Milligan's week: Myra, Geoff and me

By Becky Milligan
BBC Radio 4's World at One


At the Hong Kong handover a few years back when I was new to reporting, and therefore more naive, I had fixed the great Geoffrey Howe for an interview.

Of course he was familiar to me, but he didn't know me from Adam, or Eve. In the hotel foyer he grabbed the press pass hanging around my neck and inspected the photo.

"Ummm" he hummed, "the spit of Myra Hindley."

I took this as a compliment. His smile would have melted the hardest of hearts and I was an easy target. And wasn't Myra a bit of a looker?

Lord Howe and I have been firm friends ever since. A little bit of charm goes a long way.

Ed Miliband

That memory came back to me as I flicked through the new BBC MPs directory, the contact book handed out to BBC journalists, and I hardly recognised anyone. Blimey.

There are hundreds of new MPs who look vaguely similar, and weirdly familiar - so easy to mix them up.

I had better put some extra work in here, it can be a blow when you're unsure who you're interviewing and which party they belong to, it can give the wrong impression to the listener. And possibly get me in hot water.

Luckily though, this week, I was after the old timers. Labour old timers. People I used to speak to week in, week out when they were in power.

Thank the Lord. No problem here.

My question was simple too: "How is Ed Miliband doing?"

I rang up a friendly contact - we'd been talking for donkey's years.

"Hi there how are you?"

"Who are you?," the voice barked back.

"'s Becky..."


"Yes, it's Becky, Becky Milligan, here."

The phone went dead.

Hurt is not the word.


Image caption,
Moors murderer Myra Hindley... and BBC reporter Becky Milligan

Later he explained that he had been walking under a tunnel somewhere in the House of Commons, and the phone crashed.

He did NOT hang up. Repeat, he did not hang up.

The last time I had spoken to him he was in a very dark corner over the Gordon Brown premiership.

"He mustn't smile, that smile, it scares people, it does, it does." he'd bleated.

Finally, we eased back to the old way, gossiping off the record. So how is Ed going down with the party? Is this the new era, is he growing into power? Is he impressing YOU?

"I'm a bit disappointed."


"He's likely to drift, rootless."

"But he will improve won't he?"

"They tend to."

"You didn't think Gordon did, you thought he got worse."

"Yes." Silence.

"How does everyone else feel about it?"

"We're a bit subdued really, but he's what we've got, the best leader we've got."

Didn't they say that about Michael Foot?

'Doing great'

To be fair, I collected a few more off the record quotes for you from a varied bunch, left, right, shadow cabinet to the lowest of low backbencher. Here they are for your consideration:

"No point crying into our beer."

"Just a few has-beens having a moan, he's doing great."

"I can say hand on my heart, I have not heard one person, and I mean bumping into people, on the train, you know people I know, not one person has said they aren't happy with the leadership of Ed Miliband."

"I haven't mentioned Ed, I didn't to anyone, I'm getting on with my job."

"No major slip-ups."

"He's doing OK. Off the record it's a good that he had a baby, all new leaders should have a baby."

So it's all going swimmingly, as it should with a new leader.

I really have to learn a few of those new faces.

It's a bit depressing talking to the veterans - and I don't want to get in a mix up.

So that's my weekend reading sorted.

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