LONDON, May 4 — Three days before the closest election in memory, Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader won the coveted endorsement of a popular comedian who had previously told his 9.6 million Twitter followers not to vote.
The U-turn by comic Russell Brand is a rare surprise in an election that has seen Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband running neck and neck, with neither forecast to win an outright majority of seats, and little change in opinion polls despite intense campaigning.
It remains to be seen how much impact it can have on the election. The deadline for voters to register has already passed, but the endorsement could help Labour tap into what is seen as a sizeable youth vote alienated from major parties.
Even a slight boost in turnout could be important, and it could also help Miliband pick up votes from the Green Party, which is forecast to win only single digit support but enough to tip the balance in some constituencies.
Brand, star of Hollywood films like “Arthur” and “Get Him To the Greek”, has made a name for himself back home in Britain in recent months as an anti-establishment political activist, with a bestselling book titled “Revolution”, a YouTube channel with a million subscribers and appearances on political chat shows.
In the past he has said he doesn’t vote and told his audience they shouldn’t either, because all parties support “the elite”.
Miliband took a gamble last week by agreeing to be interviewed by Brand in his kitchen, news of which got out when Miliband was photographed leaving Brand’s apartment in a trendy East London district in the middle of the night.
The interview, shown on Brand’s YouTube channel, made front-page headlines.
On learning of it, Prime Minister David Cameron dismissed Brand as “a joke” and said he didn’t have time to “hang out” with him.
That clearly riled Brand, who referred to Cameron’s insult in the video he released today endorsing Miliband.
“I know I’ve been Mr Don’t Vote,” Brand, 39, said on the video. “(But) what I heard Ed Miliband say is if we speak he will listen. You’ve got to vote Labour, you’ve got to get the Conservative Party out of government in this country.”
Perched on his bed in a grey T-shirt, Brand said his advice didn’t apply to Scotland, where polls suggest nationalists will sweep the board, or to the English seaside city of Brighton, the only British constituency held by the Greens.
Brand praised the Greens but said voters elsewhere in England should back Labour as better placed to win.
“There’s loads of things I could complain about, about Ed Miliband,” he said, citing the politician’s support for nuclear weapons. “But what’s important is this bloke will be in parliament and I think this bloke will listen to us.” — Reuters