"If you don't do politics, politics will do you." Photo: Getty
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Sketch: Ed Miliband meets young people

We re-run yesterday’s unremarkable debate between Ed Miliband and young people.

“The 2015 general election is just around the corner, and regardless of what you think about voting, if you don’t do politics… politics will do you.”

And we’re off at Leaders Live, an attempt to engage young people with politics run by a new organisation called “Bite the Ballot”.

We’re just here with the kids, just chatting, just talking to the Labour leader, just keeping it political #leaderslive #bitetheballot #youngpeople #engagement #newpolitics #2k15.

The presenter seems to be called Michael Sarnie. He turns to Ed. “Welcome Ed, how are you?”

Ed: “Great to be here, thank you.”

We’ll presume Ed’s fine.

Sarnie: “Our studio audience is made up of some influential people… collectively they have an online reach of millions…”

Cue picture of some slouched kids in t-shirts.

Ed: “Well first of all can I say it is great to be here…”

No Ed you can’t say that.

Ed: “I want to go back to 70 yaerrrrrs ago, when the government set the target of full employment: I want to go beyond that.”

The young people wonder why Ed says “yaerrrrs” like that. We all wonder what is morethan full employment.

Ed plows on. He’s doles out the trademark eyebrows up, head forward, slightly incredulous half-smile. The “Isn’t it so obvious we need good jobs guys I’m just trying to do good things!” one. Finishes talking, relaxes face, drinks some water.

Ed plows on. He doles out the trademark incredulous half-smile.

Sarnie: “Okay, well thank you, yeah… thanks for that Ed.”

But was Sarnie actually listening.

Cue a video. We need the “right kind of jobs” says someone called Mawaan.

Those kind of jobs sound good.

“What would you do about youth unemployment?” Asks the evening’s backseat MC, Jamal Edwards (founder of SBTV, the music video channel).

Ed: “We would tax the bonuses of the bankers and we’d use the resources to guarantee every young person who's been unemployed for more than 12 months a job… It’s a very specific transfer.”

Jamal: “And it’s actually possible, 100 per cent?”

No, Ed was l-y-i-n-g.

Here comes Sarnie again.

Sarnie: “You might have seen the pictures on the social media… The debate on MP salaries, the chamber was packed, the debate on the public sector, there were only a few people…”

There was a debate on “the public sector”? Sarnie seems to be referring to the largely made-up memes of MPs not participating in debates on like important issues – debunked by Isabel Hardman at the Spectator.

But was Sarnie actually listening.

Some guy called Max weighs in on Ed’s job guarantee: “It sounds like a great sound-bite, but it doesn’t sound particularly workable.”

Ed: “It’s much more than a sound-bite Max…”

Well the good news for Ed is 76 per cent of people are responding well to his ideas on Twitter, Sarnie tells us.

Ed: “I want to stop the privatisation of our National Health Service.”

Can Ed actually name three ways the NHS has been privatised?

One senior Labour minister who knows far more than Ed about how public services work told May2015 the party’s war cries on privatisation are overblown.

We wade on. Ed: “I haven’t taken drugs…” Cue the news stories… (Even if he said this three years ago.)

Ed: “We should always be looking at the ways in which we discourage young people from taking drugs.”

Way to win over the young people here Ed.

Sarnie has a follow-up. “But if THC levels [in marijuana] were lower, it might not have as drastic side effects… is that not an interesting debate?”

Ed: “Look I understand the argument. I do understand the argument.”

But does Ed know what THC is.

Here’s a new question from “Jezza”.

“There was a gentleman on the live stream… who I don’t think likes you very much…” he begins, before bringing up the way New Labour sort-of-privatised-the-way-the-NHS-is-financed-but-ssh-don’t mention-it.

He means whom but grammar is like not important.

Ed: “Well let me answer directly Jezza. We did bring in private finance to build hospitals. I think some of the deals weren’t the best deals, but overall…”

But overall private finance is not the evil privatisation the Tories are doing, Ed is clear on that.

He means “whom” but grammar is like not important.

Private finance “modernised” the NHS, he continues, but the government wants “markets and competition”. Because there are no markets or competition in the NHS…

Time passes.

Ed: “We need to hear the voice of young people more in our democracy…”

One of the young people pipes up. “I think about 80 per cent of 16-24 year olds voted for [Scottish] independence,” he says.

Yeah well sort of basically but actually like half of that.

The next question is on “Mass surveillance… GCHQ … Ed Snowden for me is a hero.”

Ed: “First of all, I think it’s incredibly important there are rights for citizens… We’ve got to improve… On the other hand, we also have a responsibility to make sure our country is kept safe.”

Great answer Ed.

Ed talks some more. “I understand all your concerns…”

Ed’s interrogator isn’t convinced: “They can access all our computers and cameras, our phones – my phone I’ve got encrypted, and there’s been over 20,000 tracking attempts in the last three weeks of my data.”

Who is this guy?

Someone asks a question that doesn’t sound like it’s coming from a teenager and should demand Ed actually say something.

Kenny: “Yeah Ed I wanted to ask… What about ethnic minorities actually becoming MPs? … [And] You talked about engagement, it’s not just about making me know that my vote can make a difference, it’s also showing that people like me can become like you, and be in your seat. What would you do? And would you do shortlists?”

Ed: “We’ve got to do better… [But] Let me tell you what we’re doing… I’m absolutely committed Kenny… But I’ll be honest with you, I’ll be clear with you, we’ve got to do a better job, and if you’ve got ideas about what we should be doing, I’m happy to look at them.”

But will he actually.

“It could be worse”, Ed says.

Some more chit-chat. A new Ed sentence drifts from lazy language to the other word he pronounces like no one else in the room: “There’s big iss-ewes…”

And it’s time to go to the audience. How has Ed done on “the hashtags”? Do you agree with his views tonight? Twitter is 50:50.

“It could be worse”, Ed says.

That’s the spirit.

Finally we’re onto immigration – the only topic not chosen by Ed’s team.

We go to a video by someone called Harry Hitchens. After a few facts he concludes, “As a 19 year old kid, I’ve got my first vote coming up, I think it’s a failure I don’t know more about this.”

Who’s failure? Ed’s? Ours? If only Harry had, like, a computer with some sort of free online encyclopedia or some news websites where he could, like, learn this stuff so his ignorance wouldn’t be a failure. Our failure. Not Harry’s failure.

Ed differentiates between those concerned by immigrant and racists.

Which is good because otherwise most voters are racists.

A Twitter ticker pops up as Ed continues to say things: “+UREdrum23 Immigration: the most important issue?!”

Yes +UREdrum23, immigration is the most important issue. (You can break down the past 5 years of polls – on everything from voting intention to immigration – by age, gender, party ID and region on May2015.)

+PMills and +HighOnSprite also weigh in. Good to have them with us.

Ed is talking again. “You know… I passsssionately believe…”

He talks some more. He wades into tackling crime. Because Ed has loads of experience of gangs and estates and criminal role models and how to challenge them.

Clegg’s here next week, so you can look forward to another round of earnest jokes, passionate beliefs and mythical plans.

Or you can watch David Dimbleby interview Harold Wilson in 1970, or Robin Day interrogate Margaret Thatcher in 1987, or even Russell Brand jabber with Paxman last year, and recall what quality broadcast journalism looks like.


Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.