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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.

Photo: Getty Images
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A simple U-Turn may not be enough to get the Conservatives out of their tax credit mess

The Tories are in a mess over cuts to tax credits. But a mere U-Turn may not be enough to fix the problem. 

A spectre is haunting the Conservative party - the spectre of tax credit cuts. £4.4bn worth of cuts to the in-work benefits - which act as a top-up for lower-paid workers - will come into force in April 2016, the start of the next tax year - meaning around three million families will be £1,000 worse off. For most dual-earner families affected, that will be the equivalent of a one partner going without pay for an entire month.

The politics are obviously fairly toxic: as one Conservative MP remarked to me before the election, "show me 1,000 people in my constituency who would happily take a £1,000 pay cut, then we'll cut welfare". Small wonder that Boris Johnson is already making loud noises about the coming cuts, making his opposition to them a central plank of his 

Tory nerves were already jittery enough when the cuts were passed through the Commons - George Osborne had to personally reassure Conservative MPs that the cuts wouldn't result in the nightmarish picture being painted by Labour and the trades unions. Now that Johnson - and the Sun - have joined in the chorus of complaints.

There are a variety of ways the government could reverse or soften the cuts. The first is a straightforward U-Turn: but that would be politically embarrassing for Osborne, so it's highly unlikely. They could push back the implementation date - as one Conservative remarked - "whole industries have arranged their operations around tax credits now - we should give the care and hospitality sectors more time to prepare". Or they could adjust the taper rates - the point in your income  at which you start losing tax credits, taking away less from families. But the real problem for the Conservatives is that a mere U-Turn won't be enough to get them out of the mire. 

Why? Well, to offset the loss, Osborne announced the creation of a "national living wage", to be introduced at the same time as the cuts - of £7.20 an hour, up 50p from the current minimum wage.  In doing so, he effectively disbanded the Low Pay Commission -  the independent body that has been responsible for setting the national minimum wage since it was introduced by Tony Blair's government in 1998.  The LPC's board is made up of academics, trade unionists and employers - and their remit is to set a minimum wage that provides both a reasonable floor for workers without costing too many jobs.

Osborne's "living wage" fails at both counts. It is some way short of a genuine living wage - it is 70p short of where the living wage is today, and will likely be further off the pace by April 2016. But, as both business-owners and trade unionists increasingly fear, it is too high to operate as a legal minimum. (Remember that the campaign for a real Living Wage itself doesn't believe that the living wage should be the legal wage.) Trade union organisers from Usdaw - the shopworkers' union - and the GMB - which has a sizable presence in the hospitality sector -  both fear that the consequence of the wage hike will be reductions in jobs and hours as employers struggle to meet the new cost. Large shops and hotel chains will simply take the hit to their profit margins or raise prices a little. But smaller hotels and shops will cut back on hours and jobs. That will hit particularly hard in places like Cornwall, Devon, and Britain's coastal areas - all of which are, at the moment, overwhelmingly represented by Conservative MPs. 

The problem for the Conservatives is this: it's easy to work out a way of reversing the cuts to tax credits. It's not easy to see how Osborne could find a non-embarrassing way out of his erzatz living wage, which fails both as a market-friendly minimum and as a genuine living wage. A mere U-Turn may not be enough.

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