Ed Miliband increasingly sidelined – and that was before Russell Brand

Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net Zero Ed Miliband addresses an audience on the issue of the UK's response to the USA's inflation Reduction Act at The Church House on March 28, 2023
Mr Miliband's 2015 interview with Russell Brand has come under scrutiny following recent allegations against the presenter - Leon Neal/Getty Images Europe

It’s not been an easy time for Rishi Sunak, having to rush out his grand net zero plan after its main content was leaked.

But in the longer term, could the fallout prove more difficult for Labour?

Sir Keir Starmer – who knows many of his core voters are sceptical of the green agenda and the costs associated with it – has to work out how to respond.

And that raises questions about the future of Ed Miliband, the zealously environmentalist former Labour leader still hanging about on the party’s frontbench.

Sir Keir brought him back to the front line after nearly five years in the wilderness under Jeremy Corbyn, to serve as shadow business secretary and, later, shadow net zero secretary.

Earlier this month, the present Labour leader faced pressure to get rid of what they called the “ghost” in a reshuffle.

In the end, Mr Miliband survived. But how long can he last – and will he really be a cabinet minister if Labour wins the next election?

Perhaps if the allegations against Russell Brand had come out before Labour’s reshuffle, Sir Keir would have found it easier to get rid of Mr Miliband.

An investigation by The Times, Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches, revealed allegations of rape and sexual assault against the comedian, which he denies.

‘I regret doing it’

What makes this embarrassing for Mr Miliband on a personal level is that he begged to appear on Brand’s YouTube show in the run-up to the 2015 election.

He put himself forward even though the comedian had already admitted in his autobiography that he was a sex addict, had made a number of misogynistic comments – and, most famously, had been forced to resign from the BBC for making an offensive prank call to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs.

The show was recorded in Brand’s kitchen 10 days before polling day, and Mr Miliband was widely mocked for agreeing to the encounter – and for the mockney accent he appeared to adopt.

At the time, he considered the interview to have been a success, saying: “People criticise Russell Brand, and I don’t agree with his message, but what he’s saying, a number of people are thinking, which is that politics doesn’t feel like it speaks to them.”

Russell Brand interview with Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband on Brand's The Trews - YouTube

But on Thursday morning, he was forced to apologise for doing the interview and said he thought it would help encourage people to vote.

“Russell Brand was rather notoriously going round saying people shouldn’t vote because voting made no difference,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Thursday morning.

“That’s why I did an interview with him, because I wanted to get to the people who he was influencing to say voting does make a difference.

“But of course, knowing what I know now – and I was not aware of these allegations at the time about Russell Brand – I wouldn’t have done that interview and I regret doing it.”

The week was, however, going to get even worse for Mr Miliband, when he was sidelined after the Prime Minister’s net zero announcement.

What are Rishi Sunak’s changes to net zero policy?
What are Rishi Sunak’s changes to net zero policy?

As shadow net zero minister, it was his remit to respond on TV to the announcement. But, in fact, Labour sent out Steve Reid, the shadow environment minister.

Sir Keir’s decision raised eyebrows, with the obvious explanation being that the party wanted its position put over by someone seen as being less of a green fanatic.

It could be a sign that the Labour leader is planning a more pragmatic approach to meeting net zero targets.

It comes after Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, announced in June that Labour would not press ahead with Mr Miliband’s favoured policy of borrowing £28 billion each year of the next parliament to pay for green energy policies.‌

Sir Keir has since made it clear that his fiscal rules were non-negotiable – another sign that spending on environmental policies could be curtailed.

Labour has, of course, denied there is a split, saying: “Ed is more than happy with Labour’s position.”

But could the Russell Brand scandal and his sidelining over green policies mean that Ed Miliband’s days at Labour’s top table are numbered?