What MPs Can Learn from Eddie Izzard
Ashley, Jackie, New Statesman (1996)
For a Westminster hack who moonlights as a TV and radio presenter of political shows, life doesn't usually get more exciting than cross-questioning Michael Howard or Geoff Hoon. But I've been living. I've hit the big time. I have been interviewing Eddie Izzard. In case you don't know, Eddie Izzard is a successful and much-loved comedian who has described himself as a transvestite lesbian and likes to shock. Women's dresses, loadsa make-up, rudejokes-you get the picture.
However, on this occasion (a Sunday current affairs show for London Weekend Television), there were no jokes-just loads of passion. We were talking about the euro. Izzard wasn't interested in the usual political knockabout. He brushed aside the "five economic tests" and couldn't care less about the briefings and counter-briefings about Brown or Blair blowing hot or cold on the subject. Izzard's arguments encompassed idealism-closer European unity is essential to maintain peace in our continent -- and realism -- as British people use the euro abroad and find that they can use it in many shops, pubs and restaurants at home (even the Dixons chain of electrical shops, whose chairman, Sir Stanley Kalms, is the Tory party treasurer, will be adapting its tills to accept the euro), we will get used to the new currency. In other words, according to Izzard, it's gonna happen, and it's good.
He was a brilliant political interviewee. It made me wonder why the professional politicians can't sound as good. Something quite profound is going wrong with our political language in this country; and it took Eddie Izzard, who would rather like to be an MEP, to make me see it. With five million fewer people voting in this year's general election than in 1997, it's an issue that is troubling the broadcasters -- faced with declining audiences for political programmes -- and the politicians themselves.
But bringing on the comedians isn't the answer. For a start, there aren't enough of them to go round. And they have a living to earn on the comedy circuit, without having to interrupt their performances for a quick dash to the Newsnight studio. Nor is it very sensible to give up on politics altogether. Yes, we could flop on the sofa to watch omnibus editions of East-Enders, and leave it to others to run the country.
But unless we all keep a close eye on those "others", democracy could soon find itself in peril. It is a participation sport or it's a sham. The right answer is to find out what might enthuse these hordes of non-voters into the business of choosing our government and running our country. Now, at last, there is some decent research into what might help. In a report just out, the Hansard Society, the influential parliamentary think-tank, has collaborated with MORI to find out why people didn't vote, and what might make them do so next time.
The report makes surprising reading. …