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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 senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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