Lunch with... Lord Wood

Written by Anoosh Chakelian on 28 January 2013 in Culture
Ed Miliband’s strategy adviser Stewart Wood and Anoosh Chakelian have a modern lunch in Westminster Abbey’s former monks’ larder. Photo by Louise Haywood-Schiefer

This article is from the February 2013 issue of Total Politics

Stewart Wood, Labour peer and shadow cabinet minister without portfolio, strategy adviser to Ed Miliband, and former special adviser to Gordon Brown during his premiership. Taught politics at Magdalen College, Oxford. Apparently only ever recognised by people mistaking him for Charles Kennedy. 
The restaurant 
Cellarium Café & Terrace
The former food and drink storage for 14th-century Westminster Abbey’s monks, this new café and lunch terrace has had a slick, modern overhaul. But with the Abbey’s mighty architecture always visible, inside and out, and some classic British dishes on the menu, history endures.
The menu
Starter Curried cauliflower with red pepper and courgette; creamy mushroom soup. 
Main Pan-seared scallops with cauliflower mashed potato for both.
Dessert Too full, but classics such as apple and blackberry crumble and sticky toffee pudding were available.
We drank Orange and mandarin juice; ginger beer.      
We discussed
Labour’s 2013 strategy There’s no sense in which any of my colleagues think that winning the next election will be easy; it’s going to be incredibly hard work. The idea that things will fall into your lap in opposition as a result of government mistakes won’t, on its own, deliver a Labour government. There’s a lot of work we need to do. This year, the core for us is to build on the ‘One Nation’ agenda, flesh it out, demonstrate that this is the kind of Britain we want to build – where prosperity is shared by all. We’ve got to make sure concrete things flow out of it, that people have a sense of what it means strategically and in terms of policy.
Policy plans We’ve got more policy proposals than almost any other opposition I can think of, ranging from tuition fees to proposals on banking reform, energy company pricing to the five-point plan for jobs and growth. We’ve taken a responsible view about not making spending commitments before we get to the next election. And can you name a single policy Cameron had before his election campaign? 
Ed Miliband as PM We know we have work to do on a lot of fronts, but we’re making good progress. Many people who hadn’t really registered Ed’s talent and potential registered it after his performance at conference. When you ask, “Who is the best prime minister?” the person who is prime minister is, strangely enough, often seen as more prime-ministerial. Polls are something you look at, but you don’t gear your strategy by them. Ed is a very different leader to Blair and Brown, but fundamentally he has the courage to take on institutions that, for a long time, neither party took on. Margaret Thatcher had five years to persuade first her party then the country that she was to be PM in ’79; we’ve got a similar situation here.
Juggling jobs At Downing Street, during times that could be quite fraught – as you can imagine – I did all my teaching on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning [at Oxford]. So I used to sneak away just after lunchtime on Friday. There were occasions when I would say to Gordon, “I’m just nipping out”, and rely on the fact that he would be distracted or otherwise occupied not to notice that I wouldn’t be coming back that afternoon.
Politics v academia After finishing working at the Treasury for three years, I didn’t know whether to stay in politics or go back to Magdalen. I remember being on the train to the Labour party conference, and George Osborne – I know him because he visited Magdalen when I taught there – was on it too. For some reason, I told him about this dilemma. He was incredibly insistent that I should keep working for Gordon and that I’d always regret it if I didn’t. That was a big part of my decision to stay in politics. Even now, when I bump into George, we joke that I’m still here because of his advice.
Perfect for
Business lunchers looking for something a little more Benedictine than usual.
Not suitable for
Those hungry for a hearty meal. The restaurant is daytime only, and this is reflected in the menu, which consists mainly of light meals and sandwiches. 
The cost
Hardly any dishes cost over £10, and there’s handy dual pricing to make a starter a main.
To book a table at Cellarium, call 020 7222 0516 or email

Tags: Anoosh Chakelian, Cellarium, Ed Miliband, Issue 55, Lunch with, Stewart Wood, Westminster Abbey

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