‘You can't appeal to his conscience as he's got no conscience – so we went with ridicule’
This week, Leo Murray found himself reading a Daily Mail article that characterised him as a career activist, a wealthy landlord because he owns his own house, a Labour party tearaway because his grandad was an MP, and then an heir by extension. “An heir to what?” he laughs down the phone. “Most of that was just lazy journalism and lies”.
Despite being an ordinary family man that works in environmental advocacy, Murray has a target on his back this week. This is mostly because of his creation of the Trump Baby, a six metre high blimp that shows the president as a nappy-clad toddler screaming into the sky, with his hands poised to tweet on an inflatable mobile phone. The giant inflatable was the brainchild of Murray and a team of passionate activists and is due to fly near Parliament to protest the president’s visit this Friday.
It’s a funny response to a deeply troubling issue, yet Murray has already drawn criticism from Conservative MPs, Nigel Farage, and crusty columnists calling for one to be made of Sadiq Khan “wearing a stab vest”. “Trump has got to maintain this sort of self-delusion that he's really popular and everybody loves him. So we spent two and a half grand on this,” Murray explains. Here he tells us the story of how it all came together.
So tell me the story behind this blimp, because everyone seems to be talking about it right now. How did this come together?
Leo Murray: The story starts with Trump's election and inauguration. I was part of a group that organised a big protest to mark his inauguration, which was called “Bridges not Walls”. We dropped banners from all the bridges by the Thames and 250 others around Europe and beyond. It was a reminder of a common humanity and a commitment to resist. The group then decided that if he ever comes here, we obviously have to protest. However, there’s a chance he won't really give a fuck about a regular protest against his policies. He lacks the capacity for moral shame. You simply can't reason with him, because he's not a reasonable person. You also can't appeal to his conscience as he's got no conscience. So we went with ridicule.
Matt Bonner was the designer, Nona Hurkmans and Daniel Jones our heroic spokespersons, Max Wakefield central organising force and the comedy genius behind the Trump Baby Twitter account, Dave Fuller who is coordinating the action in Parliament Square, and Sheila Menon who’s on liaising with the authorities.I did a few sketches we arrived at the idea of a blimp made of him as a baby, and, flying it from somewhere really visible. Honestly, we were just cracking up laughing to ourselves finding it so funny. Then we crowdfunded it. When they sent us pictures from the warehouse we were like oh my god, we've created a monster.
“It seems as if free speech only extends so far as the right for hate speech against immigrants and vulnerable minorities, but when it comes to mocking the US President, the most powerful man in the world, that has to invoke fucking violence” – Leo Murray
Tell us how the mayor’s office became involved?
Leo Murray: He chickened out on a few dates but when he finally confirmed when he was planning to visit, I wrote an application to the mayor's office at city hall, to fly him from Parliament Square Gardens. Even had (Sadiq Khan) said no, I thought it would be an interesting dynamic, given the digs that they've sent to each other via the press. At first they gave me some bollocks, about how we wouldn't allow inflatables of any kind. They were very rude actually, very rude. I had a surreal, circular conversation with them where they were like an inflatable isn't a protest, but it is literally a protest inflatable. The V&A had an exhibition, three years ago, about inflatables as a form of protest, so I said: “here's a link to it, in the archive, broaden your horizons”. I eventually started a petition and thousands of people signed, which is when G2 published something. 48 hours later, I got an email from someone senior in City Hall, so that totally worked.
Where are you up to now?
Leo Murray: We've met all the health and safety conditions, and we’ve had to get our own security because we’ve had threats that someone is going to shoot it down.
Have you had many threats?
Leo Murray: We’ve had Daily Mail articles about me go up full of lies. Obviously, no one who you can actually respect believes anything in that paper – it’s clearly focused on discrediting left wing movements. I'm speaking to the Metropolitan Police about the possibility that “Free Tommy Robinson” might show up to try to intimidate us. We've actually gotten threatening phone calls at our workplaces, saying “you need to watch your back on the streets”. People are gunning for me and my colleagues are getting quite frightened. It is ridiculous that these are the same fuckers who are trying to be advocates of free speech. It's literally the same fucking people. So which is it, mate? It seems as if free speech only extends so far as your right for hate speech against immigrants and vulnerable minorities, but when it comes to mocking the US President, the most powerful man in the world, that has to invoke fucking violence? They're just the worst people, the absolute worst people in the world. I'm speaking as a white heterosexual man, you know, I get to enjoy these privileges don't always have to experience people persecuting me on the basis of who I am. So maybe this is what solidarity feels like.
How does it make you feel that there are reports Theresa May fears he will pull out of NATO if he sees a balloon of himself wearing a nappy flying in the sky?
Leo Murray: It's why we made a baby balloon. He’s such a big baby and if his reaction is then act like a big angry baby I’ll say: “well you’re not doing yourself any favours there, mate.”
What’s some of the best criticism you’ve seen?
Leo Murray: I mean, it was great to see Nigel Farage pissed off. He's got all these people who follow him and what he does is whip them up into a fervour of hate. They go and perpetrate awful crimes. So the fact that we pissed him off, obviously fantastic, delighted by that. It’s weird to say you believe in free speech and then lose it over a silly balloon.