The personal attacks Ed Miliband faces as the general election nears will get worse and become “really vicious”, his wife has said in her first intervention in the 2015 campaign.
In a BBC interview, Justine Miliband said the bulk of the attacks came from people with vested interests who were alarmed by her husband’s determination to bring about serious change. She was “up for a fight” to keep British politics open to people of decency, she said.
The barrister’s remarks, apparently aimed at the rightwing press as well as negative campaigners, came as she admitted there was no rule book for political spouses in British politics, but she was not prepared to be seen as “only a dress”.
Since her husband became leader in 2010, Justine Miliband has made few political statements, apart from a short speech at the Labour conference and speaking at a London school.
A specialist in environmental law, Justine Thornton, who uses the surname Miliband in political life, has long told Labour that she would be willing to appear alongside her husband during the campaign, including some trips on the road.
Asked how she dealt with the attacks on her husband, Miliband said: “I think it’s going to get worse, I think over the next couple of months it’s going to get really vicious, really personal, but I’m totally up for this fight.”
She said the reason for her combativeness was “because I think this goes way beyond Ed as an individual, I think it’s about whether decencies and principle count for something in political life, wherever you are on the political spectrum.
“It is not just about Ed but about every single politician who tried to do the right thing despite the personal attacks. I think it is incredibly important that political life stays open to decent, principled people. So if you ask my why I am up for a fight, I am fighting not only for Ed but I am fighting for a principle of decency in public life.”
In the interview conducted in a Turkish cafe close to the family’s north London home, Miliband revealed that her husband’s biggest regretabout the job of leading Labour was “not seeing the children enough or worrying he doesn’t see the children as much as he’d like”.
She said there were quite a few conversations at home explaining to the children why both of them worked. To help their two preschool children understand what their father did the couple had explained that he led the red team and at home “there’s quite a lot of chats about what the red team’s doing and who the red team’s helping.
I hope they get a sense he is doing something worthwhile, and we are not away lightly.”
The interview was part of an attempt by the Miliband team to insist his decency should not be mistaken for weakness or an inability to change Britain. The BBC was allowed to film the two children on their scooters, with one of them complaining that their father was “ always on the phone”.
Miliband said she had not thought ahead to what life might be like in Downing Street if Miliband won, saying that probably, “like most women, I am definitely on a 48-hour timetable”.
Asked how she felt about the role of silent spouse, she said it had been initially daunting, adding: “the only reason I first gave a speech to Labour party members at Labour party conference was because I was so worried that, by about three years in, all they knew about me was a dress I wore to Ed’s speech and I thought, I really want to reassure people that I am in fact more than a dress.”
Miliband said she did discuss politics with her husband, recalling the moment they heard on the radio of how low phone-hacking journalists had been willing to go in pursuit of news. “We were just totally shocked, that immediate human reaction, sickened actually.” The couple discussed what he might do: “It was back in 2011 and you did not take on News International in 2011”.
She recalled reading later that dayreading an Evening Standard headline along the lines of “Miliband calls on Murdoch to resign”. “I thought, God, he has gone ahead and done that. That felt pretty nervy and I remember feeling not quite sure how it will all play out, but you have just shown you have got the guts that people would not expect.”
She said the attacks on her husband were coming from vested interests that were being challenged by him. “If I am really honest, I would be a lot more worried if quite a lot of the people who were attacking him were supporting him. I think if you are going to stand up to some powerful people in this country and declare a pretty serious intent to bring about change, you are going to get attacked.”
- This article was amended on 10 March 2015. The original references to Justine Thornton have been changed to reflect Labour’s statement that she wished to use the surname Miliband in political life.
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