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Labour Of Love

Ed Miliband talks about his love of snooker and friendship with Ronnie O’Sullivan…

Ed Miliband with Dennis Taylor at the Dafabet Masters in January

Imagine a world in which the Labour Party had won the 2015 general election. The whole Brexit thing would (probably) never have happened. And even more significantly, we would now (probably) have a Prime Minister who loves snooker.

Like most Brits who grew up during the 1980s, Ed Miliband developed a keen affection for snooker when it was the most popular television sport in the UK. The past 40 years of the World Championship at the Crucible have left him with some lucid memories of watching the green baize game with his family.

“When I was growing up, everyone was interested in snooker,” he recalls. “My heroes were Alex Higgins and Jimmy White and I got hooked around 1982 when Higgins won it. I always rooted against Steve Davis because he seemed so perfect and he won all the time.

“I remember watching Cliff Thorburn’s 147 in 1983. Then I have this incredible memory of sitting with my late father watching the 1985 final until after midnight. It seemed as if snooker was on television all the time back then and the characters in the game were something special – although there are also some great characters among today’s players.

“I played a lot as a teenager although I was never very good. I played pool slightly better than snooker as of course it’s easier for people at my standard.”

After graduating from Oxford in 1992, Miliband decided on a career in politics and progressed quickly through the Labour ranks. After the party’s landslide election victory in 1997 he was made a special adviser to Chancellor Gordon Brown, a position he held for five years.

In 2005, Miliband became Member of Parliament for Doncaster North – a position he still holds – and the following year he joined Tony Blair’s front bench. In 2008, under Gordon Brown, he became Secretary of State. His older brother, David, was also among the cabinet at the time. Following Labour’s defeat in the 2010 election and Brown’s immediate resignation, the two siblings went head-to-head for leadership of the party. And it was Ed who triumphed to become Leader of the Opposition.

His 2015 election campaign against David Cameron’s Conservatives was hard fought, and memorable for a BBC interview with Jeremy Paxman when Miliband was asked if he was tough enough to be Prime Minister. “Hell yes, I’m tough enough,” came the reply. But in the end it was tough luck for Miliband as the election went the Tories’ way and he stepped down from the Labour leadership position.

Nevertheless, he remains an active back-bencher, spreading his views on ways to reduce inequality in British society. And his absence from front line politics may have given Miliband a bit more time to indulge his interest in snooker, as well as his friendship with Ronnie O’Sullivan.

“Ronnie is someone who cares about doing good things as well as entertaining people, and he’s certainly an amazing entertainer.”

The two met via a mutual friend – the journalist Simon Hattenstone who writes for the Guardian and has also worked with O’Sullivan on his autobiographies.

“Simon was interviewing me and for some reason he asked me if I liked snooker,” said Miliband. “I started going on about it and then he got Ronnie on the phone to speak to me. Since then I have got to know Ronnie and he has come to my constituency. He is a great person. I know some people think he’s controversial, but he’s a great advert for snooker.

“He has an incredible personality and he’s got real depth. When I saw him talking to the young people in my constituency, he had a magical ability to talk about his own problems. He doesn’t try to pretend he’s had an easy life, he’s had ups and downs of all kinds, and that makes him more of a compelling figure.

“I think it was an eye opener for him to come and meet people from a different part of the country. I took him to the working men’s club which has a snooker table in it – the members there still talk about the time he came. That’s his magnetism and his charisma. Ronnie did try to give me some tips on the table, but my game is sadly beyond redemption.”

The admiration between the two is clearly mutual as O’Sullivan has – since meeting Miliband – become increasingly interested in politics, and particularly social inequality.

“With Ed, I went to a mining club for a snooker game,” the Rocket said in a recent interview. “There were proper, working-class people, and I could relate to them. I can’t relate to a bunch of bankers sitting there, drinking wine and splashing money like it’s going out of fashion. It’s obscene, it makes me feel sick. I don’t want to be a part of it. I want to try to do good for people.”

In January, Miliband came to watch live snooker for the first time. He was among the crowd for the Masters final at Alexandra Palace in London when O’Sullivan beat Joe Perry 10-7 to win the title for a record seventh time.

“It was very exciting to see snooker live,” he said. “Getting to know Ronnie has rekindled my own interest in snooker.  I love to watch on TV, especially when Ronnie and Judd Trump are playing.”

O’Sullivan has even mooted the idea of going into politics once his snooker career is over – though Miliband knows better than most the pitfalls of the political world. He added: “I’m not sure I would advise anyone to go into politics! It can be a curse as well as a blessing. But Ronnie is someone who cares about doing good things as well as entertaining people, and he’s certainly an amazing entertainer.”