A politico with some popular music tastes, but too busy for anything classical? Ed showed us the true Miliband on Sunday
Desert Island Discs can do many things. It can be a fascinating insight into music you have never heard, or the story of life you otherwise might not have known – but one thing it always achieves is a revelation about the individual being interviewed.
Ed Miliband gave us many revelations. One is that, despite having seen a microphone for most days of his professional life, he doesn’t know that he shouldn’t exhale through his fixed nose straight into the recording apparatus. Everything else we learned about him was far more nuanced.
The crucial moment in Ed’s broadcast came very early when Kirsty Young, not flippantly, remarked that people often viewed politicians’ choices on this programme cynically, before asking “This list … how many people have cast their eye over it and how much of it is your list?” To which, Ed responded “It’s absolutely my list. It’s a list that’s personal to me.” Given that this was the foundation of the rest of the broadcast, let us consider how it progressed.
Ed’s first choice was ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ i’Afrika’, the South African national anthem. A piece that is so beautiful, so tender, so peaceful in the face of horrific oppression, it has regrettably been appropriated and become the universal song of right-on liberals – a sort of PC Internationale. It is a worthy choice in many ways, but it was then followed by ‘Jerusalem’. When explaining his choice of ‘Jerusalem’, Ed mentioned the recent attack on his father and mentioned something about his wife liking walks on England’s green and pleasant land.
I could see no ulterior motive in these selections at all, and if that’s what Ed wishes to boogie to in the sleepy lagoon of the desert island, who am I to say that he shouldn’t? Honestly, if David Dimbleby’s tattoo was a staggeringly personal moment of self-expression, these two choices were the exact opposite of that, a fact that was underlined by his next choice, Paul Robeson singing ‘The Ballad of Joe Hill’. Yes, it may be exactly the sort of tribute song you’d expect from Red Ed, but it was so obscure that I could only think that it did actually remind him of his dad.
Then we got a crawl along the middle of the road. ‘Take On Me’, by Aha. ‘Sweet Caroline’, by Neil Diamond. ‘Angels’, by Robbie Williams. Now, I have nothing against any of those songs. They’re all fine. At drunken university socials on a Friday night, they’re exactly the sort of thing you want. But, all three of them on the desert island? Surely not? What a waste. You only need one such song, if that. Picking three is suspicious. It’s frankly robotic. It’s like they’ve been picked by someone who’s approximating what people like in music based on songs they happened to catch when Top of the Pops was on, or when their wife was in control of the car stereo.
As we concluded with Josh Ritter’s ‘Change of Time’ (which is very dull indeed) and Non, je ne regrette rien (which was presumably intended for brother David’s ears) I pondered what we had learnt. Initially, I thought this was staggeringly dishonest: a selection designed to crudely fabricate an image of a liberal man who knew how to let his hair (such as it is) down to Robbie Williams.
Then I thought, what if I took him on his word? What if he was being honest? Well, then we have someone who genuinely loves Jerusalem and the South African national anthem, and who apparently has no musical taste having occasionally been forced to dip into popular music, but who was too busy poring over books to even dip his toes in classical music.
Maybe Ed’s been more honest than I thought.
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