Last month, Alastair Campbell and Eddie Izzard came to Nottingham to give a talk at the University. Impact caught up with them beforehand.
We’d been speaking to Alastair for a couple of minutes, about what he’s up to now, his hopes for engaging students in politics, and the 50p tax band which had been announced the week before. Then Eddie Izzard walked in. After shaking our hands, he took a seat, and put his mobile phone down on the table in front of him.
“That’s very trendy,” joked Alastair.
“What, this? It’s my iPhone. Why, are you still Blackberry?”
“Yeah, I’m still on the Blackberry, and this as well.” Campbell produced a battered old Nokia, and put in down on the table next to the other handsets. “And I Twitter on a laptop,” he added.
After persuading Izzard to start following him on Twitter, Alastair Campbell talked about his blog. “I actually did a post this morning, about the 50p top rate, and I mentioned I was coming here to do this with you. There was one guy who commented, ‘I will willingly pay 50p in the pound if you and I swap clothes and make-up.’” Sadly, we failed to convince them to actually do this on the night.
Eddie Izzard, a noted Labour supporter, was defensive on the 50p rate. “I’m fine on the tax rate, it’s obviously not supposed to be there forever, it’s there to help people through. We’ve got a capitalist recession that’s been set up by all this mucking around with debt, all this casino capitalism. I mean, I’m totally into enterprise, venture capitalism, the whole Dragons’ Den thing, that’s great. But the weird casino capitalism of saying ‘let’s take this debt, put it under there, we’ll call it Steve, put it in a bag, put a hat on it’ – that I don’t get, I hate all of that.”
We asked Izzard what this meant for the New Labour project. Didn’t it represent the end of the road for Blair and Brown’s ‘third way’ capitalism? “Whew, this is all a bit in-depth isn’t it?”, said Izzard. “I’ve got to host the show, you do this Alastair and I’ll get my make-up sorted.” (In fairness, Eddie Izzard did proceed to get his make-up done, which does take a lot longer to sort out than Alastair Campbell’s.)
Campbell took us up on this 50p rate. “I think it’s important to begin with the starting point that, whatever people think of politicians, they do not like breaking manifesto promises, and there was a manifesto commitment not to remove the top rate of tax. So that is a big, big step to take, and you only take a step like that, in my view, if you absolutely have to, and I think that’s an economic, budgetary point, not a political point. And I also didn’t like some of the responses to it. You knew it was going to happen, because the thing about the 50p is that most people aren’t on it, although a lot of people aspire to it, but every single national media editor and most of the commentators, they are on it. Is that me saying they have a vested interest? Answer: yes.”
Conversation quickly turned on whether he really thought Labour had a chance in the next general election. Weren’t the polls pretty worrying? “Well, during Tony’s time as leader we were only ever behind the polls for one week, so you’d rather be ahead than behind. But they’ve not sealed the deal, the Tories, they’ve not sealed it yet.”
But could Labour win an election with Gordon Brown? “Yeah, the election’s winnable with Gordon, and the election’s winnable provided, I think, three things happen. One, there’s got to be a defence of the record – we’re not defending it well enough right now. Even with this economic stuff we should still be saying, you know, we delivered the longest period of growth that any of us can remember, the Bank of England independence did deliver low interest rates, the New Deal did help young people into work and so on when the Tories said governments couldn’t make a difference. So one, the defence of the record. Two, we need a better attack on the Tories. And three, it’s always about the future – it’s about the forward policy agenda.”
“And we do have a forward policy agenda, whereas the Tories don’t. I mean if you take something like Ed Miliband’s thing the other day on clean coal. What is the Tory position on energy security? What is the Tory policy on climate change? I’m quite well educated and I follow politics very closely, and I don’t know. Why? Because they don’t want people to know. They think it’s all about us, that it’s just a referendum on Labour, and that they’ll just walk in.”
By Scott Perkins and Rob Barham