David Trussler

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Ed Miliband spins his Desert Island Discs

November 24, 2013

Desert Island Discs, that much-loved Sunday morning British staple, this morning featured Ed Miliband as guest.

Ostensibly an opportunity for a public figure to select their favourite pieces of music, when politicians appear it tends to become an exercise in spin. That’s what passes for politics today: more about surface than substance, about personality over genuinely held beliefs. It’s easy to be cynical: no-one has forgotten David Cameron declaring an unlikely penchant for the Smiths during his own appearance.

So how did Miliband fare?

Frankly, you could hear the boxes being ticked. Three political songs (from the ANC’s liberation anthem to Paul Robeson singing the ballad of Joe Hill) kicked us off to remind us of what job he does and who is dad was followed by tracks that evidenced what an ordinary geezer he really is. Or maybe just that he’s not particularly interested in music. His choices were so cheesy (in his own words)―taking in a-ha and Robbie Williams―it’s hard to decide whether they showed that he’d made the selections himself rather than them being that of a spin doctor or whether they were the results of some truly brilliant spin, designed to engender sympathy.

Spooky then that it was 17 years to the day that Miliband’s predecessor but one―the master of spin himself, Tony Blair―appeared on Desert Island Discs at a roughly similar time in his political journey. In 1996 he was leader of the Labour Party and hoping to be the next prime minister within the year. His choices of music were more diverse than Miliband’s, taking in the likes of Debussy, Robert Johnson and Springsteen, but what really came across―and surprisingly, given his reputation today as the ultimate actor-turned-politician―was that they seemed to be more believably genuine than Ed’s. Certainly they were considerably better: I wouldn’t be ashamed of that selection myself.

It’s not exactly scientific but maybe the comparison serves to show how much the business of politics has changed in those 17 years. That the man who was practically single-handedly responsible for re-inventing politics as another branch of marketing had barely begun that process of transformation that silently shapes the politics we live with today.

Hearing the two broadcasts back to back though it’s that bloody a-ha song that has won out as today’s ear-worm. Make of that what you will.

For comparison here are the choices of Miliband and Blair.

Tony Blair’s Desert Island Discs, broadcast 24 November 1996

  • Ezio: Cancel Today
  • Claude Debussy: Clair de Lune (from Suite Bergamasque)
  • The Beatles: In My Life
  • Bruce Springsteen: Fourth Of July
  • Samuel Barber: Adagio For Strings
  • Robert Johnson: Crossroads Blues
  • Free: Wishing Well
  • John Williams: Recuerdos De La Alhambra

Ed Miliband’s Desert Island Discs, broadcast 24 November 2013

  • The original soundtrack musicians: Nkosi Sikelel’ i’Afrika
  • Sir Hubert Parry: Jerusalem
  • Paul Robeson: Joe Hill
  • a-ha: Take on Me
  • Neil Diamond: Sweet Caroline
  • Robbie Williams: Angels
  • Josh Ritter: Change of Time
  • Édith Piaf: Je Ne Regrette Rien