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David Miliband's chippie claim - a fishy tale

By Cathy Newman

Updated on 07 September 2010

FactCheck's Cathy Newman looks at David Miliband's claim that his "favourite London discovery" is the Laughing Halibut fish and chip restaurant in Westminster.

Labour leadership challenger David Miliband says he enjoys fish and chips from the Laughing Halibut restaurant and takeaway in London (Reuters)

What are your favourite London discoveries?
The Laughing Halibut fish and chip shop on Strutton Ground just off Victoria St.
David Miliband's My London, Evening Standard, 27 August 2010

Cathy Newman checks it out
MPs are fond of using food as a political statement. Remember Tony Blair telling the Sun in 1997 that his favourite supper came from "the local chippie" in his Sedgefield constituency - a meal he devoured, man-of-the-people-style, in front of the telly?

But it can all go horribly wrong. Peter Mandelson has never quite redeemed himself with the Labour left after allegedly failing to identify mushy peas in a Hartlepool fish and chip shop - asking instead for "some of that guacamole".

In his recent memoirs he insists he's never mixed up the two and actually "quite likes" mushy peas. The mistake, according to Mandy, was made by "an American intern working for Jack Straw". But the damage was done.

So has the Labour leadership favourite David Miliband "discovered" not only a new culinary delight but a common touch that has so far eluded him? Or will he, like his illustrious Labour predecessors, end up with egg - not to mention a few crumbs of batter - on his face?

The claim
Miliband is only just recovering from the media derision that greeted his advice to Labour activists on how to organise a house meeting to support his campaign. He urged supporters to vacuum the house, buy some nibbles and turn on the oven.

But it turns out that when it comes to his own culinary tastes, he'd rather save himself the bother. Questioned by the Evening Standard newspaper, he not only extolled the virtues of a "fantastic takeaway from Masala Zone in Camden", but also listed "The Laughing Halibut fish and chip shop on Strutton Ground just off Victoria St" as one of his "favourite London discoveries".

The owner of this Westminster institution, Mustafa Raif, was so delighted, he pinned up the article in his restaurant. But has Mr Miliband ever visited the place?

The analysis
We called Mr Raif, who's been running the Laughing Halibut for 28 years. For the record, he charges £6.75 for cod and chips on the premises or £5.90 for a takeaway - and disappointingly, halibut isn't on the menu.

He told us he couldn't recall a visit from Mr Miliband. "Probably other people buy it for him - a takeaway. I don't know his people. People come in and buy a takeaway. For him to say that, probably he is a regular."

Mr Raif added: "One of my staff was talking to a guy who said he knew him. He said: 'Why don't you tell him to pop in himself'. He said: 'Not at the moment; once the leadership election is over he'll come in'."

Next a call to Mr Miliband's campaign office in Smith Square, a short walk from the Laughing Halibut. His spokeswoman cheerfully admitted that, no, her boss hadn't been there himself, but had enjoyed takeaways.

"We've had regular takeaways," she said. "It's really close to the office and when we've been buying lunch, we've been getting takeaways and he thought they were amazing."

Mr Miliband had mentioned the Laughing Halibut because it was a recent discovery. Despite being a stone's throw from the House of Commons, where he's been an MP since 2001, he'd only samples its wares during the current leadership campaign. "He was Foreign Secretary for three years, so he was out of the country a lot."

Asked if he preferred cod or haddock, his spokeswoman said he wasn't a fussy eater - and was also a great fan of the award-winning Colmans fish and chip restaurant in his South Shields constituency.

Responding to the Laughing Halibut's invite, she said Mr Miliband would pay the restaurant a visit. "That is an invitation I'm sure David will take them up on."

The verdict
David Miliband hasn't had much luck when it comes to food. His aides still bear the psychological scars from "banana-gate" - when the then foreign secretary was pictured brandishing a banana. That was two years ago.

 So surely, the time was now right for a culinary comeback. Declaring himself a takeaway-lover should have made him look very down to earth. But knowing - as FactCheck now does - that his favourite London discovery was actually discovered by his staff rather spoils the impression.

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