Reasons to be cheerful: an interview with Ed Miliband


Online Features Editor Ollie Smith interviews the former leader of the Labour Party ahead of his podcast ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ coming live to Bristol

On Friday 13th April Ed Miliband and his co-host Geoff Lloyd will be bringing their award winning podcast ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ to the Anson Rooms. The podcast began in 2017 and is done on a non-profit basis with the purpose of spreading big ideas. Ahead of his visit I caught up with Ed Miliband to learn more about the podcast and his views on other current issues.

When we begin Miliband is very interested in Epigram and congratulates us on our past SPA award successes while I return the compliment, his podcast having won a Broadcasting Press Guild Award. We go on to talk a little about my study of Labour in 1970s Britain and he even recommends a good book on the subject.

I start by asking how his podcast came to be; he says it was originally Geoff Lloyd’s idea after they ‘both felt that people in the context of Brexit, Trump were feeling pretty down, were thinking, probably gloomy about … the state of the world but there must be positive, optimistic ideas out there to make the country better’.

Miliband explains that ‘I’ve thought ever since the 2015 General Election when I stood down as leader I want to find a way of promoting … big ideas that can change the country and, you know, maybe in days gone by someone like me would have set up a think tank, but this is a sort of more modern version of that but hopefully we present the ideas in an accessible way as well and get them to a wider audience’. Past Labour leaders like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have chosen to set up their own organisations but given Ed Miliband is still an MP the podcasts seem a far better way for him to manage his workload and promote ideas.

‘we get longer to talk about some of the issues that we would on the mainstream radio programmes so it’s kind of more in depth but hopefully more engaging’

The reason for touring the country is to spread these ideas and Miliband is particularly excited about visiting Bristol; ‘we both love Bristol, we think it’s a fantastic place, we love the vibe about Bristol, it’s got … really interesting cultural and other assets to it and so we’re delighted to be coming and really looking forward to it’.

While he’s still arranging the guests and focus for the Bristol show he explains to me that they’ll take a subject that people are concerned about and offer some solutions. He gives me some examples: ‘in Liverpool we talked about regeneration, we had somebody from a part of Liverpool that had been really run down, how they’d regenerated it, we had Matthew Brown who’s a guy from Preston about how Preston was doing regeneration, we had a comedian on as well … we tend to mix sort of serious subjects with a bit of humour as well.’

I tell him a little about ‘The Epigram Show’ which I co-host which includes interviewing our writers and giving our own positives for the week. Miliband says that the advantage of the podcast is that ‘it’s like a conversation in the front room’, it is after all done in Geoff’s house. He explains ‘we get longer to talk about some of the issues that we would on the mainstream radio programmes so it’s kind of more in depth but hopefully more engaging’.

I move on to political issues and ask his opinion on the university strikes; he gives a clear and honest answer: ‘I’m very supportive of the academic staff who I must say I think have been pretty poorly treated by Universities UK’. He also says ‘I don’t think it’s been properly thought through, I don’t think that the evidence is properly there, I think the kind of race to the bottom in final salary pensions is something we should all be concerned about and I think that the cause is a very just cause’.

Miliband is a man who considers his answers very carefully and doesn’t want to give me uninformed responses without having all the facts; given he is a former leader he knows his responses carry weight. When asked if students are right to demand financial compensation for hours missed during strikes he apologises saying he hasn’t looked at the issue enough in terms of the balance of hours missed and so can’t really offer a view.

'there are good ideas out there … politics needs to embrace them’

I next ask about Brexit and how he sees it playing out. He first summarises his experience of it: ‘on Brexit my basic view is we had the referendum, I campaigned for Remain strongly, I wasn’t actually in favour of having a referendum if I’d won the election in 2015 ... Unfortunately from my point of view it went narrowly for leave, my constituency actually voted rather significantly for leave. I think what we’ve got to do now is get the best possible deal we can’.

‘I think the only way to bring the country together really is to respect the result but have a solution that keeps us as close as possible to the European Union, so for example what Labour said on the customs union is I think correct, not just economically … but also strategically I think … it’s better to be close to Europe’.

‘I think partly what our podcast is trying to do is to say, look Brexit really matters and is incredibly consequential for the future, but we’ve also got to work out what else we do to meet what I would call a mandate for Brexit… I think lots of people who voted for Brexit were voting for change; they wanted the country to be different and also people who voted for remain want the country to be different’.

He also talks about ‘the fog of Brexit’ that can obscure other issues and that ‘part of what we’re trying to do in the podcast is to say look we’ve also got to talk about the big ideas which aren’t about Brexit which are going to make the country better and deal with the underlying issues, some of which led to Brexit’.

Miliband supports Parliament having a vote on the final Brexit deal but ‘not for a second referendum’.

I move on to the ongoing international dispute regarding the Russian spy poisoning which has seen 23 Russian diplomats expelled from the UK and multiple countries follow suit. I ask Miliband how he sees the dispute: ‘it’s a very serious issue what Russia did; I support the actions that the government have taken, I think Jeremy Corbyn was right to say you’ve got to deal with this in a calm and measured way but I support the actions the government has taken as does he’.

Given the title of his podcast I also ask Miliband what his main reasons to be cheerful in politics currently are. Miliband says ‘I think the major reasons to be cheerful are about the fact that there are big ideas out there that can make the country better. Think of any issue that feels at the moment insoluble, whether it’s homelessness or lack of affordable housing or criminal justice reform or how you reform the welfare state or wealth inequality there are good ideas out there … politics needs to embrace them’.

‘I’m carrying on; I’ve got no plans to leave’

‘I’m obviously coming from the left but we have people who are Tories who write in and are listeners’. He says that ‘big radical ideas to make the country better don’t need to be the preserve of one part of the political spectrum; we want people who are right across the political spectrum to embrace them and I’m quite conscious when I’m doing the podcast that this is about politics obviously and ideas but it’s not party politics it’s about how you make the country better and I think the more that you know tackling inequality and all those things becomes the kind of concern of the right as well as the left the better from my point of view’.

I’m curious if he buys into the argument that Brexit has changed politics from left and right to outward and inward looking; he disagrees. ‘I think it’s currently the case that there are some people who are more internationalist in outlook than others but I still think left and right sort of matter … there’s issues about inequality and other things which tended to be more of a focus of the left and the concerns and the solutions, the belief in the role of free market, so tends to be a big difference between right and left’.

Trying my luck with a question about future ambition I ask how long he intends to remain in politics. Miliband laughs, replying ‘I’m carrying on; I’ve got no plans to leave’.

I try again and ask if he’d like to return to the frontline someday. Miliband says he’s happy as a backbench MP and that ‘I said when I resigned as leader … you can contribute to putting forward ideas whether you’re a leader or not a leader and I think my best way of supporting Jeremy Corbyn and supporting the font bench is to try and help generate and put forward some of these ideas’. Miliband sees this as a good way of helping the Labour cause and the podcast is clearly part of that.

I found the podcasts genuinely engaging and they offered some really interesting solutions and ideas. Miliband makes very clear his desire to do good in politics and I'll be very interested to see what he does next.

Featured image: UK Parliament/Official portrait of Edward Miliband/

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Ollie Smith

Features Editor 2018-19 I Online Features Editor 2017-18 I Host and Founder of The Epigram Show on Wednesdays at 10am on BURST Radio