Famous comedian, marathon-runner and Labour Party member Eddie Izzard is running for one of three new places on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) as an independent candidate and is considered by many to be the main threat to a clean sweep of three new positions by the ‘grassroots left slate’ supported by Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.
While he is standing as an independent, his candidacy is supported by right-wing Labour factions Progress and Labour First, but he recently asked for his name to be removed from a website they had set up to support their preferred candidates.
Izzard is currently in France, where he’s performing stand-up ‘improv’ comedy in French – he speaks it fluently – which he says ‘terrifies’ him, but in spite of that he’s also learning German with a view to performing in that language too.
He talked exclusively to the SKWAWKBOX – in his trademark style with slow, elongated words switching to rapid-fire and liberally interspersed with ‘blahblahblahblah’s when his patience with a sentence or idea runs out – about his reasons for standing, Labour Party democracy and the issues around his controversial supporters.
It was an illuminating interview with a man whose heart appears in the right place.
But is he a good fit for the NEC and the task ahead of it over the next couple of years? Labour members will have to decide whether his opinions and politics – and some of the gaps in them – are cause for confidence or concern.
It’s a longish read, but it will be time well spent for any members interested in the man behind the celebrity persona, who’s asking for their votes – and the questions grow more probing – telling? – as the interview progresses.
Why do you want a place on the NEC and what do you want to do with it?
Well, I like going out in the, er, General Elections, European elections, whatever it is referendum and fighting for our people. And I like meeting the activists and getting out there, knocking on doors and doing all that work.
I’m self-propelling. No one said ‘hey you should go and do this – I don’t know who would do that, tell anyone to go and do it but, you know, I do like getting – I like the members. It sounds a bit weird, but I just do, if you’ve seen me, any time I turn up with people, I just do appreciate the work that’s gone in, because in my own life I do like to do things, be up front, lead from the front as opposed to saying ‘could other people go and do things to make things better.
And I would like to be more involved with the Labour Party, as I’ve said for many years, I’d like to be an MP maybe at the next election, hoping to stand at the next election.
So if I could get involved in the NEC, bring my energy to bear on that, then I’d like to do that, represent the members – and find out how it actually works when you’re on the inside. Because it is different on the outside, you know, to the inside, the big machine that is the Labour Party.
So I would like to be in there, I think I can bring a lot of energy, a lot of positive energy, and also [sigh] I know we’ve been arguing ourselves in our party as has the Tory party, this ‘which way, that way’ – I’m very good on my own, but I’m also pretty good as a team player, I just like, I’d like Jeremy Corbyn to be the leader, he’s won two elections, that settles it, biggest party in Europe.
Let’s get him in as leader – and I’m a good fighter, I am a good fighter, I’ve fought for a long time, I came out thirty-two years ago as transgender, that was a big old fight.
And so I fight for things, I run my marathons, I can bring all my energy to it and let’s get him elected as the leader of our country.
The NEC plays an important role in steering the party’s direction, setting policy etc. Have you had any other roles within the party that would give you experience to undertake that kind of role?
No, not overtly been involved, this would be my first role, as I say I have been an activist since 2008, I’ve been a member of the party for longer than that and I just, er, I want to bring my energy in.
So no, I can’t say I’ve a huge experience in office, seat on the council or anything, but I have been out in the world and so – I think a lot of people in our party and out in the world, they do want someone who comes into politics and hasn’t come all the way up through politics. So I bring a different set of skills and experiences that if anyone tracks back through my life they’ll see that I’ve played with an open hand and – I’m for humanity, I’m for human beings, God this is the 21st century, this is our key century, we get it right for seven billion people – that’s what I’m arguing for, seven billion people should all have a fair chance, we have a right to have a fair chance in life.
We’ve got to make that happen this century, it is a key century and I’ll say that till I’m blue in the face.
In terms of policies, in the General Election Labour had a manifesto that was very well received, some of the policies were perceived as more radical than others. In one sentence, what’s your view of the following?
The 20:1 pay ratio for company bosses compared to their lowest-paid staff?
Well, I think that’s very interesting, I’m in a weird thing where I have, I probably get paid more, an inflated rate and I have no employees per se in that way – but yeah, I’m for paying taxes, when we had the 50% I was paying that. I think if people have got more money, if they’ve got it then they should be helping out people who are struggling. Poverty is this thing that just seems to go on and on and on down through the centuries so, coming up with things like that, let’s try it, let’s get it out there.
Nationalisation of utilities and Royal Mail?
Yeah, well exactly. Privatisation of Royal Mail, immediately there’s a windfall that goes to people, private people and that’s not how it should be, I remember back in the Thatcher years when they were privatising everything. The French do very well with [rail operator] SNCF, you know in France, that’s been nationalised for years and that seems to do pretty well, why can’t we do it ourselves, why can’t we make it happen, why does it have to be, why the utilities – why does it have to be people constantly making profits for private individuals and people suffering always seems to be the average citizen of our country. Or any country. So, yeah, let’s go for it.
Well again, similar area, people when they just jack up the rents like crazy. I want all people to have a good time. I’m doing well for myself, I want everyone to do well. I’m in this weird job that I have, but I would like every citizen to have a fair deal, not only in our country, I’m talking about the world, but obviously I’m not in a perfect position to do anything about the world. But yeah, again, I’m cool with that.
Was there anything in the manifesto that you were less comfortable with?
Well, on nuclear disarmament I’m a multilateralist, I know Jeremy’s a unilateralist and, but I know New Zealand has no nuclear power, er weapons, a non-nuclear policy and, you know, nothing has moved on the nuclear front for a long time – so, Jeremy’s got the wind in his sails, he’s won two elections, got the biggest party, go for it.
I will take a united front with the party, even though – and, you know, if everyone’s being reasonable there’s going to be certain things, you can’t agree on everything, but the idea of being in a party, which you know and people outside the party probably don’t know, is that you do have to take a position behind what becomes party policy, even if it isn’t exactly what you’re thinking. And that’s a tough old thing to do, but that’s the gig, that’s what you’re standing up for – and I will do that.
We covered a story the other day about the Merseyside Royal Mail workers, who refused to delivery the S*n leaflets. Are you in favour of that kind of direct action?
Well, you know, the S*n newspaper, I’m not in favour of that newspaper, I know Liverpool people, I know what the S*n did to Liverpool people, I’ve seen about the history of that, so if they want to do that they should go for it, what the S*n did to the people of Liverpool back then was just so wrong and the Liverpool people have been so solid in their action against that.
What’s your opinion of the current OMOV system for electing the leader versus the old electoral college system that used to be in place until fairly recently?
Um, well again fine, if the one person one vote thing has been voted in, then go with that – I don’t have a massive opinion on it one way or the other but, I do know, well you know this, in politics there can be so many things to have opinions on, so some things you’re going to say to me and I won’t have a massive opinion one way or the other, because if that’s what’s in, if that’s what we’re doing, let’s do that.
Being transgender, running marathons, looking at the world playing, I’ve done forty-five countries now, I’ve done four different languages, I didn’t mention Spanish [sic] to you before [during the pre-interview chat] but I’m going to do Arabic and Russian and I look at these things and you get to the very first thing and somebody’ll say to you, ‘what do you think about this?’
And you go, ok let’s do it, so being completely honest with you there are certain things you’ve got passion about and you’ve got other things where you go, ‘fine if that’s what people are doing let’s go for it’.
There have been a few murmurs in certain quarters about wanting to get rid of the ‘registered supporters’ category. What do you think about that?
I don’t know about that. Yeah, I haven’t got a strong view on it.
Ok, if that’s something you haven’t got a view on we’ll move to the next one. Corbyn has announced a democracy review that Katy Clark and Ian Lavery are handling for him with a view to improving the democratisation of the party across the country. That’s something that’s going to be big over the next year or so while you’d be on the NEC, what’s your opinion?
Yeah, well, that’s something that I will deal with, I don’t know the nitty-gritty, you know, this way or that way and how it all pans out, but it’s something I’d obviously have to deal with on the NEC. So at the moment, yeah, I’m not down on the detail of that.
What’s your opinion of new members getting involved in party democracy? That’s been a bit controversial over the last few weeks.
In what way getting involved in party democracy?
Getting stuck in at local level – party meetings, trying to be councillors, wanting to select councillors to represent them etc.
Okay… what, when they’ve only been a member for half a minute kind of thing?
Well, they don’t get to have a say on some things or stand for election unless they’ve been in for six months or a year, but relatively newer members – there’s been some controversy in the media where people who have been councillors are either standing down or being voted out as candidates are not very happy about it and calling it a purge.
… Well, the main thing is that I’m against us fighting each other. I mean, I know a lot of our history and if there’s anything that can make us come together that’s what I’m trying to do here because, you know, if we’re constantly about trying to pull things apart, that worries me, because if we’re concentrating on that we’re not concentrating on trying to get the Tories out, the Tories are all over the place at the moment, it’s the perfect time for us.
That’s really what I’m focused on, I’m very good at being focused on the prize or I wouldn’t be a transgender person being out for 32 years, running all these marathons, doing all these gigs in different languages. I get that done because I really focus on that as opposed to other things that I feel are skirmishes, you know, how this goes down or that, you know I’ll be on the NEC, I’ll be involved in stuff but my eyes are always on the prize, eyes on the prize and us winning the election.
And we won the perception election, that’s what we won last time – we’re perceived to have won the election and even though we didn’t get it we did great, he was out there, I think he was surprised at how well it was going and it turned round. I was meeting people on the doorstep and they were saying, we were getting a tough time on the doorstep and then the doorstep changed round.
If you talk to people about how I went out and campaigned, you’ll know I really go for it and I like getting out there and doing it. So, yeah, eye on the prize, I just keep focused on that.
One area where council selections and public perception come together is in Haringey, where there have been a lot of changes but revolving around the Haringey Development Vehicle plans that campaigners are calling social cleansing, knocking down council housing stock for developers to build it again with no guarantee the residents will get to move back in. That’s a Labour council.
I’m against that, I’m definitely against that.
Quite a lot of councillors have been voted out for their support for that project, but the people who’ve been voted out and their supporters have been making allegations of bullying and antisemitism. If people with sour grapes go to the media that doesn’t help the party win elections, so what do you make of that – would you condemn that kind of behaviour?
Well, I’m definitely against the idea of council housing disappearing. Affordable housing is something I’ve already campaigned for down in Chelsea where I thought the housing association was doing things to help people but it turned out they were doing what sounds like exactly that and a lot of people had to move out. So I campaigned a lot for that.
I’m against that kind of thing happening, housing is a big thing. Moving people on low incomes from London and moving them further out is just completely wrong.
The next one, I know you’ve been in a difficult position with this because you don’t get to choose who backs you, but you’ve been backed by Progress and Labour First and left members of the party have a very dim view of those organisations. I’ll ask it bluntly: how independent are you really?
[Laughs at length] Er, if you come out 32 years ago, 1985, on your own and you say I’m going to put on heels and make-up and I’m going to walk out here and take whatever shit is thrown at me, I’ll fight people in the streets, you’ve got to be slightly independent.
I didn’t have any back-up organisations, I just went and did it, when I run my marathons I just go and do it, when I go and learn different languages I go and do it, you know how difficult it is learning languages, you’ve got to have a mental fortitude to do that stuff.
So, I am here, I’m standing myself, I’ve chose – and you know, politics is a rough-and-tumble area and the idea that anyone would push you to do it or say you should go and do it. I’m volunteering, I say ‘come on, let’s go and do this thing, I’ve got this energy, I like people, I think most people are really good – I don’t like the right, but I like us and I’m going to fight for us, I’ve got all this energy to bring.
So, if some people support me, I’m for cross-party, I’m for us getting in again, I’m for Jeremy getting elected, if they support me I can’t help it but I haven’t said anything to them, I just said I’m standing and I’m just being consistent, I am pretty consistent. I’ve said I wanted to be involved in the Labour Party for a long time and I just get out there and do it.
I just stay pretty fucking consistent.
Probing slightly further on that, a lot of the problems people have with those organisations is they tend to be very vocal criticising Corbyn and his team, and the members who support them as well – you’ll remember the ‘entryists’, ‘dogs’, ‘rabble’, ‘Trots’ and the rest of the insults used by certain members of the party toward the people coming in to support Corbyn’s vision for Labour.
That’s the reason people are nervous about those organisations supporting you, I think. So, do you want to distance yourself or condemn that, what’s your view on people speaking out to the right-wing media about the Labour Party in a negative way?
I hear what you’re saying and I know what you, ah – I’m looking to, you’re looking to probe and ask questions and pull something out of me, I’m trying to say, I haven’t talked to these people, I haven’t asked them to do things, I haven’t been part of that. I am someone who’s trying to stand as an independent and I want us to win and I want to concentrate on that.
Um, if I start coming out and saying this to that, that to this, I just feel that it fuels more of that. So I’m saying, ‘I’m standing, I’m independent, if you don’t want to vote for me do not vote for me’. Look at my life, look at what I’ve done, I’ve really tried to be up front, you know, you can be in this business and have a completely different life, drink yourself, snort, deal whatever – I haven’t done that.
So, this is me coming in, it could be, it should be, a kind of positive thing. I’m going to bring that energy to this, I hope it’s a really positive thing, so I leave it to your readers, I leave it to the Labour Party, to vote how they want to, I’m just not into coming in and trying to make a position that just takes another position that says, ‘well, he said’, I’m not interested in that, I just want to get us elected. So, that’s where I am.
Now, this is another one that crosses that boundary between internal and external politics, I think, because of the impact it had at the time. But you’re quite close to [Labour MP for Manchester Central] Lucy Powell, I understand, and you’ve made some generous donations toward her office costs, which is absolutely fine, no issues with that whatsoever.
But Lucy was on the TV in a BBC documentary recently and was videoed talking about resigning from the Shadow Cabinet and I wanted to get your view on what happened last year before the leadership contest, when there was a series of fairly metronomic resignations from the Shadow Cabinet to try to dislodge Corbyn as the leader. Obviously that failed, but I wanted to find out what your opinion of all that was, because that’s something I think a lot of his supporters are still very bruised about. They’ll want to understand the views of the person they might be voting onto the NEC.
Yeah, well, I thought that was the wrong thing to do, that election. So I didn’t get involved in it positively and Lucy she did; I’m not going to turn against people but yeah, I didn’t think it should have happened, I didn’t take a stand and now I’m just someone who wants to be on the NEC, who wants to help us get elected.
So, you know, we could pull it this way that way the other way, I just thought that election shouldn’t have happened.
My penultimate question: Iain McNicol, he’s the General Secretary of the Labour Party and has upset quite a lot of members with the way that he’s run the organisational side of things recently. If you were on the NEC you’d be one of the people who’d get to vote on whether he was in that job or out of it.
If there was a vote within the NEC on his job, which way would you vote?
I would want to look at the facts first before I start making a position there.
Last one: if you don’t win a place, what would you do instead to support the party and its move forward to try to get into government?
I’d carry on fighting. If you track what I did last year, I ran 27 marathons in 27 days to salute Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid fight, I never thought I did enough when I was younger.
I failed to do that in 2012, I don’t know if you know that, but I went there in 2012 just before our Olympics. I did four marathons, got rhabdomyelitis, a really horrible thing, peeing brown pee and the doctors made me stop so I had to stop.
I tried to go back, tried to go back, tried to go back. But I didn’t give up, I said I wouldn’t give up and I didn’t give up and in 2016 I went back there. I ran four marathons again, went into hospital they were checking my blood, checking my kidneys, day five they put me in hospital, day six they put me in hospital, but I carried on – and I did a double-marathon on the last day, I ran for 11 hours 50 minutes and ran about 56 miles, having run 25 marathons before then.
That’s what I will do. If something is wrong, and the jobs worth doing, I’m not playing at this, I’m not ‘have a go Charlie’, I’m someone who’s quite serious, I want to help, I want to help the members, I want to help the Labour Party, I’ve got a lot of energy and I’ve got a vision for a future where everyone has a fair chance in the entire world. And it’s a big vision, it’s a positive vision.
So, you and your readers decide whether you want to vote for me or not, it’s a democracy that’s great.
But I’m a fighter, I’ll keep fighting for us.
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