Ed Miliband is to have surgery to straighten out the tissue in the centre of his nose after suffering years of interrupted sleep.
Aides confirmed yesterday that he will undergo a "routine" NHS operation in June to correct a deviated septum after being diagnosed with sleep apnoea, a condition that causes sufferers to stop breathing when they are asleep and wake up suddenly.
His staff did their best yesterday to squash a rumour that the real purpose of the operation was not to improve his sleep patterns but to give him a better speaking voice.
Mr Miliband's voice has a nasal intonation that sometimes distracts from the message he is trying to put across. Yesterday, the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror reported that his aides had persuaded him to have his adenoids taken out to cure the "bunged up" sound of his voice. Mr Miliband is not the first leader of a major political party to have a problem with his voice. Winston Churchill had a struggle overcoming a stammer when he was young. Roy Jenkins, the former Labour home secretary and founder of the Social Democratic Party, was notoriously unable to pronounce the letter "r".
Margaret Thatcher had voice coaching after becoming leader of the Conservative Party because voters found her tones annoyingly shrill. A more recent Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, developed a frog in the throat which became a major handicap during Prime Minister's Questions. The former Tory Cabinet minister John Moore was seen as Thatcher's most likely successor until his voice gave under stress.
But Mr Miliband's friends insisted yesterday that his reasons for going into hospital in July were neither cosmetic nor political, but purely medical. The operation is expected to take him out of action for about a week. A spokesman said: "Ed Miliband has been diagnosed with sleep apnoea made worse by a deviated septum. On medical advice he is having a routine operation to correct the deviated septum at the end of July with the NHS. We do not intend to comment further."
Sleep apnoea is usually caused by an obstruction blocking the back of the throat so that air cannot reach the lungs. When breathing stops, sufferers automatically wake up so they can start breathing again, according to the Sleep Apnoea Association.
Symptoms of the condition include loud snoring, excessive sleepiness, and morning headaches. Adenotonsillectomy, or the removal of the tonsils and adenoids, is not considered to be effective as a sole treatment for adults with sleep apnoea. Soft tissue at the back of the throat would need to be removed to cure the condition. This procedure has a success rate of 65 per cent.
Sleep apnoea is thought to affect about 180,000 people in the UK, including include the comedian Billy Connolly and the author Christopher Hitchens. It becomes more common as people get older. Mr Miliband and his advisers have been worried by the Labour leader's "geekish" image, and by the nickname "Red Ed" he acquired when running against his brother, David, for the party leadership. He tried to distance himself from both by giving a display of his skill at the pool table while being interviewed by a journalist from The Sun newspaper. In the interview, published yesterday, he said that his aim was to "bring people back" to Labour.
He added: "Red Ed has died a death. It's supposed to suggest that I'm somehow outside the mainstream. But I will stand and my party will stand for the mainstream of Britain." He also admitted the previous Labour administration "lost touch" over immigration and "did not spend every pound wisely".
Finding the right tone
Max Clifford, PR consultant
I haven't even noticed that Miliband has a nasal voice. I never advise anybody to take drastic measures unless they have a serious problem. For film stars or TV stars it doesn't matter, but we tend to want our politicians to be as natural as humanly possible. I hope he is doing this because it has been giving him problems. If it's for vanity, he should be careful – if anyone wants to capitalise on this, I'm sure they will.
Judi James, behaviour expert
I can see why Ed's voice is a problem but it suggests weak leadership if you start to change your image. If you are going to get it done, you need to not tell anybody about it. His voice isn't good but then neither is George Osborne's. I would advise Miliband to get some vocal training to bring his vocal tone down, which tends to come up at critical points in his speech. Margaret Thatcher had the same treatment.
Mark Borkowski, PR expert
Unfortunately, we live in a perfectly presented world with leaders like Obama. Cameron is also good at dealing with the media and I think it is depressing because Ed Miliband is starting to blossom because he is different and not so media-perfect.