Government lawyers are exploring the possibility of arguing in the supreme court that the article 50 process could be reversed by parliament at any time before the UK completes its exit from the European Union.
Prominent academic experts have told the Guardian they know the government’s legal team has sounded out lawyers about the potential change of tack, which some argue would lead to a victory in the case brought by Gina Miller and other campaigners.
Prof Takis Tridimas, an expert in EU law at King’s College London, said: “I know that the issue of revocation is a live issue in terms of the supreme court hearing.” He had heard that the government had commissioned research on the subject, he said.
Earlier this month, the high court ruled that the government could only invoke article 50, which begins the EU exit process, through a parliamentary vote. The case was decided on the basis that, once article 50 was triggered it was irreversible and British citizens would inevitably lose rights granted through the 1972 European Communities Act.
Royal prerogative powers – the government’s executive authority – cannot be used to repeal rights granted by parliament, the three high court judges concluded in their ruling, which was sharply criticised by several tabloid newspapers, including the Daily Mail which described the judges as “Enemies of the People”.
If the government argued that MPs could vote to revoke article 50 during the exit negotiation period, some academics say, the outcome of the government’s appeal to the supreme court would be different, because it would imply that the sovereignty of parliament had not been removed.
Dr Eirik Bjorge, a senior law lecturer at Bristol University and an expert in EU law, said: “If the government decides to – and is allowed to – argue that the article 50 notice can be revoked, then it is all but sure to win in the supreme court. In those circumstances it cannot be said that, once the trigger has been pulled, the bullet will inexorably hit the target and expunge our rights under the European Communities Act 1972.”
<figure class="element element-video element--supporting" data-canonical-url="https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/jun/29/what-is-article-50-brexit-video-explainer" data-short-url="https://gu.com/p/4mqd2" data-show-ads="true" data-video-id="2578097" data-video-name="What is article 50? – video explainer" data-video-provider="guardian.co.uk"> <video data-media-id="gu-video-577251eee4b030d83eb4b037" class="gu-video" controls="controls" poster=""> </video> <figcaption><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/jun/29/what-is-article-50-brexit-video-explainer">What is article 50?</a></figcaption> </figure> <p>Tridimas is one of those who believes the article 50 process could be reversed before the UK’s exit from the EU had been completed. “My view is that it is reversible,” he said. “There’s nothing in the wording of article 50 which says that it cannot be withdrawn. The Vienna convention on the law of treaties says that they can be reversed unless they state otherwise. The point of no return is two years after notification has been given [to the EU].”</p> <p>Prof Paul Craig, an Oxford University expert on both EU and constitutional law, said the triggering of article 50 should be revocable by parliament. “It is a cardinal legal principle that a party is not bound by a contract or treaty until agreement has been reached,” he has argued in a blogpost. “The consequences of not being able to revoke would be particularly severe: withdrawal would have to proceed even if invocation of article 50 triggered an economic meltdown in the country.”</p> <p>However, Craig said, enabling parliament to give its approval at an early stage might have dangerous consequences for democracy later on: “There is a deeper paradox in this litigation.” <br></p> <p>He said the claimants, who he said would like Britain to remain in the EU, were “willing to risk everything for some parliamentary voice at the trigger stage”, but this could result in a decisive parliamentary vote to invoke article 50, which would be difficult to undo subsequently.</p> <p>“The government wishes to exit the EU. It conceded the article 50 point knowing that it might then lose the immediate battle, and would therefore have to seek parliamentary approval, but was confident enough that this would be forthcoming, and that thereafter the war was won, since the triggering, once done, was irrevocable.”</p> <p>The government has already submitted its initial grounds for appeal at the supreme court. The papers do not indicate any shift of emphasis so far in the way the case will be presented, although it is possible that could change before the hearing in December.</p> <p>A government spokesman said: “Our position is clear: the country voted to leave the EU and we will respect the will of the British people. The government told the high court that as a matter of firm policy, once given, the article 50 notice would not be withdrawn. Because legal proceedings are under way it would not be appropriate to comment further.”
Songwriter, producer and revered New Orleans R&B performer Allen Toussaint has died aged 77 after suffering a heart attack, according to reports.
Toussaint died on Monday 9 November in Spain while on tour with his performance quartet, according to Louisiana station WWL-TV, and had played his last show in Madrid on Monday evening.
Toussaint was next scheduled to perform in Antwerp on Thursday 12 November and in London on Sunday 15 November, before returning to the US at the end of the month.
Last week, non-profit organisation New Orleans Artists against Hunger and Homelessness announced Toussaint and musician Paul Simon as acts confirmed to play an annual benefit concert on 8 December. Toussaint co-founded the organisation in 1985 alongside Neville Brothers lead vocalist Aaron Neville, in a bid to help homeless and impoverished citizens of New Orleans.
Beyond his philanthropic work, Toussaint was a legendary fixture of New Orleans R&B. Born in New Orleans on 14 January 1938, he started his musical career as an apprentice to composer, bandleader and producer Dave Bartholomew, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Toussaint then came into his own as a session musician, before becoming a songwriter and producer affiliated with record labels Minit and Instant.
Toussaint wrote hit R&B songs for the likes of Neville, Ernie K-Doe, The Showmen and Irma Thomas and collaborated with Joe Cocker and Paul McCartney, among many others.
His songs often found new life when performed or covered by other artists. He was responsible for Lee Dorsey’s Working in the Coal Mine, Fortune Teller, covered by the Rolling Stones and Benny Spellman, K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law, Southern Nights, covered by Glen Campbell, and Ruler of My Heart, famously recorded by Thomas.
Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and made a Grammy awards trustee in 2009.
I must admit I live in absolute terror of being in a situation where I might ever have deal with the tender mercy’s of the DWP. So far I have been fortunate enough to avoid any involvement but it is a case of there but for the grace of …
A lot of this is positively kafkaesque. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone sitting behind a desk at the DWP would behave in some of the examples shown below.
Is it because they are in fear of losing their own jobs? In some cases it would seem that is the case. Have the simply been brainwashed by the sensationalist stories fed to the press?
Perhaps I really am getting out of touch with how the world is now.
The coalition’s benefit sanctions regime, under which more than 1 million jobseekers had their unemployment benefits stopped last year, has spawned hundreds of documentary accounts of claimants being penalised for capricious, cruel and often absurd reasons.
The recent MPs’ inquiry into sanctions heard copious evidence of claimants being docked hundreds of pounds and pitched into financial crisis for often absurdly trivial breaches of benefit conditions, or for administrative errors beyond their control.
Man who missed appointment due to being at hospital with his partner, who had just had a stillborn child.
Man sanctioned for missing an appointment at the jobcentre on the day of his brother’s unexpected death. He had tried to phone Jobcentre Plus to explain, but could not get through and left a message which was consequently not relayed to the appropriate person.
Man who carried out 60 job searches but missed one which matched his profile.
Man had an appointment at the jobcentre on the Tuesday, was taken to hospital with a suspected heart attack that day, missed the appointment and was sanctioned for nine weeks.
Man who secured employment and was due to start in three weeks. He was sanctioned in the interim period because JCP told him he was still duty bound to send his CV to other companies.
Young couple who had not received any letters regarding an appointment that was thus subsequently missed. Their address at the Department for Work and Pensions was wrongly recorded. They were left with no money for over a month.
One case where the claimant’s wife went into premature labour and had to go to hospital. This caused the claimant to miss an appointment. No leeway given.
One man sanctioned for attending a job interview instead of Jobcentre Plus – he got the job so did not pursue grievance against the JCP.
Man who requested permission to attend the funeral of his best friend; permission declined; sanctioned when he went anyway.
A diabetic sanctioned and unable to buy food was sent to hospital by GP as a consequence.
We had a number of customers who had been sanctioned including one guy who had been sanctioned for being late for his appointment at the jobcentre because the queue was so long it took him to past his appointment time to be seen. He was sanctioned even though he had arrived at the jobcentre in plenty of time.
You apply for three jobs one week and three jobs the following Sunday and Monday. Because the jobcentre week starts on a Tuesday it treats this as applying for six jobs in one week and none the following week. You are sanctioned for 13 weeks for failing to apply for three jobs each week.
The consequences, however can be severe. One claimant, Glenn McDougall, recalled his experience of being sanctioned three times in written evidence to the work and pensions committee inquiry:
On the first occasion I cancelled a jobcentre appointment to go to a job interview. It was short notice however I phoned the jobcentre to inform them and was assured on the phone that it was ok. I was sanctioned two weeks JSA. I appealed this and was found to be in the right and the money was paid to me, which was great, but in the interim I had to go two weeks without a penny to my name. I missed other job interviews because I had no money for transport and went without food, electric and heating for some of that time. It was a cruel punishment issued arbitrarily, had a negative impact on my jobseeking and diminished my respect for the benefit system massively.
The committee heard that claimants with learning difficulties, were especially vulnerable to sanctioning. Here’s an example provided by the charity Mencap:
AP has a learning disability and was given 30 job searching actions every week after he applied for JSA. These actions included accessing UJM [universal job match] every week. However, he did not have the IT skills necessary to do this and was not given support by JCP [Jobcentre Plus] to do this. He had, however, still been pro-active in applying for jobs. He showed the JCP several pages of handwritten job notes. They would not accept these as they were handwritten and not using UJM. He was then sanctioned. Given his lack of IT skills and the lack of IT support by JCP, Mencap argues that handwritten notes are a reasonable adjustment. He had already been sanctioned by JCP several times.
Claimants with mental illness are also at high risk of being sanctioned, with serious health consequences. Here’s Jessica’s story, cited in research by Durham University academics Kayleigh Garthwaite and Claire Bambra:
Jessica is a 23-year-old woman, who was 22 weeks pregnant when she came to the foodbank. She had walked over two miles to get here as she cannot afford the bus fare from her flat. Jessica explained that she was receiving ESA [employment support allowance] for mental health problems following the stillborn birth of her first child eight months ago. Jessica was sanctioned for not attending a work-focused interview appointment – her mental health problems prevented her from leaving the house on that particular day. She received a foodbank referral from the Citizens Advice Bureau after seeking help for her mounting debts following her sanction. Jessica had not eaten a proper cooked meal for two weeks, and was instead relying on her sister’s children’s leftovers. Jessica explained: “I haven’t had my fridge or cooker switched on for three weeks, I can’t afford the electric. I sold the telly last week – there was no point in keeping it ‘cos I couldn’t afford to use it anyway.” As Jessica is 22 weeks pregnant, she knows she needs to eat healthily for herself and her unborn child, but currently cannot afford to adequately heat her home or feed herself.
The cross-party group of MPs on the committee has called for an independent review of sanctions. According to committee chair Anne Begg:
We agree that benefit conditionality is necessary but it is essential that policy is based on clear evidence of what works in terms of encouraging people to take up the support which is available to help them get back into work. The policy must then be applied fairly and proportionately. The system must also be capable of identifying and protecting vulnerable people, including those with mental health problems and learning disabilities. And it should avoid causing severe financial hardship. The system as currently applied does not always achieve this.
Lets get the word out there and seriously think about what how we vote in May.
You might feel that your safe and secure and nothings going to touch you, but circumstances change. Lets get out of this race to the bottom.
Miliband had just enough chance to mention what he cares about most – inequality, decent pay and fair chances. Will that carry him through? Without pointing a finger at the government for the rich by the rich, the contrast between their chosen issues was there for all to see. Here was the personality choice too – a highly polished professional politician pitched against an amateur, boyish enthusiast, lacking the gloss and the experience. Which quality is valued more by the alienated undecideds remains uncertain.
David Cameron posted this on Twitter after the encounter.
Both sides were contacting journalists during and after the Cameron/Miliband showdown with their “spin”. Labour concentrated on sending me text messages.
But, when it came to sending emails, the Tories beat Labour hands down. Here’s my inbox from earlier.
We’ve got two videos from the exchanges up already, but we’ve got two more videos, with lengthy highlights from David Cameron and Ed Miliband, due to launch in the next 10 minutes or so.
On Twitter some people have been suggesting that ICM must have carried out their poll before the end of Ed Miliband’s exchanges with Jeremy Paxman. That might explain why ICM puts Cameron ahead, they suggest.
I’m told this is not the case. The post-event poll was launched at 10.27pm, after Paxman’s interview with Miliband was over.
YouGov has been polling tonight’s Cameron/Miliband showdown using a new app.
According to this, Cameron won by a very slim margin.
</body></html></body></html>”> One challenge when looking at polling around debates is determining pre-existing bias. In other words, most Conservative voters think Cameron won, most Labour voters think Miliband won – the question is what did everyone else think?
Lib Dem supporters broke for Miliband 52% to 48%. Ukip voters for Cameron 70% to 30%.
The topline shows Cameron won the debate according to 54% of respondents.
However, when asked who they thought would make the better PM, 48% said Cameron, 40% Miliband. Now usually on this question, Cameron enjoys a much more significant 15-20 point gap.
Also, among the 8% in the ICM poll that said the debate might change their mind, 56% of these said they would now consider voting Labour, and 30% for the Tories.
Public opinion takes time to stabilise, Miliband began the evening miles behind Cameron when it comes to personal ratings. Tonight he may have narrowed that gap.
p class=”block-time updated-time”>Updated at 11.46pm GMT
ICM poll data in full
Here are the full ICM poll tables.
Updated at 11.35pm GMT
Questions that made PM splutter: Cameron v Paxman – video
David Cameron is also given a rough ride. Paxman, in his signature style, presses the prime minister on the minimum wage, foreign policy and his 2010 pledges on VAT. Watch our compilation of Paxman’s best questions
Updated at 11.36pm GMT
Hell yes! Miliband v Paxman – video
Ed Miliband develops something of a catchphrase during his televised Q&A with Jeremy Paxman. The Labour leader has a lot of explaining to do as he answers questions on immigration, his brother, and whether he’s tough enough for the job of prime minister
Verdict from the Twitter commentariat
Here is a selection of the most interesting tweets I’ve seen from political journalists and commentators who have expressed a view on the Cameron/Miliband showdown.
If ICM are giving it to Cameron (by a small margin), the commentariat are giving it to Miliband.
The Sun has been using sentiment analytics to track reactions to the interviews and Q&As on Twitter.
Well, it seems there was no clear overall winner, with both of them getting a kicking on Twitter.
It was a good night for Paxman, who put both leaders through the wringer, with poor Ed coming off worse.
But Miliband had a stronger showing during the Q&A section, which may have been enough to give him the edge overall.
Behavioural psychologist Dr Peter Collett’s verdict
It was really a game of two halves, and I didn’t think there was a lot to chose between them when it came to the audience interrogation. There were certainly signs that Cameron scored when it came to the Paxman interview.
Miliband showed signs of being more jokey, especially towards the end – the acid test is the cut away. It’s not simply a matter of trying to deconstruct how the party leaders behaved but rather looking for cues as to the impact of their behaviours on the audience. If you looked at how the audience were reacting, you could see that they were far more amused when Paxman scored a point against Miliband, than they were when he managed to put down Cameron.
But both leaders seemed rattled. They were using a lot of dominance displays in order to try and reassert themselves: using stiff wrists, a lot of heavy gesticulation and frowning. There was lip licking by Cameron, which is his signature sign of distress. Both were also using finger counting unconsciously in an attempt to discourage Paxman from interrupting them. “What I would like to say is” and up goes the thumb. What this says to Paxman is “Hey I have a list of things to say, don’t interrupt me. Both of them got roughed up quite a bit – I wasn’t overwhelemd by either.
Cameron didn’t start off terribly well in his conversation with Paxman, partly because he was talking too fast and there was no light and shade. Speech speed is a key indication of who is in control. But then he settled in, particularly when he pushed back against Paxman.
Ed Miliband did better than David Cameron on four counts: governing in the interests of the many not the few (55% v 27%); having the courage to say what’s right rather than what’s popular (51% v 35%); and understanding “people like me” (48% v 25%). And, when asked which leader was more spin than substance, Miliband also did better. Some 49% said Cameron was more spin than substance, but only 35% for Miliband.
Cameron also won on four counts: being respected around the word (58% to 19%): being decisive (54% to 29%); being good in a crisis (46% to 21%); and being backed by his party (58% to 21%).
The two men are almost equally matched on having “changed his party for the better”. Some 36% say that of Cameron, and 35% of Miliband.
Updated at 11.17pm GMT
</body></html></body></html>”> More from Rowena Mason in the spin room, who has been talking to William Hague. He denied Cameron was out of sorts because the government’s Commons bid to unseat Speaker John Bercow was defeated.
The prime minister was not grumpy. He does not get grumpy and he showed no sign of being that tonight
Asked why Cameron did not get the audience laughing and at ease as Miliband did, Hague said:
They were laughing at him and pointing out Ed Balls was a weak point in the shadow cabinet. The prime minister handled the entire interview extremely well.
p class=”block-time updated-time”>Updated at 11.15pm GMT
More from the ICM poll.
Only 8% of those polled overall indicated that they were likely to have changed their mind about how they would vote at the election on the basis of what they saw tonight.
Amongst those, 56% said they would now vote Labour. And just 30% said they were now backing the Conservatives.
Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, said Miliband had clearly given a better performance, giving him 7/10 against Cameron’s 4/10, Rowena Mason reports.
“It was not what I expected at all,” Farage said. “In terms of personalities, he fought back more, was more human and got the audience clapping. Cameron was nowhere near that. Cameron looked discomfited.”
Updated at 11.02pm GMT
Douglas Alexander, Labour’s election chief, said it was a “powerful, powerful performance [from Ed Miliband] but it wasn’t so much about performance as it was about substance”.
He said Cameron’s answers were “poor”, particularly the one about students choosing zero-hour contracts.
Asked about the poll showing Cameron winning, Alexander said: “If you look at the numbers that emerge in the coming weeks, the numbers that matter are the numbers on May 7 … I haven’t even looked at the numbers but we are protagonists not commentators.”
</body></html></body></html>”> An instant Guardian/ICM poll found that David Cameron had narrowly “won” the contest with 54% saying that the PM came out on top once the don’t knows were excluded, compared with just 46% who felt that Miliband had the edge.
The sample of viewers, who were weighted to bring them in line with the broader population, were asked to put aside their party preference and concentrate only on what they heard during the programme, 46% felt that Cameron had the best arguments, as against 44% who said the same of Miliband. Cameron was also judged slightly more convincing – by 48% to 43% – and to have the more appealing personality, by 46% to 42%. He chalked up a clearer win on “actually answering the questions asked”, by 44% to 37%.
There was better news for Miliband when it comes to the crucial question of shifting votes: 56% of the sub-sample who said they might change their mind will now plump for Labour, as against just 30% for the Conservatives.
David Cameron retains his lead as best prime minister in this survey – but by a smaller margin than in many past polls – he is preferred on this count by 48% as against just 40% for Miliband.
ICM interviewed 3,650 adults aged 18+ online on 24-26th March. All agreed to watch the Cameron vs Miliband Live: the Battle for Number 10, and to complete a second interview immediately after it finished, which 1,123 did in the first few minutes. The data on both waves were weighted to the profile of all GB adults, including to recall of 2010 General Election voting. In essence, the post-wave data is ICM’s best guess on what a representative sample of the voting population would say had they all watched the programme.
p class=”block-time updated-time”>Updated at 11.00pm GMT
Rupert Murdoch was watching.
I don’t think President Obama has tweeted about Ed Miliband yet, though.
Poll findings – Snap analysis
There are three snap observations on our poll.
1) A win is a win. David Cameron is entitled to celebrate victory.
2) But, given Ed Miliband’s personal ratings before tonight, Miliband is the man who has outperformed his benchmark – quite significantly.
3) And this does cause problems for the Tories, because depicting Miliband as unfit to be prime minister constitutes about 50% of their election strategy. (The long-term economic plan is the other 50%). Labour are attacking Cameron, of course, but their campaign is not founded on the notion that he is manifestly incapable of running the country.
</body></html></body></html>"> <p>And the big winner tonight is... Sunil! Who asked such a good question (“Do you not think your brother would have done a better job?”) , even Jeremy Paxman found himself returning to it towards the end when he wasn’t the only one starting to flag.</p> <p>Otherwise, whatever your view of their answers, it seems clear that Miliband secured a huge advantage in winning the toss and putting Cameron in to bat first, allowing his half-time pep-talkers to slap him about the face a few times and send him out swinging. </p> <p>He is, let us recall, “a pretty resilient guy”. As is his “poor mother”, who may have had to endure the “bruising” split of her sons, but having been forced to flee a town from which tens of thousands were transported to Treblinka, may feel she’s had worse.</p> <p>All of which aside - can he eat three Shredded Wheat? We may never know, since Burley dodged the question. Call that a fair non-debate?</p> </div>
Cameron/Miliband showdown - Overall snap verdict: You can see why Ed Miliband wanted to go second. Anyone voting now in our poll will have the memory of Miliband’s exchange with Paxman foremost in their mind, and I expect many people will conclude he was impressive. Although I said earlier he seemed a bit over-rehearsed, he also produced some good spontaneous comebacks (like the one about Cameron on the tube). Overall, the encounter did not contain any big surprises - they rarely do - and, whatever our poll says, it is unlikely to decide the election. But these were compelling, lively encounters, and proof that hard interviews can actually work to the advantage of those being interviewed too.
Paxman interviews Miliband - Snap verdict: Miliband has put in hours of practice for these encounters, and it showed. To my ears, some of the assertive lines - hell, yes, he is tough enough; who cares what people think; he has always been underestimated - sounded a tad over-rehearsed. But I thought the same about Tony Blair’s “people’s princess”, which was one of the most successful soundbites ever, and my guess is that people will generally respond positively to this Miliband. Paxman almost disconcerted him with the energy question, and he picked up Miliband’s tendency to answer his own questions, but, overall, Miliband was in control and I would expect him to do well in our poll.
</body></html></body></html>"> <p>Jeremy Paxman has met another real person. On the tube. Drink!<br />Ed: “Was it David Cameron you spoke to on the tube?”<br />It wasn’t, you will be amazed to learn.</p> <figure class="element element-tweet" data-canonical-url="https://twitter.com/stephenkb/statuses/581220097819279360"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>If Ed Miliband doesn't care about what the newspapers say, he must *really* hate immigrants. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BattleForNumber10?src=hash">#BattleForNumber10</a></p>— Stephen Bush (@stephenkb) <a href="https://twitter.com/stephenkb/status/581220097819279360">March 26, 2015</a></blockquote> </figure> </div> <p class="block-time updated-time">Updated <time datetime="2015-03-26T22:25:30.012Z">at 10.25pm GMT</time></p>
The SNP and Alex Salmond
Q: As for Alex Salmond’s demands, will you scrap Trident?
No, says Miliband.
Q: What about starting HS2 in Scotland?
Miliband says he is not going to get into a negotiation with Salmond.
Paxman says he will have to.
Miliband says that is presumptious. It is not up to him to decide the election.
Q: Jim Murphy said the mansion tax was a way of taking money out of the south of England and giving it to Scotland.
Miliband says he does not accept that.
The mansion tax will affect homes worth more than £2m. Many of those are in London. There will be “consequentials”, and some money will go to Scotland. But some will go to Newcastle as well. That is part of being a United Kingdom.
</body></html></body></html>"> <figure class="element element-image" data-media-id="7f8050578f1441873c772322fcdd7987d0a4f68f"> <img src="https://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2015/3/26/1427408323078/6a22d778-aa91-4ffd-9470-d18fd213ecb1-460x276.jpeg" alt="Miliband" width="460" height="276" class="gu-image" /> </figure> <p>So Miliband didn’t fall over and accidentally kick himself in the face, which means he’s already ahead. But whatever the reason behind Burley waking up and being considerably more interventionist with the Labour leader than with Cameron, that was certainly a livelier audience session, despite two “I make no bones about it”s, two “we can do better”s and several “let me say this”-es from Ed.</p> <p>At least we’ve found the first star of the night in Sunil, who asked the best audience question in history: “Do you not think your brother would have done a better job?” Unusually, it actually got quite a revealing response.</p> <figure class="element element-tweet" data-canonical-url="https://twitter.com/laurenlaverne/statuses/581216308987039744"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Paxman's on now. I hope HE remembers to ask about the Shredded Wheat. The nation must know. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BattleForNumber10?src=hash">#BattleForNumber10</a></p>— Lauren Laverne (@laurenlaverne) <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenlaverne/status/581216308987039744">March 26, 2015</a></blockquote> </figure> </div> <p class="block-time updated-time">Updated <time datetime="2015-03-26T22:18:49.544Z">at 10.18pm GMT</time></p>
Q: Labour got immigration completely wrong. Some 400,000 people came in. What else did Labour do wrong?
Two things, says Miliband. He says he is proud of much of what the government did. But there was too much inequality.
Q: Did you borrow too much?
Miliband says borrowing got too high, but that was because of the financial crisis.
Q: Did you spend too much?
Miliband says, if you are saying too much spending caused the crisis.
Paxman says Miliband is answering his own questions again. He poses the question.
Miliband says Paxman is now asking his own questions.
Q: What did you spend too much on?
The Millennium Dome was unnecessary, says Miliband.
Fact check on Miliband’s claim on living standards by FullFact.org
(He is distancing himself from the Blair/Brown record again. See 10.07pm.)
</body></html></body></html>"> <p>Well that was Cameron, or rather, the two Camerons – frazzled, essay crisis Cameron getting a hellish tutorial grilling, and chillaxed Dave who tilts his head to one side and emotes with voters and whose biggest regret is that he didn’t get to do more of the all the really great things he has done.</p> <p>He has, at least, succeeded in uniting the nation on a number of crucial points:</p> <p>- This Uncle Tom Cobbley sounds like an promising choice for Tory leader</p> <p>- Hasn’t Zayn Malik aged a lot since he left One Direction?</p> <p>- More Paxo please, one nation Tory or not.</p> </div>
The view on Cameron from our BritainThinks voters
But what do the real voters think about Cameron’s performance tonight? We have 60 on standby to give their view throughout the election campaign as part of our joint polling project with the pollsters BritainThinks.
The people in the focus groups are all undecided voters from five key seats. They each have an app and some of them are online now telling us what they think of the Cameron’s interview with Paxman as it happened.
The overall feeling is that Cameron actually fared well, Deborah Mattinson, Founder of Britain Thinks says.
One describes him as “composed”.
Another says: “I’m rather impressed so far.”
“I think he did well.”
“Holding his own.”
“I have a lot of respect - he doesn’t get flustered.”
“I have a lot of respect for Cameron - he doesn’t get too flustered even when he’s grilled by Paxman! He seems honest and down to earth.
“Cameron has his facts and figures to hand and is not allowing Paxman to throw him off course in giving his answers, despite tough questioning from him.”
“Superb Cameron so far, very switched on and trustworthy.”
The initial responses on Miliband are not so positive.
“Ed Miliband doesn’t seem to speak as confidently as David Cameron. Also not as ready with the numbers as David Cameron.”
“First time I’ve listened to Ed Miliband… Arrrr 80 minutes of it.”
“Milibands words sound like a fairytale. Easier said than done.”
“David v Ed question put him on the spot! Do I vote for someone who would undermine his brother like he did?”
Deborah’s summary of the panel’s views so far: “Top line view is that DC’s performance is more assured and confident than EM - also better command of facts and figures. All our panel are undecided but this view cuts across geography and current party preferences. In particular we saw praise for Cam from some Scottish participants and some Labour leaners. People in the panel are responding to the policies in a partisan way but even strong anti-Tories in this small sample tended to rate Cameron’s performance over Miliband’s.”
As Miliband answers questions from the audience, his brother is tweeting about displaced Burmese people ...
... much to the consternation of his followers.
Miliband’s Q&A with Burley - Snap verdict
Miliband’s Q&A with Burley - Snap verdict: Labour will be pleased with that. The Miliband we saw bore no real relation to the “weak”, “despicable” character that Cameron talks about at PMQs. He sounded passionate, and engaged well with the audience (from what I heard - it might have looked different to someone watching more). It was striking how much he differentiated himself from Labour’s record, and not having to defend his actions in government, as Cameron did, seemed to give him an advantage. It was also noticeable how keen he was to talk about his pledge to cut tuition fees, even boasting about how it benefited the middle classes, not low earners. Steve Richards revealed recently that one reason Miliband was keen to have a pledge on this was so he could use it as a shield in the debates. Tonight we saw that in action.
Miliband says he calls it democratic socialism. But his answer is yes. Every generation must interpret this for themselves. Does the economy only work for the rich? Or does it work for everyone? He wants a fairer, more equal society.
Q: Wouldn’t your brother do a better job? He was better qualified and better positioned.
Miliband says it won’t surprise the questioner to hear that he thinks the answer is no. He felt he had to move Labour on, on things like Iraq.
Q: How do you feel about creating such divisions?
It is hard, says Miliband. It was bruising but it is healing.
Miliband says that is not his priority. Leaving the EU would be a disaster. Strategically, if you are dealing with terrorism or climate change, you have to be in the EU. If there is a transfer of power, he would have a referendum. But this is unlikely. Why would he have a referendum when he doesn’t want to leave?
Q: That’s not a definite no, it’s a politician’s answer.
Q: If you are prime minister, what will the budget deficit be at the end of the parliament?
Miliband says he wants to balance the budget. He will put up taxes for the highest earners. There will be some cuts. And under the Conservatives ...
Don’t talk about them, says Burley.
Miliband says it is relevant. We need to encourage growth, so we get more tax revenues.
Q: I’m a higher-rate taxpayer. Labour’s messages make me feel demonised.
Miliband says he hopes to give a better message. Some people criticise him for wanting to cut tuition fees, saying it will help middle-class families. Too right I want to help middle-class families, he says.
Cameron’s Q&A with Burley - Snap verdict: Well, that really sucked the life out of the event (and showed why professional interviewers are worth the money), and Cameron seemed to relax. (I would have said he relaxed visibly, but I’m typing, so mostly heard it, rather than watched it.) But the NHS question was sharp, and reinforced the point made by Paxman about Cameron having an iffy record on promise-keeping. And the “what do you regret” question was good too. My impression was that Cameron misjudged it. He started with a joke answer, and then resorted to: “I should have done what I did, only faster”. At this point a touch of humility may have served him better. But it was the familiar, rather cocksure, amiable bloke prime minister we saw, and all the evidence is that people don’t mind that much.
Q: If you could redo one thing from your time as prime minister, what would it be?
Cameron says he promised less noise, and more politeness at PMQs. That did not work out. On the economy, he wished he had done things like the help-to-buy housing programme quicker. But nothing will work without a strong economy.
Q: You promised no top-down NHS reorganisation. In our borough we had to take the government to court to keep our hospital open. You broke your promises. So how can we trust you?
Cameron says his biggest promise was not to cut the NHS. And he didn’t. He got rid of bureaucrats, and he is now treating more patients in the NHS. If he gets elected again, with a strong economy, he will go on investing in the NHS.
Paxman’s body language speaks loud and clear to Cameron.
Q: Would you like to see more NHS services provided by private companies?
Cameron says he is happy to see charities or companies provide good healthcare. What matters is whether it is good. He loves the NHS. He recalls taking his desperately ill son Ivan to hospital. Private providers are a tiny proportion of the total.
Cameron says he wants genuine equality. The Disability Discrimination Act, introduced by William Hague in the 1990s, has had a good effect. But there is more to be done. The employment gap is too big. Some employers are very good, and accept that if they don’t employ disabled people, they are missing good people. It comes back to a strong economy.
Q: I still think there is more to be done. Social care is becoming harder.
Cameron says councils need to bring health and social care together more.
Cameron says he has huge respect for the police. Police budgets have been cut, but crime has come down too. Desk jobs were cut; forces were combined and there are still more efficiencies to be achieved.
Q: The Lincolnshire chief constable said services were close to collapse.
Cameron says he does not accept that.
Burley asks the questioner if he is happy with the response. He replies: “No comment.”
Q: It has been said we have not seen anything yet as regards cuts to public services. How bad will it get?
Cameron says he did not want to make cuts. But he had to get the deficit down. What he needs to do in the next two years is similar to what has been done so far.
What he is suggesting is manageable and do-able, he says.
Q: Can you give some examples?
Cameron says he mentioned some earlier, such as cutting in-work benefits. He says he has saved £20bn this parliament by being smarter. There is more to be done. Businesses do this. They try and do this every year.
</body></html></body></html>"> <p>To the audience! No Dimbleby tonight, but never not worth reviving this …<br /></p> <figure class="element element-video" data-canonical-url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3tUqRBiMVo"> </figure> </div>
Q: Will you appoint a cabinet minister for older people?
Cameron thanks the questioner for her advocacy for older people. He says he will ensure pensioner benefits continue for everyone.
He was asked about such a ministerial role the other day. He will think about it. But he wants all of his ministers to be thinking about how to look after older people.
If the government is not doing right by older people, do not blame the others, he says; blame me.
A fact check from the Observer’s economics editor Heather Stewart:
David Cameron claimed that ‘the stock of debt is falling as a percentage of GDP’. George Osborne proudly announced at last week’s budget that it will fall in the coming financial year, 2015-16, but the prime minister is wrong to claim that it’s falling already; and as the Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out, he only achieved this forecast reduction by counting on the proceeds of a sell-off of some of the banking assets the Treasury has owned since the financial crisis.
The prime minister rightly told Jeremy Paxman that the coalition has cut the budget deficit - the gap between government revenue and spending each year - by half as a share of GDP since 2010 (though they hoped to eliminate it altogether).
However, he also claimed that “the stock of debt is falling as a percentage of GDP”. George Osborne proudly announced at last week’s Budget that debt as a share of the economy is now forecast by the office for budget responsibility to fall in the coming financial year - 2015-16 - fulfilling one of the Conservatives fiscal rules. But the prime minister is wrong to claim that it’s happened already. And as the Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out, he only achieved this forecast reduction by counting on the proceeds of a sell-off of some of the banking assets the Treasury has owned since the financial crisis. In cash terms, public sector net debt was £771bn in 2009-2010; it is expected to end the current financial year at £1489bn
And this from the Guardian’s home affairs correspondent Alan Travis on Cameron’s VAT claims:
Paxman told Cameron that in the 2010 election “you said to my face, twice, that you would not raise VAT. But you did”.
Cameron responded: “There is a crucial difference on this occasion. We are the government... we know what is necessary in the next Parliament. Our plans do not include increases in VAT or national insurance or income tax. We are very clear about that...The right approach is to find savings not to put up taxes.”
His wording is already a retreat from his promise at prime minister’s question time on Wednesday firmly ruling out any VAT rises. His language now echoes almost exactly what he said in 2010.
On April 23 2010 Cameron said: “We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT. Our first budget is all about recognising we need to get spending under control rather than putting up tax.”
In June 2009 he he had been even more unequivocal saying: “You could try, as you say, to put it on VAT, sales tax, but again if you look at the effect of sales tax, it’s very regressive, it hits the poorest the hardest. It does, I absolutely promise you. Any sales tax, anything that goes on purchases that you make in shops tends to . . . if you look at it, where VAT goes now it doesn’t go on food, obviously, but it goes very, very widely and VAT is a more regressive tax than income tax or council tax.”
But neither statement prevented George Osborne raising the standard rate of VAT from 17.5% to 20% in his ‘emergency budget’ on 22 June 2010.
This is from Stewart Wood, one of Miliband’s closest advisers.
</body></html></body></html>"> <p>“Could you live on a zero hours contract?”<br />“How much money have you borrowed?”<br />“There’s a credibility problem here, isn’t there?”<br />“What do you think has been your biggest foreign policy disaster?”<br />“What would it take for you to vote no in a referendum on our continued participation in the European Union?”<br />“A vote for Cameron is a vote for two, three, four years, after which it’s Boris Johnson or ... Uncle Tom Cobbley?”<br /><br />Oh Paxo, how we’ve missed you!</p> <figure class="element element-image" data-media-id="ed3b5e7e2143d1540b7b18786d0752b4128970aa"> <img src="https://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2015/3/26/1427405163408/33189864-a474-477b-81d9-36896e4a1e2b-460x276.jpeg" alt="Paxman" width="460" height="276" class="gu-image" /> <figcaption> <span class="element-image__caption">Paxman</span> </figcaption> </figure> </div> <p class="block-time updated-time">Updated <time datetime="2015-03-26T21:26:13.425Z">at 9.26pm GMT</time></p>
Paxman interviews Cameron - Snap verdict
Paxman interviews Cameron - Snap verdict: What a class act. Paxman, of course. Not just because the questions were aggressive, but because they were pointed, clever, witty (and aggressive). It was Cameron’s most uncomfortable 20 minutes in an interview for ages. His concession that he could not live on a zero hours contract is already being used against him by Labour, but overall he held up reasonably well, and even managed a lighthearted comment at the end.
The third term
Q: You said you won’t stand for a third term. So after three or four years, we could get someone else, or “uncle Tom Cobbley”.
Cameron says he will serve a full third term. But he does not think he is indispensable.
</body></html></body></html>"> <p>Judging by their red carpet arrival pap shots, David Cameron and Ed Miliband have chosen to dress, respectively, in bright royal blue and slightly lighter (more Republican?) blue. Paxman, (HE’S ENTIRELY IMPARTIAL, REMEMBER), is in a scarlet tie, while Burley’s gone for a shade of neon pink that seems to have made even her eyes go a bit funny.</p> <p>First blood, meanwhile, to Paxman, who is the first to mention a chap a friend of his met somewhere in the north who handily illustrates his political point. Drink!</p> <p>Food banks, zero hours’ contracts, Stephen Green at HSBC, Paxo, the deficit and immigration in the first 10 minutes. Cameron currently wondering why on earth he didn’t go for the mano-a-mano against Miliband.</p> <figure class="element element-tweet" data-canonical-url="https://twitter.com/GaryLineker/statuses/581199885849907200"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Thought <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BattleForNumber10?src=hash">#BattleForNumber10</a> was going to be a football documentary about the game's greats.</p>— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) <a href="https://twitter.com/GaryLineker/status/581199885849907200">March 26, 2015</a></blockquote> </figure> </div> <p class="block-time updated-time">Updated <time datetime="2015-03-26T21:16:53.155Z">at 9.16pm GMT</time></p>
Cameron says he wants a higher minimum wage. But it has gone up.
And he has cut taxes. Low-paid people have been taken out of income tax, he says.
Q: You couldn’t live on a ZHC. I’m going to get personal. You chose someone who was a rich banker who advised on tax avoidance to your government. You chose to appoint a rich newspaper person who hacked phones to No 10. And you chose to defend a rich TV presenter who hit someone. What do these people have in common?
Cameron says they are different cases. He defends former HSBC boss Stephen Green. On Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson, he says he did not know what happened. Clarkson is a friend, but it was up to the BBC to decide what to do after he assaulted a producer.
The aspersion you are trying to make is ridiculous.
Douglas Alexander, Labour election strategy chair, is in the spin room spinning for Ed Miliband.
Esther Addley’s alternative (non-)debate commentary
</body></html></body></html>"> <p>Okay, so it’s not a debate. Try to control your disappointment. Cameron and Miliband will not trade verbal jousts, and will not even appear in the same room at the same time, though the reluctant prime minister might be regretting his determined resistance on that point after his rampant performance at PMQs yesterday.</p> <p>But at last, after months of barracking and blather, we finally get our first chance to decide who wins “The Battle for Number 10” when the two heavyweights finally square up against each other. I’ll be reporting on the night from an armchair pundit’s point of view, offering a slightly different slant from Andrew – more The Thick of It than Newsnight.</p> <figure class="element element-tweet" data-canonical-url="https://twitter.com/davidschneider/statuses/581187198952861696"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Cameron (right of pic) insists on hazmat suit to ensure no debatey contact with Miliband tonight <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/battlefornumber10?src=hash">#battlefornumber10</a> <a href="http://t.co/3LKWEKjz3s">pic.twitter.com/3LKWEKjz3s</a></p>— David Schneider (@davidschneider) <a href="https://twitter.com/davidschneider/status/581187198952861696">March 26, 2015</a></blockquote> </figure> <p>So which is it to be? Sky or Channel 4? Fittingly for such an entirely bizarre event, both broadcasters are screening “Cameron and Miliband Live” (that’s “and”, you will note, not “versus”), and if that wasn’t strange enough, it’s co-presented by two formidable battlers in their own right, Jeremy Paxman - making his first major post-Newsnight appearance - and Kay Burley, <a href="http:// http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8423480/Kay-Burley-Skys-first-lady-sets-Westminster-tongues-wagging.html">whom the Telegraph once called “the high-heeled hellcat from Hounslow”</a>, which we think means she’s an aggressive interviewer who is a woman.</p> <p>At least we can be confident this will be an entirely impartial non-debate – <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/10929289/Newsnight-is-made-by-13-year-olds-says-Jeremy-Paxman">the fact that Paxman has admitted to being a “one nation Tory”</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/shamindernahal/status/581145121581867008">reportedly recently “seriously considered” standing for the party in Kensington and Chelsea are of absolutely no consequence</a>.</p> <figure class="element element-image element--thumbnail" data-media-id="493f27bf2c88b7c8feafa1bff1c134a4f53738a6"> <img src="https://media.guim.co.uk/493f27bf2c88b7c8feafa1bff1c134a4f53738a6/83_740_731_1096/667.jpg" alt="Kay Burley." width="667" height="1000" class="gu-image" /> <figcaption> <span class="element-image__caption">Kay Burley.</span> </figcaption> </figure> <p>Burley has not declared a party allegiance, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt_cUiCjggE">though she did tell the director of the campaign group 38 Degrees</a> that a protest at Westminster would “make no difference whatsoever … Why don’t you just go home?”, and there <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xco7o7-uTiI">was also that time</a> she called a campaigner from Yes Scotland a “knob”.</p> <p>Unlikely studio-mates, perhaps, but according to the Daily Mail they are getting along swimmingly, with Burley marching up to a glum-looking Paxman at rehearsals and proclaiming <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/mar/26/jeremy-paxman-kay-burley-election-debate-david-cameron-ed-miliband">“On your feet, big guy, and give me a snog”.</a><br /></p> <p>Fingers crossed for more of that this evening.<br /></p> </div> <p class="block-time updated-time">Updated <time datetime="2015-03-26T20:56:40.557Z">at 8.56pm GMT</time></p>
This sounds like wishful thinking.
I’m afraid a Lib Dem win isn’t an option with our ICM poll.
The two parties tossed a coin to decide who went first. Labour won, and Ed Miliband decided to go second.
The two party leaders also decided in what order to do the interview/Q&A sections. David Cameron chose to have his Paxman encounter first, while Miliband decided to confront the audience before being formally interviewed.
Asked who he expects to win, he says at least David Cameron has a message. He does not know what Labour stands for.
I suspect that Cameron will get the upper hand.
Here are more pictures from Sky HQ.
And, for some reason, the Iron Throne from the Game of Thrones is there.
Nigel Farage turns up
Nigel Farage has turned up.
Perhaps he’ll end up winning?
More from the spin room.
Some of us are used to writing as we go along ...
Soon after tonight’s event is over, the Guardian will publish the results of an ICM poll of viewers who have watched the whole programme. Respondents will be asked who they think “won”, and the results will be weighted demographically, and by past voting, so that they give a reasonable idea as to what a representative sample of the electorate would say if they had watched the programme.
But who would you expect to win? Here are at least three benchmarks you could use.
That means if either Cameron or Miliband secure a clear win, they will be able to say they are outperforming their party.
But voters already have views about Cameron and Miliband. And they think Cameron would make the best prime minister. Here are the latest figures on this from YouGov’s tracker (pdf).
Who would make the best prime minister?
That means, if people judge the debate partly in accordance with their views on who might make the best prime minister, you would expect Cameron to win easily. If he doesn’t, Miliband could arguably claim that he is outperforming expectations.
There is another way of judging leaders: asking whether they are doing well or badly. And, on this measure, as the YouGov figures show (pdf), Miliband is far behind Cameron. (This probably reflects critical coverage of Miliband in the media, and polling evidence suggesting that, unlike Cameron, he is having a negative effect on support for his party.) If you take this as a benchmark, then, just so long as Miliband does not get trounced by Cameron, he can go home arguing he has made some progress.
But what do the real voters think? We have 60 on standby to give their view as part of our polling project with BritainThinks, which is following voters in five key seats through the campaign.
Each of the 60 has been given a smartphone app that will enable them to tell us their instant verdicts on the leaders as they speak, giving you a snapshot of opinion among people whose votes in key marginals could decide who gets the keys to Downing Street.
Remember to refresh the blog regularly, as these opinions will be added to older posts as they come in to make sure they don’t break up the chronological flow of topics discussed by Cameron and Miliband.
My colleague Rowena Mason is at the “spin room” at the Sky studios where the Cameron/Miliband showdown will take place.
It is not exactly buzzing, she says.
How many people are likely to watch tonight’s programme? My colleague John Plunkett, the Guardian media correspondent, has sent me this.
Predicting TV ratings is a mug’s game - so here goes.
Channel 4 and Sky News will be hoping for a combined audience of at least 2 million viewers for tonight’s election opener with Cameron and Miliband.
The good news for C4 and Sky is that there’s not much competition, up against BBC1’s The Truth About Calories and The Triplets Are Coming! on ITV (and Jimmy McGovern’s acclaimed drama Banished on BBC2).
Channel 4 had 1.7 million viewers in the slot last week for its Trevor Phillips documentary, Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True, while Sky News tends gets 500,000 viewers or more during big breaking news stories.
So a combined audience of 2 million-plus – the sort of audience BBC1 gets for Question Time – is the target. More than 3 million and Paxo will have truly stuffed the opposition. They’ll be delighted.
</body></html></body></html>"> <p>Do debates actually affect the polls? <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2015/mar/26/election-2015-could-the-debates-move-the-polls">My colleague Alberto Nardelli has written a shrewd analysis</a>. Here’s his conclusion.</p> <blockquote class="quoted"> <p>The polling data from 2010 shows us that the debates did generate real movement in the polling, even if much of that was erased by polling day.</p> <p>That explains why Cameron is so keen not to have any debates close to polling day – having them some distance out arguably reduces any risk of him performing badly and suddenly falling in the polls. </p> <p>In an election that is closely fought and involves a large number of parties, even small movements like those in 2010 could be sufficient to influence the overall outcome of the vote on 7 May.</p> </blockquote> </div> <p class="block-time updated-time">Updated <time datetime="2015-03-26T19:44:12.278Z">at 7.44pm GMT</time></p>
Any big broadcasting event like this is a clash between two alpha egos, each determined to assert their superiority. The competition can be brutal.
But I shouldn’t be too harsh about Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley, because they do seem to be making an effort to get on. To make the point, Sky News has released this.
Earlier, Burley was showing Sky viewers the set. She will stand behind a podium ...
Gong were one of the many bands that inspired me to create music. I was never really a hippy but found a lot that appealed to me in the music. It is also in many ways on a totally different track to much of present day societal point of view. Many of the musicians and creative folk that influenced my thinking have sadly passed in the last couple of years. The gong albums I have are on Cassette and I don’t have anything to play them so I can’t have a nostalgic listen at this moment. 🙁
Daevid Allen, the leader of the legendary prog-jazz eccentrics Gong, has died aged 77. The news was confirmed on the Facebook page of Allen’s son, Orlando Monday Allen.
And so dada Ali, bert camembert, the dingo Virgin, divided alien and his other 12 selves prepare to pass up the oily way and back to the planet of love. And I rejoice and give thanks,” he wrote. “Thanks to you dear dear daevid for introducing me to my family of magick brothers and mystic sisters, for revealing the mysteries, you were the master builder but now have made us all the master builders. As the eternal wheel turns we will continue your message of love and pass it around. We are all one, we are all gong. Rest well my friend, float off on our ocean of love. The gong vibration will forever sound and its vibration will always lift and enhance. You have left such a beautiful legacy and we will make sure it forever shines in our children and their children. Now is the happiest time of yr life. Blessed be.”
Last month, Allen announced he had been given six months to live, after cancer for which he had previously been treated had spread to his lung. “I am not interested in endless surgical operations and in fact it has come as a relief to know that the end is in sight,” he said. “I am a great believer in ‘The Will of the Way Things Are’ and I also believe that the time has come to stop resisting and denying and to surrender to the way it is.
Allen was born in Australia in 1938, but his springboard to musical legend came after he moved to the UK in 1961. He was a founder member of Soft Machine in 1966, but became best known after starting Gong. The band are best known for their Radio Gnome Trilogy, made up of the albums Flying Teapots, Angel’s Egg and You. Although he left Gong in 1975, he resuscitated the band in 1991 and played with them on and off until he became too ill to tour in 2014.
Now it is the turn of Eddie Izzard, sporting a pink manicure and Cuban heels, to set down his comedian’s microphone for a tilt at politics.
Like Brand, the 53-year old stand-up has decided to take on Britain’s affordable housing crisis. With trademark whimsy and a steely conviction that he hopes will see him enter parliament or become London mayor by 2020, he has broken off from a world tour to confront a landlord over its plans to rebuild the William Sutton Estate social housing estate in Chelsea with 144 fewer low-rent homes. Affinity Sutton wants to replace some of them with more than 100 luxury apartments expected to sell for millions.
Izzard has thrown his weight behind the opponents of the plans which have divided residents amid claims of “social cleansing”. When the Guardian joined him to meet tenants, some of whom face eviction, he showed little patience with the landlord’s representatives.
“Just on the vibe everything you are saying is wrong,” he told Lisa Louis, a spokeswoman for Affinity Sutton. “All your responses are wrong. You’re doing a PR frontage, you’re going on and on. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Louis tried to explain: “One of the things we are really struggling with is there is no government funding for social housing. We are working on providing the minimum private housing that we absolutely have to, to be able to re-provide the social housing. Otherwise it could not happen at all.”
Izzard, was having none of it: “That’s not fact. That’s your facts. That’s how you feel it is.”
The transformation of the estate in one of the richest areas of London is part of what Izzard describes as a new “moneyocracy” dividing society. As an Ed Miliband loyalist who has cleared his diary to campaign in next month’s general election campaign, he believes the plans highlight growing division in society – a key theme as he steps up his bid for a career in British politics.
“The separation of the rich and the poor … does feel like it is happening here and it can be stopped with the right legislation and encouragement for people to keep social housing and not squeeze people out on low incomes,” he told the Guardian. “We will lose our vibrancy. The city is going to be emptying out and lots of houses will be empty.”
A lot of what he thinks is going wrong with inequality in cities like London is summed up for him in the stonework of the Sutton estate mansion blocks. They were built in 1913 according to the last will and testament of William Sutton who set up a trust to provide “model dwellings and houses for use and occupation by the poor”. The word “trust” has at some point been hacked off the stonework leaving a blank between “Sutton” and “dwellings”. It is a metaphor for a wider pattern that worries Izzard.
“If you look at the super-rich in America, in the UK and around the world, that is a dangerous thing: the separation of people who have learned to make a tonne of money and everyone else struggling around,” he said. “If people don’t have parents who can help you’ve got no chance. Social housing is the lifeblood of London, London will be losing its lifeblood. Social cleansing should not be happening in 2015 and it looks like Affinity Sutton are trying to do social cleansing.”
Again, Affinity Sutton, has hit back. This week it posted a rebuttal of the opposition’s campaign’s claims.
“The main objectors are in fact not our tenants and we are concerned that they are causing distress through a campaign of deliberate misinformation and speculation,” a spokesman said. “We reject outright the allegation that redevelopment of the scheme is motivated by creating large profits.”
Izzard plans to run as London mayor or for parliament in 2020, putting “into hibernation” a comedy career that he loves. While Brand’s iconoclastic politics, urging people not to vote and to abandon conventional party politics, emerge naturally from his subversive comedy, the spirit of Izzard’s surreal improvisations are harder to find in his pursuit of a conventional political career.
Asked what matters most to him in the coming election, he replies with Labour’s core message: “I suppose it is that the financial recovery is for the few and not the many and we need to get it working for the many.”
Asked for another, he sighs and produces another core message: the National Health Service.
He describes himself as a “radical centrist”. Miliband is “doing fine” and polls showing some people consider him weird are “just nonsense” and “Tory spinning”. Brand’s anti-voting position is plain wrong, he said.
“We have to make decisions,” he said. “Politicians are needed and we want to get it as open as possible … We need voting otherwise you have one person running the country and you get into kings and dictators saying ‘I’ll just be here for ever’. I don’t think Russell is saying that, but I don’t see how anything gets done without voting. Russell is coming from a positive heart point of view but I disagree on how he’s going about getting it done.”
Izzard reckons more comedians are poised to make the leap to political leadership. He references Al Franken, the former Saturday Night Live performer, who became a US senator in 2009, and Beppe Grillo, the Italian comedian whose Five Star movement became the largest party in Italy’s chamber of deputies in 2013.
“It’s weird that comedians haven’t gone in [to politics] before,” he said. “But comedy is an attack weapon. If your upfront message is attack all you are doing is tearing things down. I am quite positive on humanity, politics, people, life, building things. If you use comedy straight in there it doesn’t work. If you look at Senator Al Franken, he came from a comedy background. It can be done. I think more people will come in from that world in the future. Talking is our job. Comedians at least have articulation.”