In Depth

Russell Brand interview: why Ed took the risk

Cameron dismisses it as a joke - but Miliband gains access to voters other politicians cannot reach

Ed Miliband took a big risk in being interviewed by Russell Brand: just look at the reaction from much of the Tory-supporting press this morning, who have stuck the boot in before the interview has even be aired.

The Sun dubs Labour the "monster raving Labour party" and criticises Miliband's "desperate attempts to cosy up to loonie leftie Russell Brand". The Mail Online carries a still image of Brand and Miliband mid-interview under the headline: ‘Do you really want this clown ruling us? And no we don’t mean the one on the left.’

So why did he take the risk? He says he wanted to liven up the election campaign: "Some people were saying the campaign was too boring so I thought it would make it more interesting.”

'Milibrand': cockney accents and fighting for airtime

His real intention, of course, was to reach out to young people who, on the one hand, are the least likely to turn out to vote on 7 May, but on the other hand are more likely to vote Labour if they do.

Team Miliband believes it stands to benefit most from the huge spike in young people registering to vote just before the deadline last week. The Electoral Commission said 485,000 people registered on the last day - 289,000 (nearly 60 per cent) of them aged under 34. 

Assuming those who took the trouble to register did so because they intend to use their vote, then their numbers could make a difference in some marginal seats.

So, how best to reach them? Through social media, clearly, and if you can get an interview with a man who has a million followers on Twitter and a YouTube ‘TV show’ watched by similarly large numbers, then so much the better.

As the Daily Telegraph points out, the trailer for the Brand-Miliband confrontation on ‘The Trews’ has already been viewed over 197,000 times on YouTube. Compare that to the 15,000 times Labour’s latest election broadcast has been viewed.

And though Brand infuriated politicians of every hue with his notorious call to young people not to vote, there is more to him than that. 

He has campaigned against inequality, benefit cuts, corporate tax avoidance and on behalf of housing tenants.

As Owen Jones points out in a column for The Guardian, ComRes research for BBC Newsbeat shows that while 28 per cent of young people think Brand “doesn’t know what he’s talking about”, another 40 per cent “wish more people like Russell Brand got involved in politics”. 

Jones goes on: “When I’ve visited inner-city schools and universities, I’ve met otherwise disengaged young people encouraged by Brand to discuss issues ranging from the housing crisis to inequality to racism. He has helped to spread awareness of inspiring struggles over housing – often led by working-class women – that are otherwise ignored by the mainstream media.”

Hugo Rifkind of The Spectator is a rare voice on the Right supporting Miliband’s decision today. “Loathe him [Brand], disdain him, despair of his appeal, but he has a direct line to parts of the electorate most politicians cannot get close to,” he writes.

Rifkind wonders whether Ed will get a word in, given Brand’s loquacious style. We’ll find out when the comedian releases the video, expected any time soon.

It’s unlikely to have gone as easily as Miliband's previous YouTube interview with youthful celebrity Lydia Bright. The Daily Mirror reported that Bright, “fashion guru” on The Only Way Is Essex, was “swept off her feet” by Miliband, saying: "He'll make a great Prime Minister… I was really surprised that a politician could be so accessible to a normal person. He is very down to earth."

The TV star also discussed ‘Milifandom’ with the Labour leader, the teenage Twitter campaign in which fans Photoshop Miliband’s head – sometimes very cleverly - onto the bodies of favourite film and music stars.

The Times writer Callum Jones suggests this “growing teenage obsession with the Labour leader ... could be incredibly beneficial for him. Seemingly more by luck than by judgment, the leader of the Opposition is now attracting the attention of young people.” 

David Cameron, asked about Miliband’s interview with Brand, said he "did not have time to hang out" with Brand – which, roughly translated, means “That looks a bit risky”.

To which Brand himself responded via Twitter: “Don’t be jealous Dave.”

Last word to Owen Jones: “Those sneering at Miliband for being interviewed by a much-followed figure should ask themselves: what have I done to engage disillusioned young people who feel politics has little to offer? If the answer is very little, or nothing, then perhaps a bit of humility is in order. 

“It is a matter of deep concern that so many people have so little faith in democracy. If we are going to fix the problem, we should at least start by holding to account our cynical, self-satisfied, unrepresentative media and political elites.”

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