner, all of us were wondering where David Miliband was in the office. He was popular, respected and admired. Members, young and old, were asking for photos and autographs with him. Perhaps, treating him like a pop star is a bit too much, I thought. Oh well, I got my photo and autograph anyhow.

My take on the Milibands

After meeting both Miliband brothers, I have reached my own conclusions on them. Although Ed reminds me of Wallace Gromit, one can tell he is serious and passionate when he is speaking. At the same time, Labour members were perhaps right to think that Ed is more ‘human’ and down to earth than David in the leadership election. In my experience, David seems more like a boss, ensuring that everything was done efficiently.

At the jobs conference, the general feeling was members from the left and right of the party were not all content with where Ed Miliband is leading them. The trouble is they could not expect the return of David Miliband either, who has ‘quitted’ frontbench politics.

It is no wonder why members at the conference looked up to Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary. But will Ms. Cooper (and her husband), an ally so close to Ed Miliband, launch a coup in this tribal party? It is a fantasy for many Labour members fed up with Ed Miliband. But in the foreseeable future, it will remain a fantasy.

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