On Tuesday 24 May 2016 the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan and the comedian Eddie Izzard went head to head in a Brexit debate . The video of the whole debate is posted below and is well worth watching.
If you’re reading this, I assume that you already know of Daniel Hannan and you probably think he’s a good guy (though if you are on the wilder fringes of UKIP or Labour it’s possible that you think he is either a liberal Tory sell-out, or a fascist). If you’re my age, then you’ll know Eddie Izzard too — the bouncy, clever, stream-of-consciousness, ‘cerebral’ comedian. If you worship David Mamet like I do, then Izzard is a kind of superstar.
It’s hugely disappointing, therefore, that Izzard was a disappointment. As a Brexitarian I hoped and assumed that Dan would ‘win’, but I’ve long admired Izzard from afar, so I harboured a secret hope that he might perform well too. But alas no. Eddie Izzard just failed to deliver. The comedian whose professional leitmotif is quick-witted articulacy seemed as tongue-tied as a teenage debater.
There has been a lot of nastiness directed at Izzard on the internet and the Twittersphere on account of his being transgender. His views must be ridiculous, said Twitter, because we find his cerise beret and lipstick ridiculous. That’s a view, but it’s neither a generous nor a persuasive one.
I’ve made fun of artists of course, and the evidence in on this website, but In this debate Izzard is not simply being a ‘Luvvie’. I assume he’s a millionaire, but his crusade for Remain lacks the condescending tone of Cumberbatch and his fellow multi-millionaires bleating about funding. What shines through from Reading is Izzard’s fundamental decency and, for want of a better word, niceness.
Indeed, it was a model debate. Unlike the Daily Mirror debate last week where two members of the same (Brexit) side got into a slanging match about immigration, it was conducted with impeccable politeness on both sides.
Bonnie Greer said recently that the Leave side had emotion on their side, and Izzard made a valiant attempt to recover l’émotion for the Remain side. It was all about ‘humanity’, he said (as if Brexitarians don’t give a toss about human beings). Hannan returned fire gently, but in no uncertain terms, talking movingly about the World Wars, EU unemployment and the difficulty of immigration from the Commonwealth. But Izzard’s tactics are surely sound — the debate so far has been so dominated by numbers around inflation, growth and immigration that people are losing interest.
Izzard’s problem was that his argument — bright and optimistic though it was — had very little substance. It boiled down to travelling around the continent, first swimming in the Adriatic and more recently doing standup. He tried to suggest that the only alternative to EU membership was isolation and insularity. That approach might have worked against other “Leave” opponents, but it was useless against someone as liberal and cosmopolitan as Hannan.
Izzard wants a kind, cooperative, open and fraternal Europe.
Well, so do we.
We’ve been trying to achieve this for 40 years and it’s an impossible dream. It’s not that Izzard is the idealist and Hannan is the leaden pragmatists — the difference is that Hannan’s dream is the realistic one.
There were 12 questions asked. Seven of those were addressed to Daniel Hannan against two to Eddie Izzard (and therefore 3 to both/neither). This was a young audience and there was only one question about immigration (which surely suggests that it is not the enormous issue that much of the Brexit camp thinks it is). Even here the questioner was an employee of the University, rather than a student. Just sayin’…
Eddie Izzard did have a pretty good slogan which, if I remember it correctly, was:
Despair is the fuel of terrorism. Hope is the fuel of civilisation.
Amen. Who could disagree with that?
All I’d suggest, if I may, is that Eddie Izzard speaks (and listens) to young people, not just in England, but in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, and asks them about despair…