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.