He suffered a crushing defeat at last year’s General Election but nine months after stepping down as leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband has insisted the experience did not quash his love of politics. Despite the torrent of criticism he endured during his five years as leader of the opposition, Mr Miliband urged young people hoping to pursue a career in politics to follow their dreams and stick to their principles - no matter how much they are ridiculed or berated.
Addressing a group of 11 and 12-year-olds at his alma mater, Haverstock School, Mr Miliband said “being confident about sticking to your guns” is “the most important thing” for youngsters to remember if they hope to become an MP.
“There’s always going to be someone saying ‘I don’t think that’s going to work’,” he warned. “It’s hard whether you’re in Year Seven or you’re 46.”
Mr Miliband returned to the north London comprehensive he attended during the Eighties as part of Back to School Week, an initiative spearheaded by the not-for-profit organisation Future First which has seen state school alumni across the UK connect with current pupils, offering them the careers advice and guidance they would have liked to receive as a student.
Youngsters at Haverstock School raised the question of what makes a successful politician. With Labour’s spectacular defeat still fresh in his mind, Mr Miliband joked, “I’m looking for advice on that”.
Qualities such as confidence, resilience and preservation are key in order to make it as a politician, Mr Miliband told his young charges, one of whom pointed out it could also be helpful not to get distracted by criticism from other politicians. “Good tip,” the former Labour leader responded, whipping out a notebook and jotting down the suggestion.
As well as “sticking to what you believe” Mr Miliband said that in his opinion a crucial quality a good MP must possess is empathy.
“You’ve got to care about people. What’s important is why you’re doing the job,” he told the pupils at Haverstock, where 41 per cent of children are eligible for free school meals.
“If you’re only [thinking] about yourself, how are you going to change things?”
Asked what the most difficult thing about being leader of the Labour Party was, Mr Miliband replied “Where do I start?” before discussing the pressure of the media glare and speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons every week. “That’s a hard thing to do,” he admitted.
The “best thing” about his job was “meeting people”, he added.
The MP also paid tribute to his late father, Ralph, crediting the Marxist author with inspiring him to enter politics. “My dad…was a Jewish refugee, born in Belgium. He came here with his dad at the age of 16 in 1940 just before the Nazis invaded. He felt very lucky Britain offered him a home and that he survived,” said Mr Miliband, revealing his parents taught him to give back to the community and to “try to leave the world a better place”.
Imploring pupils to aim high, Mr Miliband urged: “Don’t let anyone say that you can’t be what you want to be. [Whether] you want to be a politician or a businessperson or a journalist or an astronaut… don’t let anyone stop you.
“You can aspire to do anything. If you’ve got the determination, the hard work [and] the ideas, you should follow your dreams.”