Oh dear, what a fusillade of hatred against poor old Brandy Wandy. I have
before me a slew of Sunday papers and in almost all there is a broadside
against Russell Brand, the crinkle-tressed comedian. Commentators
from Left and Right denounce him as a prancing, prinking, pompadoured
popinjay; a know-nothing narcissist and Beverly Hills Buddhist who indulges
in Dave Spart-like rants against capitalism while cheerfully admitting that
he “can’t get his head around economics”.
He is attacked for being a show-off, a bore and, above all, a hypocrite; in
the sense that his new book, Revolution, is published by a gigantic
Anglo-German media conglomerate. One Observer reviewer accuses him of
“discrediting Left‑wing thought” and ends by pleading for him to find a new
career. “The sooner he leaves the better,” he fulminates.
Well, who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel? I want to offer three reasons for
siding with Russell against the Brand-bashers: and the first is that so much
of this vituperation is obviously motivated by jealousy: of his success, his
easy good humour, his string of beautiful and intelligent girlfriends, his
Hollywood lifestyle, etc.
The second is that he genuinely seems like a nice chap. A while ago he came to
film Question Time in City Hall and made a good impression on everyone –
chatting in the lift, introducing us to his mother etc – even if someone
afterwards said that he did nip off to the gents for a long time. But the
third and most important reason for approving of Russell Brand is that he is
such fantastic news for the Tory party. Of course his manifesto is nonsense
– as I am sure he would be only too happy, in private, to admit. Among the
measures he apparently advocates in Revolution
are the abolition of taxation, the end of voting and the closure of all
businesses with a turnover of more than $37 million – that being the GDP of
Tuvalu, the world’s smallest country.
What he is calling for, in other words, is total global chaos and destruction.
It is also true that much of the book consists of gibberish. A fairly
representative sentence runs: “The significance of consciousness itself as a
participant in what we perceive as reality is increasingly negating what we
understood to be objectivity.” Yes, it is bilge; but that is not the point.
Who cares what he really means or what he really thinks? The crucial thing
about Russell Brand is that he seems to be popular – to strike a chord with
people. After the long years of the post-crunch recession, there are many of
a radical temper – especially young people – who are hoping for a prophet,
for a new way, for someone who will show how humanity can subvert the long
and imperfect reign of essentially free-market global capitalist democracy.
It goes without saying that most of these people are on the Left. They want
(or claim to want) a more “equal” society, to put down the mighty from their
seat, to exalt the humble and meek – and so on.
In fastening their attention on Russell and his brand of semi-religious
pseudo-economic mumbo-jumbo, they are revealing something very significant
about modern politics: and that is the total failure of Ed Miliband’s Labour
Party to motivate or inspire – at either end of the Left-wing coalition.
Miliband and Ed Balls have long since alienated the Blairites. We have
ministers actively briefing against the Labour leadership, and last week we
were told authoritatively that Mr Tony does not think Ed has made any kind
of case to govern the country.
We have Blairite stalwarts such as Tessa Jowell campaigning, correctly,
against the so-called Mansion Tax – a tax that threatens to fall viciously
on cash-poor Londoners who are living in expensive homes. But it is not just
that Ed has lost touch with moderate Labour; he is the most Left-wing Labour
leader since Michael Foot – and yet he can’t even stir the blood of the
radical Left. Russell Brand is part of a phenomenon of general Labour
hopelessness that has seen a huge increase in Scottish support for the SNP.
When Ed was told not to come campaigning for the Union in Scotland, that was
because he is seen as being too much part of the Establishment – another
besuited politician of the kind that Russell Brand deplores. The Scottish
Labour Party is now in a meltdown, its leader having resigned because, among
other things, Ed would not let her bash the so-called “bedroom tax” for a
whole year, while he made up his mind about the issue. The result is that
Labour could now lose between 10 and 20 Scottish seats to the SNP, and
Scottish Labour is so desperate that it is actually thinking of bringing
back Gordon Brown.
In the west of England, Left-wing votes are draining away to the Greens. In
the North, as we saw at Middleton and Heywood, the party is seeing its chair
legs sawn away by Ukip. The polls are now level pegging between Labour and
Tories; the Labour lead has vanished; and as the election gets closer,
people will be asking tougher and tougher questions of Ed Miliband, and
about where he stands.
Take the issue of the hour – the EU demand that Britain should pay an extra
£1.7 billion to the budget. We have heard a fierce and fine explanation from
David Cameron: he thinks the surcharge is outrageous and another good reason
for reforming the EU budgetary processes. What would Ed Miliband do, if he
faced the same bill? To ask the question is to answer it: he would do
nothing – nothing, that is, except cough up.
Russell Brand may be about as convincing as a political theorist as a toaster
made by Russell Hobbs, but he is at least engaging his Left-wing
audience with something they can recognise as passion.
Alas, I don’t have the slightest confidence that he will run for Mayor of
London – as his publicists were confiding yesterday to a credulous media.
But I would be thrilled if he did. As a phenomenon he is a sign of the
disintegration of the Left and the weakness of Ed Miliband, and he therefore
needs every possible encouragement.
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