UK's Miliband takes on anti-politics star to reach young voters

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON, April 29 (Reuters) - Britain's opposition leader has defended his decision to give an interview to Russell Brand, a foul-mouthed comedian who has urged people not to vote, as a way to engage with millions of people who normally shun politics.

"I will do anything and engage with anyone to try and persuade people to vote," Labour Party leader Ed Miliband told reporters as a video of the interview went online.

His encounter with a man who scorns politicians but has 9.6 million Twitter followers is a tactical gamble ahead of a May 7 election for which opinion polls show Labour running neck-and-neck with Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives.

Brand, who was briefly married to U.S. pop star Katy Perry, has used his fame to denounce corporate tax avoidance and social inequality but has also urged followers not to vote because of the "lies, treachery and deceit of the political class".

When news of the interview came out on Tuesday, Cameron dismissed both Brand and Miliband as "a joke" and said "I haven't got time to hang out with Russell Brand".

Critics said it was not prime ministerial of Miliband to appear with a man who routinely uses expletives to describe politicians and advocates a "revolution", but supporters said he was right to take on Brand's views and reach out to the young.

Miliband was interviewed at Brand's home in London on Monday night. A 90-second trailer posted on Tuesday evening had been viewed over 280,000 times by mid-afternoon on Wednesday.

The full 16-minute video was posted later on Brand's YouTube channel, The Trews, which has 1 million subscribers.

In it, Brand brought up topics ranging from the housing crisis in London to banking scandals to the power of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, arguing that normal people wanted politicians to stand up to powerful elites on their behalf.


"We don't want some sort of giddy 'yes we can' euphoria, we want a bloke who is going to say 'I'm in this for the right reasons'," Brand said.

This was a relatively easy line of questioning for Miliband, who presents himself as a leader prepared to confront vested interests in business and the media to achieve a common good.

"We don't want politicians saying 'vote for me and on day one the world is transformed'. It ain't gonna be like that. Right? It ain't gonna be like that. Change is hard, right? Change takes time," Miliband said.

Critics accused him of dumbing down the way he usually talks to sound more in touch with youth culture.

"You've managed to patronise an entire generation," the pro-Conservative Sun newspaper said.

But supporters praised Miliband for making the case for voting in a way that would reach a new audience, noting that Brand's Twitter following dwarfs newspaper circulations.

"It'll actually be watched by the disillusioned. Kudos," tweeted left-wing author and activist Owen Jones.

A ComRes poll of people aged 18-24 found 40 percent of them wished more people like Brand would get involved in politics.

Cameron has also been lampooned on the campaign trail, particularly after he appeared to forget his favourite football team, declaring himself a West Ham supporter after years of saying he was a fan of Aston Villa.

After Cameron said he had no time to hang out with Brand, the comedian tweeted: "Don't be jealous Dave. I'll run into you at West Ham when you're not busy with 'ordinary people'."

He attached a picture of Cameron as an Oxford student with fellow members of the elitist Bullingdon Club, an image often deployed as evidence of Cameron's privileged background. (Additional reporting by William James; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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