Rick Edwards went to Cambridge, but we shan’t hold that against him. Despite his Cantabrigian roots, he is keen to see fewer Oxbridge graduates in politics, and it is on this sentiment that he ends his event at the Union; a bold claim in a room teeming with Oxford PPEists. Nevertheless, his point is somewhat proven by the fact that the vast majority of the room put up their hands when asked who is definitely going to vote in the General Election. This group is far more politically involved that your typical 18-25 year old, and perhaps part of that is down to their ability to see themselves and people like them in government.
In his more recent work – including collaborating with The Revolution Will Be Televised and presenting Free Speech, a BBC Three discussion show – Rick is keen to tackle the apathy with which most young people greet politics. I ask if he thinks comedy is a good way to go about this, and he nods, noting that you can get people interested “by stealth”.
“Get people to watch something that’s about the topic they wouldn’t necessarily gravitate towards if it was kind of front and centre. But if you can do it in a way where someone’s watching a show and it’s almost as though, as an afterthought, they’re picking up some information.
“I think that’s useful for any subject, not just politics. If you do it directly, you’ll alienate people who think they’re not interested. Whereas if you do it indirectly people might just kind of come across it and stay watching without thinking ‘oh this is a subject I don’t like.’”
With shows like T4, Tool Academy, and Freshly Squeezed under his belt, Rick is no stranger to presenting with a young audience in mind. Now that he’s using this experience to try and increase voter turnout, I have to wonder whether he views this as a kind of duty.
“I don’t know if I feel like it’s my duty,” he says, his emphasis on the final word indicating a desire to move away from its onerous connotations. “I think I feel that not enough people are trying to galvanise young people and engage them. Whilst there is this kind of absence of people doing it, I might as well do it. I don’t think I’m necessarily the best person to do it but for now I sort of have to. I think it’s really important and I think maybe it’s a shame a TV presenter is having to do it.”
This prompts us to discuss the role of broadcasting in the upcoming election, and of course we cannot touch on this topic without mentioning the question of the leadership debate and whether the Green Party ought to be included. Rick calls it a “slightly curious decision by the broadcasters” to exclude Natalie Bennet. But whilst he sees plenty of reasons for the Greens to be included, he can’t help but admire the way they’ve handled the situation.
“It’s given them more press attention than they have had… ever. And, you know, people like supporting an underdog, in Britain in particular. And the Greens have been cast here as the underdog.” He mentions the ‘What are you afraid of, boys?’ posters featuring Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennet as a particularly good move: “They’re using it to their advantage. With something that could have been quite damaging, it’s working out quite well for them.”
He certainly seems to have an eye for a successful political move. Despite his own confession that he wasn’t a very politically active student and has only become more aware in the last few years, I can certainly imagine him going into government. The Right Honourable Rick Edwards MP has a certain ring to it, but Rick himself is less keen.
“Not because I wouldn’t want to do it, but because I think the way that politics is sort of covered now, the scrutiny is such that I would find it invasive and intrusive.I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it.” I ask whether he thinks he’s just too good-looking to go into the profession known as “showbusiness for ugly people”. He laughs and says “yeah, you can quote me on that one”, though cunningly doesn’t actually say it, crushing my dreams of the front page hook ‘Rick Edwards: “I’m too hot for parliament”.’
Our interview now drawing to a close, I want to let Rick get back to London and to bed (he later apologises to me on Twitter for being a bit “dozy”). However, since he is the host of a show called Free Speech, I feel I can’t see him leave without seeing what his take is on the whole no-platforming debate following last term’s cancelled OSFL debate at Christ Church.
“I think it’s rarely beneficial to just stop debate. I think debate is healthy. It’s good to talk about everything really,” he says in reference to the abortion debate, though also as a more general rule. “But then in terms of giving people a platform to deliver their views, so less a debate and more just someone coming up and espousing their ethos and their take on the world, I guess then you might need to be a little bit more careful. And of course you have the problem then of who makes that judgment – who decides that this person is a little bit too far to the right, to say this person’s view on immigration is just a little bit too uncomfortable… I wouldn’t want to be the one making those kinds of calls.”