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Miliband’s sense of humour failure over relatively helpful question

27 May 2014

Ed Miliband has just delivered his post-European and local elections comeback speech in Thurrock, to show that he’s not afraid to confront the challenges that Labour still faces in the run-up to 2015. I’ll post on the details of the speech and what it means shortly, but one exchange in the Q&A told us quite a lot not just about Miliband but politicians in general. Here is a video clip:

And here is the transcript:

Journalist: ‘Peter Dominiczak from the Telegraph. You’ve been attacked in your party for being too wordy and too academic. I wondered if you could give us here today just one word that defines your leadership and tells voters what makes you different and sets you apart from the other party leaders?’

[Miliband rolls eyes and sighs]

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Now, of course journalists are annoying and of course some of the questions we ask suggest that we’d be complete pains at the supper table or in the pub. But our job is not to bow and scrape around political leaders, or to befriend them and make their lives easy with deferential questions and sycophantic copy. We can leave that to their party websites, their colleagues writing fatuous op-eds or parroting lines to take on the airwaves and producing party political broadcasts with emotional backing music. We are not here to ask Ed Miliband whether he agrees that tackling the cost-of-living crisis affecting hardworking families up and down the country is an excellent campaign for Labour. Our job is to be inconvenient for the people running the country or those who want to run the country on behalf of the public.

Peter’s question wasn’t even a cruel one. It wasn’t about bacon sandwiches. It wasn’t about Miliband’s shopping bill. It wasn’t a pop quiz of local Labour councillors. It repeated briefings not from journalists but from Labour MPs who worry that the man who will lead them into the next election is too wordy and academic, and then gave him an opportunity to sum up his values in one word. Many politicians would welcome such an opportunity for the quickest soundbite ever, but the Labour leader rolled his eyes.

Miliband, by way of sticking two fingers up to Peter, chose two words, and then a very wordy explanation of what those words, One Nation, meant to him. His reaction betrayed a curious sense of humour failure. Miliband is probably the most humble and apparently decent of the three main party leaders, and doesn’t mind a bit of self-deprecating humour at times. But while Jon Cruddas seemed to find the question very funny indeed, chuckling away behind his leader, Miliband didn’t. His physical response to the question can be summed up very easily in one word: precious.

Those who’ve worked with political leaders over the years recognise this as a problem that all those at the top face: they assume that anything that isn’t the Serious and Substantial Subject they’ve chosen for discussion is merely fluff.

Actually, as Lord Ashcroft’s polling of marginal seats, which was largely reassuring for Labour, showed us at the weekend, Ed Miliband’s appeal to voters is a serious and substantial subject that the party is interested in. Journalists who ask questions about this needn’t base them on their own assessment of Miliband, but one offered by voters in polls and Miliband’s colleagues in briefings. If Miliband wants to roll his eyes at anyone, it should be his colleagues who are sneaking out and telling newspapers that they think he’s a bit weird, not the newspapers who report it.

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Show comments
  • Jabez Foodbotham


  • SemiPartisanSam

    By my count, Ed Miliband spoke 114 words in his reply summarising what “One Nation” means – and yet he said absolutely nothing. There’s no conviction, ideological interest or passion behind it – just a few focus group-approved phrases about everyone contributing and fulfilling their potential:

    People are saying that this is bold, that it shows Ed Miliband is refusing to be swayed by UKIP’s election victory. I say that it’s a weak, indecisive move from a leader who either has no convictions of his own or whose convictions are so radically left-wing that he has to restrain himself from talking about the for fear of spooking the electorate.

  • George_Arseborne

    Again the Tories are really confuse up to the extend that they do not know that in Britain, it is a parliamentary voting system not Presidential.
    Of course if you ask who looks most prime ministerial, the obvious answer will be Cameron and the simple truth is, he is the Prime Minister.
    So why do the Tories waste all their time talking about personality? This hasn`t help and it will not help their course.
    The good thing is Milliband does not care about what people say in terms of his personality and more so he is aware that the Media does not like him and he is up to the challenge.

  • EnemyoftheState

    Watching the election fallout from China, EotS is filled with pleasure at the cold shower the Westminster “elites” have just taken. UKIP is unprofessional and God help them with responsibility for their 2015 Manifesto being given to a man with little to no experience, but cheers for it anyway, and God bless it. The old party system simply must die for there to be any ‘semblance of representation of the people in Parliament. Politicians are generally beneath contempt and Miliband is most assuredly one of them.

  • Thats_news

    A real politician, a leader in waiting, would have said: “Well, Peter, I’m glad you asked me that question. I’d have to say that I was determined. Determined to re-introduce a sense of fair play, a sense of social justice and furthermore, I would etc., etc.”

    But instead Mr Ed showed himself up for what he is, a petulant, ever-sulky 16-year-old, smarting that he never was and never will be as popular and as well-liked as his older brother.

    He is not leadership material. Why? Sulks too much, thinks too much of himself.

  • Veronica

    Have we heard how young Ed is going to take Newark from those beastly other parties?

  • Chingford Man

    “But our job is not to bow and scrape around political leaders, or to
    befriend them and make their lives easy with deferential questions and
    sycophantic copy.”

    I’m sorry, Isabel, but I thought that was precisely your job.

    Every time I read something from Hodges, Kirkup, Brogan, etc. slagging someone/something or building up someone/something, I ask myself, “Why is this appearing here and now? Whose interests are being advanced?”

    I no longer trust the MSM hacks to scrutinise our rulers when they are so dependent on the same people.

    As usual, Peter Hitchens has whacked the nail on the head.

  • TRAV1S

    He doesn’t listen, he can’t even answer a question properly. He is just like his father, he hates Britain.

  • George Scoresby

    You think voters are watching this crap?

  • John Smith

    Where was the Labour Cllr accused of Benefit Fraud? Did they bury her?

  • Michael H Kenyon

    I think regular pressure on him by vox pop (no plants needed) will soon have him doing a Rochdale.

  • Paddy

    He obviously thought it was beneath him!

    Chuka also plays this same trick. Hoping you will be embarrassed and won’t ask another question.

    Miliband is sly. He’s like the kid in the playground who went and told the teacher.

    Never trust him. Remember Mrs Duffy. Miliband was up there the day after behind everyone’s back.

  • Grumpy

    Miliband gave a very long speech about how Labour was going to take note of people’s concerns over immigration, how Labour was going to pay more attention to people’s concerns about the influence of the EU, how Labour was going to implement a programme to allay people’s disenchantment with Westminster politicians–no one in his audience of tame androids bothered to ask him, and neither did the assembled journalists—then why the F**K didn’t you say this before you got the kicking of your short and futile life by the people that you have been denigrating for the last six months?

    • Agrippina

      Immigration, his views are very changeable he said: ‘Some people will tell you that closing ourselves off from the world will deliver for working people. It won’t. It will harm working people.

      ‘Think of all the jobs here that still rely on trade. That’s why our future lies in the EU’.

      Does he think that we can’t trade with the EU and the rest of the world if we exit. Does he know that we traded perfectly well prior to 1973 and joining the EU. The man is a fool.

      Best to vote UKIP at every opportunity.

    • Andy

      Ah yes but when his lips move you know he is telling lies.

      • EnemyoftheState

        Or eating bacon.

  • Peter Wilson

    “Peter” who asked the question about immigration is former Labour Councillor for Belhus ward Peter Maynard. Belhus ward is where labour lost to UKIP.

  • Tom

    After his comment about never leaving the EU under Labour I would have thought that question should have been so easy to answer… QUISLING.

  • Steve Lloyd

    Exactly. And a lot of it came from rags like this. We will not forget, we will not forgive. The MSM and it’s LibLabCon-spiracy cheerleaders can rot in h*ll. Vote UKIP always.

  • Smithersjones2013

    We can leave that to their party websites, their colleagues writing fatuous op-eds or parroting lines to take on the airwaves

    Has Izzy bothered reading some of her blogs articles (about the Tories) recently?

    PS A Labour politician with a sense of humour? I don’t believe it. Few enough have any sort of individual personality to speak of…….

    • Makroon

      Cruddas evidently has one.

  • bugshead

    He has to put those eyes away, they don’t do him any favours.

  • Denis_Cooper

    “… you’ve got to do the right thing for the country …”

    He doesn’t give a toss about the country …

  • sandy winder

    If anyone suggested that Ed would make a good leader I would say ‘Pigs might fly right into his mouth’.

    • DavidL

      Not if said pigs were bacon sandwiches, apparently

  • Swiss Bob

    He’s a bully, he believes he has all the answers and thinks he’s a genious so any impertinent questions are an affront.

    If he ever gets into power he will be even worse than Brown.

    • DWWolds

      Well said!

    • Inverted Meniscus

      Well said. He reminds me of Gordon Scum Brown.

  • Agrippina

    He is so odd, when he was elected to lead his party, commentators were saying he wasn’t the ‘finished article’ but would grow into the role.

    Alas, they were wrong. He has diminished over time and seems to become more peculiar. Sometimes the kindest thing is for friends/family to tell the truth and tell him to move on, just like Brown and Balls none of them are leaders.

    • Fergus Pickering

      No politicians except Robin Cook and Kenneth Clark have been other than dire on Deset Island Discs.

      • Agrippina

        Kenneth Clark did present a very interesting show playing fab jazz records. He had good taste and very knowledgable about that genre. Thanks for the tip, I will listen to his Desert appearance based on your view.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Glad to be of service.

      • Kitty MLB

        Robin Cook was dire was he. The ladies seem to have liked him.
        Maybe he had a twinkly eyed charm about him. Maybe.. No I am
        not doing to say it.. the lips are sealed.

        • Fergus Pickering

          No. He was good. He chose classical records he liked.

          • Kitty MLB

            Oh sorry, I misread. Robin Cook was known
            for his sense of humour and sharp wit.

            • Hexhamgeezer

              But he couldn’t operate a toaster. I had to show him when he and his so soi disant clivver assistants struggled ‘manfully’ to work it.

        • Andy

          Surely bit like shagging with a garden gnome.

  • Kitty MLB

    Ed Miliband most certainly is not trustworthy or decent. He was bounced on the knee
    of Karl Marx as a baby. Stabbed his much nicer older brother in the back, so no loyalty
    what so ever. He has made some very nasty remarks about David Cameron not caring for disabled children ( that has been mentioned by a gentleman below)
    He said this knowing David Cameron Lost a disabled dear little boy.
    He causes division has not a cue in that empty head of his.
    And Socialists do not do humour, they never have, nor do any extremists.

    • Makroon

      Hmmm, don’t know about the “much nicer older brother” bit.
      That one is seriously weird too, have you forgotten the banana, and his teenage crush on Hillary Clinton ?

      • Thats_news

        Hang on! Hillary Clinton was quite hot!

        • Roger Clague

          Hillary, who never was hot, ask Bill, got David a good job. Much better than Ed’s management of decline of Liebore.

  • Aberrant_Apostrophe

    Ed must be really depressed if he needs those large white lights to treat that nasty bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka the ‘election defeat’.

  • Samuel Johnson

    I respect him for not giving a glib answer as Cameron or Clegg would have done. We should encourage politicians who think in sentences rather than soundbites (or even single words). Whether those sentences are right is another matter.

    • Makroon

      Wot, no soundbites !? That’s Farage excluded then.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    I can think of a word.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    So Millipede thinks you media types are clueless muppets, lass?

    Well, that’s one thing he and everybody else agree on, at least.

  • Hexhamgeezer


    • Alexsandr


  • RavenRandom

    I don’t see what makes Miliband any more decent than Cameron or Clegg. Of the three I know he’s the only one that knifed his brother in the back. Judge their actions, not words. In which case the word Miliband should have come up with is “fratricide”.

  • wycombewanderer

    I wondered if you could give us here today just one word that defines your leadership”


  • UniteAgainstSocialism

    If Ed Miliband stabs his own brother in the back in order to get himself into power, imagine what he will do to the rest of the country who aren’t his flesh and blood.

    Still, Ed “The bacon Butty” Miliband is the best recruiting sergeant UKIP could ask for

    • the viceroy’s gin

      No, that would be Dave.

    • Kitty MLB

      Ed Miliband is the best recruiting sergeant for a majority Conservative government. Anyone who assumed there will be n difference between the Conservatives and Labour will soon realise they are wrong when they see
      the horses of the apocalypse flying across the sky at the announcement that
      moribund is Prime Minister, Heaven Forfend.

    • Alexsandr

      perhaps i would have agreed with you. then I heard Blair on Toady this moaning. Twas just after 8 if you have iplayer.

      and ken clark just before 8. apparently its the voters fault for having the wrong views.

      • Makroon

        Ha-ha, like it. Toady certainly know how to pick ’em.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      After the way New Labour shafted Britain at the social and cultural level, they should be unelectable for literally decades. “If you want an illiterate third-world fundamentalist Islamic extremist for a neighbour, …”

  • Colin

    Can you imagine how this clown would react if he was subjected to the kind of bigotry Farage has had to put up with ?

    • Rossspeak

      But anyone from the “right” has to accept bigotry and slander as a matter of course.
      If you are from the “left” – let alone from any racial, religious or in any way ” disfavoured minority” – or an eco-warrior – then your policies and views are , of course,beyond reproach – and any criticism of these viewpoints is tantamount to heresy.

    • telemachus

      You and Isabel are doing just that
      His One Nation answer et seq was magnificent

      • Makroon

        But not as magnificent as the answer from ‘the charismatic one’.
        He apparently answered: “Post neo-classical endogenous growth theory”.

      • Dogzzz

        It was magnificent indeed. Nothing can sum up labour’s magnificent scale of their utter failure at mathematics than asking him in one word to answer a question and him give 2 words. Labour maths. Thinking two is the same quantity as one. That explains the £165 billion pound black hole in their finances in 2009 alone.

      • EnemyoftheState

        One Nation under bacon.

  • humourme

    He isnt decent. He stabbed his brother in the back to get his current position. He spends his time creating bad economic policies such as the energy price freeze – a good sound bite, bad for the country. He’s weird and fundamentally unpleasant.

    • Leo McKinstry

      Couldn’t agree more. What on earth is so “decent” about Miliband. This is an ambitious apparatchik whose very first job was with that Mao-worshipper Tony Benn, who spent almost two decades working at the heart of the Brown Machine, who wrecked his own brother’s career purely because of his own narcissism, who has constantly indulged in childish class war against “Tory toffs” despite his own wealth and privilege, and who only this month approved perhaps the most personally vindictive party political broadcast in British history, including the disgraceful accusation that David Cameron doesn’t “care about the disabled.”

      • Mark

        Well said, that man.

        • Andy

          I agree. There is nothing at all ‘decent’ about this North London Marxist.

      • RaymondDance

        Bravo Leo!

      • Inverted Meniscus

        Mr McKinstry need to spread this message far and wide. Miliband is a disgusting, unprincipled and preposterous little man. As you say, that was the most disgusting and slanderous party political broadcast in the sad history of the Labour Party. A party of lies, lying and liars.

    • George_Arseborne

      Energy prize freeze… Bad economic policy eerrr!!!!! why has SSE done just that Mister? The brother knew from the beginning that he was going to run , all David had to doo was to up his game. Instead he thought it was his divine right to be Labour Leader. Gone were those days. Instead of being stupid by saying Ed stabbed David from behind.
      I will like you to put on your thinking cap if you have one and say Ed was courageous enough to stand up to his brother.
      This courage has been proven, through:
      * taking on the Murdoch Empire,
      * force Bob Diamond to quit,
      *Stop the Syria Massacre by David cameron and his gang,
      *Stop the ill fated Pfizer from taking over AstraZeneca,
      *Energy prize freeze started by SSE before he becomes PM in 2015, Took on *Daily Mail a Tory supporting paper.
      Mr. Humourme, those are things that courageous people does, weak people like will complain and label him as stabbing one from behind.
      Grow up mate…

  • Democratic_deficit

    Even though I can’t stand Ed Miliband and he could have acted with more humility, that was a pretty stupid question. “Use one word to sum up what you would normally say in a few paragraphs!” It’s like those really bad interview questions you get from amateur recruiters, like “name your 3 biggest weaknesses, now name your 3 biggest strengths”.

    Having said that, he could have just said something positive like “passion”, and moved straight on to the next question…

  • DavidL

    He doesn’t get any better, does he.

    • bugshead

      Oh my God, he is awful.

      And who on earth are those elderly sycophants that they wheeled into the room to ask the dumb questions ?

      • Peter Wilson

        ‘Peter’ who asked the question about immigration is a former Labour Councillor for Belhus ward in Thurrock. The meeting was packed full of Labour Party members and Labour activists bussed in especially. There were no real Thurrock folk there only the political elite and journalists.

        • Andy

          Just like a Nuremberg Rally, minus the torches.

          • Hexhamgeezer

            ………and the fashion sense :-)

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