When Ed Miliband resigned as leader of the Labour Party in May 2015, having been crushed by the David Cameron’s Conservative Party in the general election, he was widely seen as too robotic and weird to take his place on the world’s stage. Now, though, he’s having a Milinaissance – his political podcast, Reasons To Be Cheerful, has turned him into a cult hero. Co-hosted with radio presenter Geoff Lloyd, the show sees experts and comedians thrash out ideas that could improve the world, revealing Ed as witty, warm and – best of all – blisteringly outspoken. But is he tough enough for an NME grilling? Hell yeah!
What have you learned through doing the podcast?
“That it’s fun! Hopefully some of that enjoyment rubs off on people. It’s an era for big ideas to change the country for the better.”
You seem a lot freer on the podcast than you were as leader of the Labour Party…
“[The leadership] is a highly responsible job where you have to weigh every word. You’re operating in a political war zone… Now, I freely acknowledge that I probably felt too constrained by that. That’s something I’ve learned: to be less constrained.”
Do you think people feel warmth towards you because they think, ‘If the 2015 election had gone differently, Brexit wouldn’t have happened and we wouldn’t be in this mess?’
“Yeah. Of course you always have things you can regret, but I don’t regret the position I took on the referendum. I don’t think it was the right thing for the country and, you know, things would have been different. But people made their choice and in a way we have to deal with what we have.”
You performed A-ha’s hit ‘Take On Me’ as part of the comedy panel show The Last Leg. Were you living out any latent pop star fantasies?
“It’s fair to say that I was hesitant about doing it. I thought, ‘This is a departure’. I needed some persuading to do it. In the end, I had no choice. And once you enter the spirit of these things, it was a piece of fun, really.”
What other music are you into?
“George Ezra. He turned out to be a fan of the podcast, though I don’t just like him because [of that]. I’ve got eclectic taste. I’m into all kinds of ’80s stuff – everything from Billy Bragg to A-ha.”
Delighted to announce that our live show of @CheerfulPodcast on Sunday is on mental health with very special guests @Rubywax , @george_ezra , @ayeshahazarika and @WesselyS. If you're coming see you there. If not, listen soon… pic.twitter.com/rZmcEXe4Cd
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) January 24, 2018
Does it rankle when you see right-wing press give the Tories a free pass on their energy cap, but balked at the idea when you suggested it?
“I roll my eyes when that happens. When your opponents adopt your ideas, it’s a compliment. I did this speech in 2011 about predatory capitalism; it was all very controversial at the time, but you wouldn’t find anyone now who says that there aren’t predators. It’s funny because lots of people say, ‘Don’t you gnash your teeth and think, “Those b*****ds”?’, but I’m just so used to it. That’s the reality I was dealing with every day for five years.”
Are you jealous of Jeremy Corbyn’s success?
“No. You tip your hat to Jeremy Corbyn for what he achieved and the way he inspired lots of young people to get engaged with politics. I think that’s actually a real reason to be optimistic. Reasons To Be Cheerful definitely reflects what I feel. There are reasons to be worried about the country, obviously, but there are reasons to be cheerful.”
Should Trump’s state visit go ahead?
“I’m not personally in favour of [it], no. I fear it will go ahead and we should have the biggest protest that the country’s ever seen to make clear what people think of him and what he stands for.”
Do you sympathise with Theresa May’s inability to be harsher in her criticism of him?
“No. She made a terrible mistake from the beginning. Because we were leaving the European Union, she decided that the right strategy was to cosy up to Trump and buy his chlorinated chicken. That was the wrong strategy. Angela Merkel isn’t falling over herself to welcome him to Berlin. What are we going to get out of it? In the end, America is going to come back to working with the international community properly when Trump goes. On climate change, the Middle East, what he did in relation to Jerusalem – he’s out there on his own, on the fringes.”
Corbyn connected with people on social media. A podcast is non-traditional media that connects with people. Is all this part of the waning power of traditional outlets such as the tabloid press?
“There are ways around them now. These people are worried about the power of the consumer to go elsewhere. I think that’s a good thing. But – don’t underestimate these people. They are absolutely ruthless in pursuing their agenda. These are grim, grim people. They will do anything to try and get their way. And they’ve got no ethics.”
The Sun famously mocked you for eating a bacon sandwich in a weird way. When did you last have one in public?
“I think on The Last Leg. My Christmas card had a picture of me eating a bacon sandwich – I’m reclaiming the image.”
Reasons To Be Cheerful is available to download on iTunes and all good podcast apps