In Britain, comedy and politics have traditionally been enthusiastic, if unpredictable, bedfellows. From 1984 to 1996, the satirical puppet show Spitting Image offered unflattering impersonations of characters including Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, John Major, and the Queen; and the 25-year-old weekly panel show Have I Got News for You has been guest-hosted by a broad range of politicians, including London Mayor Boris Johnson (four times), House of Commons Leader William Hague (three), and former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook (just the once). It could be argued that the style of parliamentary debate embodied in institutions like Prime Minister’s Question Time requires particular skill with improvisational comedy, which possibly sets British politicians up better than their American counterparts when it comes to embracing the genre.
The interview Ed Miliband gave to Russell Brand earlier this week, however, is different. For one thing, Brand isn’t a comedian these days so much as a garrulous, self-appointed spokesperson for “the people”—one who has published a book detailing his manifesto for revolution (titled Revolution) and declared publicly over and over again that voting is a waste of time. Miliband, by contrast, is a politician who’s worked for the Labour party in some capacity or other since 1994, and who's hoping to counter voter apathy on May 7 to the extent that he’s elected prime minister. News of the interview leaked on Monday after a neighbor of Brand’s spotted Miliband leaving his property, and the full 15-minute footage, exclusive to Brand’s online news show, The Trews (short for The True News), was released Wednesday.
The British press pounced on the prospect of the interview, dubbed #Milibrand. “Do you really want this clown ruling us?” asked the Daily Mail next to a picture of the pair, noting helpfully that the headline referred not to Brand but to Miliband, caught mid-talking point with his face unfairly contorted. “Red Ed & Brand talk total ballots,” read the front page of the Daily Star. “Monster Raving Labour Party: ‘Mockney’ Miliband cozies up with Brand,” said The Sun, referring to the Monster Raving Loony Party, a long-cherished but chronically unsuccessful British political institution. The consensus seemed to be that Miliband was pandering to Brand and his 1.09 million YouTube subscribers, making himself look desperate and diminishing British politics in the process.