Donald Macintyre's Sketch: From easy listening to tough love for Castaway Ed Miliband

The choices must have been his own rather than some party adviser’s because of the borderline naffness of some of them

No one could accuse a man who picks Robbie Williams’ “Angels” as the one record out of the eight he would take to a desert island – “more cheese, I think it’s fair to say”, Ed Miliband admitted with incontestable accuracy – of being, well, cool.

Even if he and his wife heard an “amazing” performance of the 1997 pop anthem when they were “falling in love”.

And the Labour leader seemed strangely eager to demonstrate his uncoolness on Desert Island Discs. “I was pretty square,” he told Kirsty Young when asked if it was true he hadn’t had a girlfriend through his years at Oxford.

But that was nothing beside his explanation for choosing “Take on Me” by A-Ha (which, as if to emphasise his innocence in matters pop, he pronounced Ha Ha”). “Maybe it’s because I remember going to the school disco – and I’m sure this was playing – and wearing an extremely bad pair of white trousers and a purple jumper. No wonder I didn’t pull, given that…” No wonder indeed, but you couldn’t help asking why he would make such a –to use his own apposite words again – “cheesy choice” if that was his main memory of it.

Post-Discs analysis has it that the choices must have been his own rather than some party adviser’s because of the borderline naffness of some of them. No doubt that’s true, but it’s seductive to think it was instead a brilliantly targeted appeal to unhip voter preferences: the “easy listening” silent majority.

Not for them David Cameron’s infuriatingly – not least to the artists themselves –frequent references to the Smiths or the Housemartins he was addicted to in his youth.

Fuelling this conspiracy theory is the list of tunes dropped from a mock selection he produced for a Labour website in 2010: No Billy Bragg now (or Beethoven); the most unashamedly leftist anthem was Paul Robeson’s version of “The Ballad of Joe Hill” –a favourite of his parents and such a distant memory as to be politically acceptable. Likewise his book choice. James Joyce’s brain-bending Ulysses out, Douglas Adams’ perfectly middle-brow Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy in.

But if the records were easy listening, the same couldn’t always be said of the interview. He talked affectingly about his parents, refugees from the Nazis. But when it came to wresting the party leadership from his older brother David, we were in territory that was borderline excruciating, scarcely mitigated by the low, almost conspiratorial voice he deployed in Sunday morning’s broadcast.

The pair had “danced round” the issue as the 2010 election loomed “because neither of us wanted to confront it, I suppose… We never kind of, sort of, had a total heart-to-heart about it”. It had been “tough, very tough” for “the family”, and “possibly” he had underestimated that.

Was his relationship with David healed? “Healing. Healing.” Could his choice of Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”, despite also being a favourite of his parents, have been a subliminal reference to those agonies? At least he didn’t go for The Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Regional Sales Manager - OTE £100,000

£45000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Sales Manager is re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company provides IT support...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manager is for a successfu...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific