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‘I’ve got PTSD watching the leaders debates’

Ed Miliband is one of a handful of politicians who know from first-hand experience just how brutal it can be when you are asking the British people if you can be their prime minister.

The Labour leader, mocked in 2015 for eating a bacon sandwich, having two kitchens and much else besides, watches his successor “with a sense of relief” that it’s not him in the stocks.

“The PTSD for me is much worse in anticipation of the [television] debate. It’s almost as if I’m doing [it],” he tells i from his home in Doncaster.

It must feel bittersweet to see Keir Starmer on the cusp of achieving where he failed, but Miliband doesn’t show it – or even seek credit for keeping the current Labour leader on an even keel on the home straight to No 10.

“Obviously I chat to him but he doesn’t need my advice,” he says when asked what tips he has passed on for surviving the six-week ordeal.

His return to the front bench as shadow Climate and Net Zero Secretary hasn’t always been easy.

He endured further public humiliation when Rachel Reeves won a battle to axe a commitment to spend £28bn a year on green policies earlier this year.

He says he drew on his long experience of the briefing wars between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair in the last Labour government to maintain a disciplined silence in public. “One of the Achilles’ heels of the 1997 to 2010 period was all that brief-o-rama. I’m into having my discussions in private, not in public.”

PETERHEAD, SCOTLAND - NOVEMBER 17: British Shadow Secretary of State of Climate Change and Net Zero Ed Miliband (L), Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer (C) and and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (R) take a tour of St Fergus Gas Terminal on November 17, 2023 in Peterhead, Scotland. Keir Starmer reaffirms Labour's commitment to set up GB Energy, a new publicly-owned energy company based in Scotland, and highlights the need for the UK to make it's own clean energy. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Miliband, Keir Starmer and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar tour a gas terminal in Peterhead, Scotland. Labour has pledged to move fast to greener energy (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty)

“With no disrespect to previous Labour leaders, including me, [climate is] a more central part of the campaign… than in any previous election. If we win, we will have Keir and Rachel, a prime minister and chancellor who are more committed to this agenda than any prime minister and chancellor previously.”

For while Miliband might have lost the battle, he may yet claim to have won the war, since green policies still account for an outsized chunk of Labour’s spending commitments and one of its main retail offers – a promise to reduce energy bills by hundreds of pounds.

The pledge is based on the dramatic falls in the cost of renewable energy if Labour can pull off a move to totally clean power by 2030, and ends up saving cash relative to the current mix.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Labour leader Keir Starmer (2nd L) is joined by members of his Shadow Cabinet Ed Miliband (L), Rachel Reeves (3rd R), Wes Streeting (2nd R) and Jonathan Reynolds (R) as he prepares for tomorrow's key speech on Labour's mission for government, at Co-Op HQ on February 22, 2023 in Manchester, England. Tomorrow the Labour Leader will announce his five bold missions for a better Britain. The missions will form the backbone of Labour's election manifesto ahead of the next general election. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
From left, Miliband with Starmer, Rachel Reeves, shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, and shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds (Photo: Anthony Devlin/Getty)

The “mind-blowing” potential for reductions have, Miliband says, transformed the case for taking action on climate compared with a decade ago. The vehicle for driving the transformation will be the new publicly owned firm Great British Energy.

Contrary to Starmer’s mis-speak earlier in this campaign, this won’t just be an investment body but a firm that invests in and owns its own power-generating assets, Miliband insists. He hints that the company’s shadow leadership team is already in place and could be unveiled within days of an election victory. “We want to get going very, very quickly”.

“If we win the election, we will be implementing the most ambitious climate and energy agenda in British history.” He admits it’s an agenda that needs the backing of all Cabinet colleagues, and doesn’t deny that Starmer and his chief of staff Sue Gray are planning “mission boards” to drive progress across Whitehall.

It is a mistake, he says, to dismiss the Labout leader’s “five missions” as just electioneering, adding: “This is much more than a political slogan, it’s about a whole way of approaching government.”

Miliband pays tribute to Tories like Chris Skidmore and Alok Sharma who supported climate change policies, and even acknowledges that Boris Johnson was “better than his successors” on the subject because he better understood public opinion.

“One of the reasons why the Tory net-zero retreat hasn’t worked for them is that that’s just not where the British people are.” Polling has shown that politicians are at odds with voters over net zero and energy policies, and that nearly two thirds of the public believe that reducing fossil fuels and increasing renewable energy is the best way to ensure energy security in the UK.

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11: Labour???s Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband poses outside Heeley Energy House at Heeley City Farm on February 11, 2022 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
Ed Miliband is a keen cold water swimmer (Photo: Anthony Devlin/Getty)

The former Labour leader concedes that the UK will need a huge wave of private investment to meet green goals that are more ambitious than those of France or Germany, but will benefit from less public money than those countries are pledging to spend.

The national grid needs a complete overhaul if the clean power target is to be achieved. For example, Britain needs a charging network for electric vehicles ahead of a 2030 phase-out of petrol vehicles. It’s one reason, says Miliband, that voters need to ensure there is a Labour government with a big enough mandate to carry out the promises. “The private sector is desperate to invest here,” he says, but they want certainty – as it would appear does he.

Miliband makes clear that he won’t be moved sideways or down in any post-election reshuffle, saying that he “relishes” the chance to lead the energy revolution.

“It’s for Keir to decide who does what jobs and whether I get a job. But you know, this is the only job I want.”

Labour ‘determined to tackle the scandal of sewage’, Miliband says

Ed Miliband has paid tribute to the i’s Save Britain’s Rivers campaign and vowed that a Labour government would tackle the sewage scandal.

The 54-year-old says he is a regular cold water swimmer and “wants as many clean rivers as possible.”

“I really admire the i’s campaign on clean rivers. We are determined to tackle the scandal of sewage. My colleague Steve Reed [shadow Environment Secretary] has done a fantastic job campaigning and we are absolutely committed to this. And, as a cold water swimmer, I want as many clean rivers to swim in as possible.”

A regular at London’s Highgate Ponds, Miliband claims he lasted 20 minutes in the sea at Falmouth on a break from the campaign trail.

He admits that zealots for more extreme cold water swimming can be “obnoxious”, however, and says Alastair Campbell described him as “pond life” as he made his way to Highgate.

The Labour Party has not yet committed to i‘s Save Britain’s Rivers manifesto – a five-point plan to rescue the UK’s waterways that all parties are being urged to adopt.

Last week, one of Labour‘s biggest donors, the green energy tycoon Dale Vince, urged Keir Starmer to endorse the manifesto, and warned the party needed a stronger message on fixing the crisis.

i has challenged all of the political parties to sign up to the five-point blueprint, which has been backed by over 20 leading environmental groups and prominent campaigners such as Chris Packham and Deborah Meaden.

It includes policies to improve river health, cut sewage spills, implement a tougher watchdog, create more clean bathing sites and minimise the impact of farming.

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