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My night with Eddie Izzard

Posted on 29 April 2009 | 10:04am

A prediction – Eddie Izzard will be an elected Labour politician within a decade.

First, because he wants to be (probably the European Parliament, and he has given himself 15 years rather than ten). Second, because he starts with an advantage over most people going into politics – he is well-known and popular with loads of people. And third, as I saw last night, he has political skills.

A Labour supporter, he is currently doing a series of meetings on university campuses around the country, interviewing and then taking audience questions with Labour figures. So last night, in Nottingham, it was me and Nottingham South candidate Lilian Greenwood facing the Izzard inquisition.

He kicked it off with a little speech from the lectern where every mumble and stumble, whether losing his notes, fluffing his words or being unable to work the microphone, was met by warm, affectionate laughter.

Over dinner later, I said I assumed he was being deliberately crap as a way of getting laughs and so getting the audience more on his side.

‘No,’ he said ‘I was just crap.’ You see what I mean about the in-built advantages of being famous for comedy not politics – the audience thought it was an act. They loved it.

What came through was a profound, passionate pro-Europeanism. Idealistic, romantic even. But he really meant it. So much so that when he started interviewing me, aware that I speak French, he decided to do the interview in French, until I reminded him where we were.

What also came through was an equally strong belief that politics matters, and that it is a good thing.

It was also yet another event to disprove the middle-aged middle class myth that young people are not interested in politics. There were more than 500 people in the packed auditorium, with plenty more still trying to get tickets, and during the q and a session, anything and everything came up – one minute Iraq and WMD, the next a call for more ‘propaganda’ to counter media fostering of low economic confidence; whether we thought voting should be compulsory, what impact the recession would have on development issues, how to protect public services from spending cuts, whether we were currently arming future enemies, the 50p top tax rate (as I predicted on the blog yesterday), whether New Labour was dead, what services we thought the Tories would cut, my alleged vendetta against the BBC, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Damian McBride’s emails, the BNP, was Obama good news for Labour, I could go on. Good questions, hopefully some good answers, definitely a good event.

Fun stuff amid the serious. In answering a question about ‘the funniest moment of your time in politics’ – I went for TB in his underpants wearing a crash helmet reading Japanese earthquake emergency instructions (you’ll have to buy the diaries for more detail) – I made the mistake of saying TB and I could between us impersonate every member of his Cabinet, and I ended up doing brief impersonations of Gordon and John Prescott. I was asked to impersonate Malcolm Tucker, so just swore in a Scottish accent a lot. ‘That’s not an impersonation,’ scorned Eddie, who then for no apparent reason started to impersonate Christopher Walken. Extremely well.

I liked Eddie’s answer to the question ‘why Labour not the Lib Dems?’ He said he felt Labour best represented what he stood for, but he was a social democrat not a socialist , was pro-enterprise as well as pro-social justice and public services … which all sounded a bit politico-speak, but then he said he agreed with a lot of what a Lib Dem might stand for and he would prefer it if we were like the States – Democrats v Republicans, and how in his dreams (alongside his pro-European passion) he would like to see Labour and the Lib Dems together … ‘and then we need never have a Tory government again …. wouldn’t that be great?’ Cue laughter because of his delivery, but a serious point was made. The last person I heard making it forcefully was Tony Blair.

He’s doing more, next up with John Prescott, and over dinner at Amore’s in Beeston, where he wanted us to have a proper post-mortem so he could think of ways of improving the events as he goes along, I was encouraging him to think about branching out beyond students, important though they are.

It is not very fashionable right now to be pro-politics, and pro-Labour. He is both. By the end of the evening, I’d stopped thinking of him as Eddie Izzard, comedian, transvestite, celeb, with twenty twitter followers for every one of mine. I saw him as someone who had set out to be very good at comedy, and slowly achieved his goals, and who would more than likely take the same steady Eddie approach to politics, and get somewhere with it. Good luck to him.

  • Ian Campbell

    Hi, Fantastic night in Nottingham last night. I hope one day I will see you in Bassetlaw.

    Ian

  • paul canning

    Well if Al Franken can do it …

    My loss of any faith comes from the treatment of asylum seekers – I work with LGBT ones – which has undercut everything Labour was supposed to stand for.

    Ideally we’ll have a hung parliament and even more ideally a Green.

  • Wyrdtimes

    I wonder if Mr Izzard sees the need to have a vote on membership of the EU after all the only thing the “British” people have ever voted on was membership of the Common Market not a federal European Union.

    Don’t the pro European Unionists realise that most anti EU feeling arises from the fact that we the people have not been consulted properly?

    Time for a referendum. But we won’t get a referendum because the pro European Unionists fear the result. So there is no democratic mandate for the EU so the people in the main will continue to consider it what it is – a fundamentally undemocratic institution.

  • Matt

    Really enjoyed it – I think you and Eddie should do a double act in France. I don’t speak much French but I kind of understood. And well done at the end, making sure almost everyone got the chance to ask questions, by doing fifteen or twenty in one go. I thought your Prescott impersonation was best. Also liked the how shall I say quizzical look on your face when Eddie was saying Europe was the saviour of the world.

  • Alison Stead

    But is there not a danger of confusing celebrity and public service? Are there any examples of people who have gone from his kind of world to politics? The nearest I can think of is Glenda Jackson who I always felt was better as actress than politician, and Michael Cashman I guess, but we don’t see so much of him now. In the States of course there is Arnie and before him Ronnie. So maybe Eddie has a chance

  • Ben Levitt

    AC,

    You got it spot on- great event and Izzard was a top interviewer with some very interesting things to say for himself. It does show that young people do care about politics. yet I was a little miffed that nobody asked questions on student related issues: student unemployment in the current recession, student debt and tuition fees, and/or student politics- NUS stuff. O, well- I think we were placated by hearing your impressions and funny anecdotes!

    Spoke to a lot of people after and all had kind words to say about the event- you’re welcome back in Nottingham whenever you like!

  • CPW

    There is the rather distaseful suggestion in many of these posts that rich or famous people are more pollitically engaged than your average joe. Witness, this and the litany of Bono, Geldoff name drops in earllir posts. When you and people of your ilk peddle this odious notion that these people have more of a voice and should use their status to lever themselves closer to seats of power, all you do Dear AC is turn a lot of people off politcis and alienate ordinary folks.

    It’s poison your feeding into public life and you will be suitably recompensed.

  • Ian Eastwood

    RE Celebrities and politics. I think Eddie is a funny cleaver guy who no doubt has some interesting point to put forward and should be taken on board, but I’m not sure how close to mainstream politics they should be involved.
    Do we wan’t someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger running the country. I don’t think so. There are many good entertains who thru there own medium get there political views across and more power to them, labour or otherwise. But when they start using there celebrity status in making decision that affects ordinary people a lot of affection and influence may evaporate. As you know Alistair, politics is a tough game how many are up for that sort of fight. I suspect not many.
    Having said all that if a clown like Boris J can run London why not Eddie.

    P.S. Cabinet meetings would be a lot more fun with the likes of Bill Bailey and Peter Kay in there.

  • Eddie Izzard

    Very interesting reading this blog and the comments.
    I understand that some people will complain that I do comedy and acting and go on telly and it’s unfair for me to talk politics, but I would say I have exported my abilities around the world and do gigs in the French language in France and play Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Holland and will do others in the future. So I believe I have a platform to talk political ideas about Europe and real people because I get out there and meet them and talk ideas with them.
    So I may not have a mandate, but I do believe I have a platform that is relevant.

  • Barbara Cannon

    I welcome the views of Eddie Izzard. Clearly he has a great understanding of what is happening in Europe and I think there is nothing wrong with him talking to people about that.

    There may be some that feel that entertainers should not get involved in politics but that is just nonsense. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and participation in the democratic process including free speech is for everyone. Elected representatives at whatever level should come from all walks of life. I hope you are right with your prediction Alastair abour Eddie becoming an elected politician within a decade.

  • Gary Mac Taggart

    Eddie’s mandate to talk politics: he has a pulse hand people want to hear him. Saw political heavyweight Fern Britain on question Time recently.

  • Peter

    ‘…when he started interviewing me, aware that I speak French, he decided to do the interview in French, until I reminded him where we were’.

    That must have been so embarrassing for you both; pull the other one Alastair.

    It is precisely this kind of showboating that puts people off an entertainer running for elected office.

  • Antony Pickthall

    I think Eddie Izzard would make a great MP or MEP and it can only help make politics more open and accessible. Surely, it puts people off thinking that you have to have led the Oxford Union and been a researcher and just totally committed yourself to a life of politics to succeed.

  • Marek

    How do you sleep at night knowing that there are hundreds of Iraqi women and children maimed as a result of a needless war that you dishonestly encouraged?

    No rest for the wicked.

  • Alina Palimaru

    Like with so many other topics, we should steer clear of blanket statements on celebrities’ involvement with politics. True, there are some who are tabula rasa on the issues and use their political involvement as a way to broaden their fan base and media exposure. At the same time, there are celebrities, comedians etc who have more common sense than most politicians, and sometimes know more about a given policy issue than some lawmakers. (Jon Stewart in the US is an excellent example, in my view) Of course, we must remark that these celebrities do not operate within the same political and electoral constraints as politicians do, which is why they often come across as more genuine, credible and authentic. But my point is that there are politicians and politicians, and there are celebrities and celebrities, and we ought to look beyond the labels.

  • Jane A

    Eddie presumably gets the fact that the mud-slinging, character assassination and wholesale heckle-fest of celebrity is as nothing once you have MP after your name and a Daily Mail journo with his big black teeth into the contents of your dustbin.

    You earn a platform via an algorithm of career-to-date and accrued public regard- to then channel it as a force for good deserves huge support. Good for Eddie. I hope he can jump from his platform into mandate with success.

    AC has used his platform of politics to channel energy and commitment into his work for mental health, so a final (no, really, a final) prompt for everyone reading this to vote for him as MIND Champion 2009. Eddie, in hoping to use his voice for the greater good, is following a fabulous example of how it’s done, and done well.

  • Paul

    Last night was a good event! Good for politics and good to see that the Labour movement in Nottingham Uni is strong.

    I hope both Lilian and Eddie get their chance to represent us as they both have a lot of passion.

    Question for Alistair: Given that the UK media (in the most part) has a right wing agenda, should Labour invest getting their message out via social networking platforms such as Twitter and/or Facebook?

  • Wyrdtimes

    I think Mr Izzard would make a great MP – one of the best things that could happen to politics would be replacing the career politicians with people who have a life experience outside politics. I mean – look at Gordon! Never done a day’s work in his life. Good at spending but no real idea about how to earn an honest living.

    But the big question as far as I’m concerned about Mr Izzard is – is he a democrat? Does he think that we should have a referendum on membership of the EU when the only thing the “British” people have voted on is a Common Market?

  • Tony

    I’ve certainly got no problems with entertainers taking up a career in politics. As Alimina said, some do it well and some do it not-so-well.

    I think the biggest problem entertainers face when entering politics is that it can be quite difficult when the inveitable compromise that comes with the job takes some of the celebrity shine off. It’s at that point that the presence of lack of the necessary thick skin and policy depth becomes obvious. It’s a hard time.

    As always, using an Australian example: Peter Garrett, the current Environment, Heritage and the Arts Minister, used to front Australia’s biggest rock band, Midnight Oil, and through sheer force of personality had pub-rocking skinheads singing (and caring) about Indigenous rights, industrial fairness, environmental sustainability and more.

    Now, in the straight-jacket of government, he’s copping plenty from his erswhile fans for being a sell-out and not doing more about all the things he made them care about. The things is, he’s doing an OK job in a medium-importance portfolio – and in many ways that’s the thing that is hardest on the public image of an entertainer entering politics: to become effective in a parliamentary party system, you have to give up most of the things that people loved you for earlier.

    Once you’re in, you’re not the big star of the show anymore, you can’t say whatever you like, and things are more difficult and complex than they were before.

    I respect Peter even more for having paid the price of real influence. I love Eddie Izzard’s comedy, and I’d be very happy if he can make a successful and effective transition into his new career.

    Sorry for the long post.

  • Gabrielle L-P

    Why do people like CPW think that because someone is famous they do not hold valid, well thought out opinions on politics and current affairs. Having a public identity does not make one an idiot or air-head in any or every other arena.I would far prefer “these people” use their famous voices to raise awareness and engage a wider audience in debate than sit in silence.

    CPW also has the very unattractive habit of passing personal derogatory comments on some contributors not on their contributions.

    I presume that his statement “…all you do Dear AC is turn a lot of people off politcis and alienate ordinary folks.” is just your considered personal opinion or do you have any data to back this up?

    I do not always agree with AC views but I do enjoy the debate that goes on around them.

    As for “It’s poison your feeding into public life …”

    One mans meat is another man’s poison… or In Italian, a belladonna is a beautiful lady; in English, it’s a deadly poison.

    Take your pick!

  • Chrome Diplomat

    Very interesting post, although I will admit I am deeply saddened to hear Eddie Izzard confirm that he is stead- fast Labour and has already though and dismissed the idea of being part of the LibDems.

    I am a LibDem and a passionate pro-European (though not so hot on the languages). To be frank I would describe myself in very much the same way that Izzard did (according to your post) and, if I am brutally honest- would also prefer to be working in a two party system a la (I’m afraid the full extent of my French) the US. I would dearly love to see the merger of the LibDems and Labour under a proper Liberal and Social Democratic Banner and feel that you and Blair missed a big opportunity to achieve this in ’97 (although I of course understand there may have been difficulties, including, I would imagine our current PM).

    But here in lies the problem- I do not believe that the current Labour government really is ‘Labour’. I was very grateful to you and Blair in ’97 for making the left electable and I understand where the concept of New Labour was coming from. However, after 10 years in power, with ID card and Iraq and the whole civil liberties debate I found myself realising that the values I believed the Labour party stand for are, on a day to day basis not being played out.

    This leads me to my final point- this being the case I believe Labour will suffer a big fall at the next election. Once you loose I thin maybe there will be a chance for the LibDems and Labour to combine- but for that to happen the public, and the Labour core both need to regard the LibDems as equals rather than, as I fear at the moment, a minority almost ‘pressure group’ party.

    For this to become a reality my party need a real public figure- to grab media attention and ingrain ourselves in the zeitgeist. In the absence, I believe of a truly great media brain (such as yourself), we really need someone like Eddie Izzard. Believing what he believes and being who he is I think he could provide a significant step between drawing our two parties together- hence my sadness to hear that he is prepared to stand with current Labour- with its many faults rather than seek to form the next ‘new’ Labour with both our parties fighting side by side again.

    Forgive me for the length of the comment and I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this and whether you believe this is a ridiculous pipe dream or not.