Show Hide image

What happened when Russell Brand interviewed Ed Miliband?

"You gotta answer it, mate."

Milibrand has landed.

A couple of days ago, Ed Miliband discovered that people were finding this election campaign too "boring", so decided to go round to everyone’s favourite Twitter-happy vagabond Jesus Russell Brand's house to make it more interesting.

For the past 24 hours, a bizarre online audience of political journalists on full pre-snark mode combined with the 1,091,466 YouTube subscribers to Brand’s festival of gonzo gurning, The Trews, have been on tenterhooks waiting for the moment that could make or break the election.

Brand promised it at lunchtime. But when do scarecrow Del Boy lotharios have lunch, the nation cried? At last, the interview appeared, and unsurprisingly it’s 15 minutes of questions low in content and high in syllables, with answers from the Labour leader peppered with incongruous glottal stops and dropped tees and aitches.

It takes just 40 seconds for Brand, sitting uncomfortably close to Miliband on his kitchen sofa with a candle burning ominously in the background, to deploy the phrase “unelected powerful elites”, and we’re off.

Thankfully, Miliband’s linguistic Blairite turns – “it’s sorta one rule for the richest”; “it’s just, like, wrong”; “Northern Rock an’ all tha’”; “Yeah we gotta deal with that”; “it ain’t gonna be like that” – don’t mean he panders to his interviewer’s conspiracy-fuelled ramblings.

Unafraid of defending the role of the establishment in making change, he even braves wearing a tie in Brand’s quarters. A dark, glossy, skinny affair. Appropriate, really.

Plus Miliband is unafraid to make the shocking admission: “I’m not sure I’d look so good with a pint on my head.”

He insists he is not “looking for euphoria” and simple solutions, making the case for progress coming from both people and politics. “It’s not about edgy,” is an immortal line. You coulda fooled me, Ed.

At one point, he shoots Brand a beautiful glance of soft disdain usually reserved for extraordinary circumstances, like being seated next to Myleene Klass. “I hope it doesn’t sound adolescent...” begins Brand. “I’m sure it won’t,” blinks Ed.

But fear not, Miliband does agree with Brand on the generally-held evils of this world, like Amazon and the Murdoch press, calling the latter “less powerful than they used to be”. Perhaps the only telling moment of the interview. Apart from when Miliband does an accomplished ‘am I right?’ full body shrug. One for the end of his next conference speech, I reckon:
 

Eyyy, buddy.

An unrevealing interview, all in all. And one that didn’t quite end in a Labour endorsement from the rabid non-voter, as was rumoured. But at least we got to hear Miliband’s street voice. And see inside yet another kitchen.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.