Away from the Westminster hothouse, with its ever increasing circles of expenses fraud, its 62 seat majority government struggling to win a Commons vote, and its rapturous remembrance of the Thatcherite victory 30 years ago, the politics roadshow across the country still goes on. Last week, Alastair Campbell and Eddie Izzard joined forces with Nottingham's prospective Labour candidate at Nottingham University, and rather fortunately a former SGS politics student was there to capture the essence. His report of an interesting university meeting featuring a comic force, a spent force and would-be force, follows:
Last Tuesday night I attended a ‘University of Nottingham Labour Students’ event that managed to draw probably the largest crowd of students and professors to a political event that Nottingham University has ever seen. Packing out the Coates Auditorium, the audience (many, like myself , whom I doubt were Labour supporters) came to see the comedian Eddie Izzard host a discussion with Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s infamous ‘Spin Doctor’, and Lillian Greenwood, Labour's would-be MP. That it was billed as "Talking Politics with Eddie Izzard" may well have been the big draw for many, although it was fun to spot the many excited and amusing looking Young Labour members in their classy white polo tops.
Eddie Izzard took the stage first. He spoke of his interest in politics, advocating a very populist agenda and a strong pro-European view. He comes across very well and you could easily see him as a politician if you didn’t know about his cross-dressing ways (although because he is so open about it, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, whereas if your local MP was found wearing ladies clothes at the weekend it would become a massive media bloodbath). He is intelligent, well travelled, is at ease in front of large crowds and, coming from a non-political background, he seems to cut across all the political rhetoric that is so commonly found in Westminster.
Next, Izzard introduced the prospective Labour candidate for the Nottingham South seat, which covers the University. Lillian Greenwood, although perhaps she might become the most influential person appearing for those in the crowd, was the small fry this evening. Although it is harsh to compare her to the very experienced crowd-pleasers Izzard and Campbell, she was nowhere near as relaxed in front of the crowd and her political knowledge seemed limited to her Trade Union background and the Labour Party manifesto which she pledged to uphold if elected. But to be fair, she answered he questions well and seemed like an able and interested person who is willing to spend time and effort to try and serve this country as an MP.
The final third of the show was taken up by Alastair Campbell whom I first saw with Giles at an SGS 6th Form Politics trip to London. He is, as he was then, a very good public speaker with great experience as a Westminster insider. After a brief but amusing discussion between Campbell and Izzard in French, where Greenwood looked about as out of place as you would imagine John Prescott would be, he spoke to the audience about his background and experience in politics. Campbell had amazing influence under Tony Blair and he is a sharp and confident political operator. As a West Wing fan I can easily see bits of the Communications Director Toby and Press Secretary CJ in him, it is the way he controls the discussion and sidesteps any landmines whilst portraying a confident facade and a strong belief in his actions. One interesting point was his denunciation of the media for portraying the British National Party as a legitimate political party linked to the concession that he actually believed the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had something to legitimately add to the political discussion. Talking about the benefits of Labour’s opposition probably played well to the student crowd whereas pro-Labour ‘spin’ seemed to fall flat and sounded like it should have been reserved for Prime Minister’s Question Time.
As a finishing question Izzard was asked why he was supporting Labour and not ‘the other progressive party, the Lib Dems’. His response seemed rather naive for a ‘wannabe politician’. He effectively said he was supporting Labour because the Liberal Democrats had no chance of getting into power and that he was a realist, even proposing that perhaps a Lab-Lib coalition might perhaps be a good thing for this country so that the Conservatives would be permanently out in the cold. His ambition to run for ‘some position, on some platform, somewhere in Europe, within the next 10-15 years’ shows that Izzard still has a long way to go before he is seen as a serious political force.
Cash, SGS 1997-2005.