It was as busy as ever at lunchtime at Colmans fish and chip shop on an icy South Shields waterfront today, although owner Richard Ord was getting used to the prospect of seeing his most famous customer a little less frequently.
“I’m shocked. The town is in a state of shock today. He will be a big miss for South Shields and a bigger miss for the Labour Party and Britain,” he said. Mr Miliband and his family used to drop into the historic chippie when staying at their constituency home for a favourite meal of haddock, chips and mushy peas.
“I have spoken to David and he has assured me he will be returning to South Shields itself. He has grown very fond of it over the years. It is not the end,” he added.
The sense of shock at news of the former Foreign Secretary’s departure was slightly less palpable at Charleston’s coffee shop, said staff member Martin Jack. “I read something about it but I didn’t pay much attention. No one has said anything and I don’t follow politics so it meant nothing to me,” he added.
Mr Jack said he had met Mr Miliband once when he opened the pub where he worked. “He cut the ribbon and was behind the bar. He was very quiet,” he recalled.
Mr Miliband’s became MP in 2001 for a town which has never returned a Tory MP since the Great Reform Act of 1832. He is only the fourth person to represent South Shields following the end of the Second World War.
But despite delivering healthy majorities in the past three elections he has had to endure a difficult relationship with certain sections of his local party.
The leader of South Tyneside council Iain Malcolm had the support of local members ahead of Mr Miliband who was seen to be shoehorned in by Downing Street. Mr Malcolm is again tipped as the next MP unless the party opts for an all-female shortlist.
Even Mr Miliband’s supporters admit he was not a frequent visitor to the town but believe his primary legacy is education.
Independent councillor and former Labour Party member Jane Branley said: “He raised the profile of the constituency. One thing that happened that would not have happened (without him) was we had a complete rebuild of the comprehensive schools and the vast majority of primary schools. Bearing in mind the kind of area this is it is a huge step forward and we have a lot to be thankful for.”