Switch in the daylight is not a pretty site. Last week, the venue that’s usually filled with students drunk on jaeger-bombs clad with sticky shoes was instead full of students who there to see Eddie Izzard, a comedian famous for running 27 marathons in 27 days talked to students about why the UK should remain in Europe – and why we, as students, desperately need to register to vote.
I walk into Switch before the event starts and there’s lots of event staff milling about, immediately I spot Eddie. Only around 5ft 7 in kitten heels, black skinny jeans and, a black blazer under tight white t-shirt with “Stand Up For Europe” printed on it in bright pink Frankie Says Relax style. His bright pink beret and lipstick matches his t-shirt. His nails, also bright pink and with a union flag on one index finger and an EU flag on the other – he has identical badges on his beret.
“Above all humanity” he repeats throughout the day. “If you care about humanity, vote remain” is the message Eddie is portraying – as well as telling students that it is very important they register to vote – so their voices don’t get drowned by older generations.
Switch is dark and grimy, with “Switch Present$: So Solid Crew” on the board above the bar, an odd venue compared to the other Students’ Unions Eddie is visiting perhaps – but, a Labour man through and through, he didn’t want to be on campus at the same time as the UCU strikes.
Instead of a colossal number of marathons, Eddie is now doing 31 venues in 31 days. His eccentric character shines through as he sound checks, beatboxing on the stage and wishing the imaginary crowd ‘merry christmas’. Before the crowd arrives, I speak to him as Tuesday night’s drinks stick to my feet on the Switch floor. Why is it students he decided to target? He can appeal to them, he tells me.
Even though I’m actually 150 thousand years old [he’s actually 54] people do think I can appeal to younger people, in my mind I’m 22. I’m a transgender guy, I came out 31 years ago, I toured Germany in German, France in French – even though I’m an activist, I just don’t seem like a politician. If I can appeal to them, why not?…I see it all in a different way, in a younger way, a more third millennium way. A lot of old people are registered, there’s a lot of young people here. Older people tend to be more Eurosceptic, younger people tend to be more Europositive, because they have so many opportunities in Europe – cheap flights, roaming charges, health insurance, opportunities to work, opportunities to learn a language. I don’t want older people to decide of the younger people.
So, should more famous figures get political? Not exactly. “It’s not about fame” Eddie tells me:
Yes I am known, but I’ve been talking about Europe and politics for a long time. Boris is known and he’s on the other side. I’m not elected yet, but this isn’t a celebrity driven thing, I’ve been passionate for a long time, and I want to pass my passion on. For some reason, young people relate to me.
It’s immediately clear that Eddie is hugely emotional about Europe. When he speaks, he tells anecdotes of receiving homophobic abuse while playing football, about coming out a transgender, and about his relationship with Europe.
I went on holiday in my twenties to a Greek Island. I didn’t need a visa. I remember going on a boat and everyone jumped off. I knew it was safe to do because we were in Europe. There were Spanish, German, French and Italian people there, all splashing around.
Suddenly, I thought: Wow. In the 30s we were all at war and now this is young Europe, we’re all here splashing around. This is worth fighting for.
Now, you can go on hen nights and stags nights with such cheap flights and no roaming charges.
While he only speaks for around 10 minutes, Eddie covers all basis, economics “every economist in the world tells us we should stay,” as well as humanity, democracy and more. I’m interested in what drove his passion, what got him into politics. “I like people” he tells me “which is kinda a bizarre thing, but I like people.”
I don’t like extremists but I think 95% -98% of people are really living to live. I was born in Yemen, I grew up in Northern Ireland, Wales and England. My Dad was an accountant, my grandad was a bus driver and the other was a cowman, very cultural but very working class. I’ve worked my way to know. I have a lot of energy, and I feel I can articulate things. I thought maybe I can come up with something different or do something different. I’m different in my life, so maybe i’m different in my life.
So what about the democratic deficit argument? Is the EU a democracy?
The EU is a democracy. It’s a package we go into. We buy into that package, we want a strong economy, that’s the reason we get into it. The bureaucracy that happens in that it’s quite difficult. it’s still early days, it’s only 70 years ago we were having World War II, we’re the only content to ever do this – it’s going to be tough. We haven’t got it perfect. But we have to be inside it to change it. It’s worth about £4,3o0 in the pocket of every family. The Governor of the Bank of England, a Canadian guy, has no vested interest in if we should vote stay or remain, said we could go into recession if we leave.
The talk, chaired by Union President Ben Franklin, is well received by the crowd. Nearly the whole room is registered vote and is pro-Europe, his job here is done it seems. “How many registered to vote on these things?” he says, pulling out his iPhone. ‘It only takes two minutes, it’s so bloody easy.” he’s almost amazed by his own rhetoric.
“It’s worth fighting for” he repeats again and again.
The deadline to register to vote in the EU Referendum is today. Visit https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote to vote today.