Comedians at war: Choosing between Russell Brand and Robert Webb

At least there will be some light entertainment available on the barricades

Share

Unlike sections of the hipster Left and a great number of otherwise non-political grown-ups, I am not sold on Russell Brand and to say that the new controversy between Brand and Robert Webb is uninspiring is to state the bleeding obvious.

Whether you choose to lionize or denounce them, at least Lenin and Trotsky knew roughly what a revolution was. Listening to Brand and Webb spar over modes of democracy is rather like hearing Anjem Choudary and Tommy Robinson debate multiculturalism.

Personally, I think Webb is correct to pillory Brand for suggesting that we should all abstain from voting, though not necessarily because liberal democracy is the best we can do.

Brand’s rejection of electoral politics smacks of moralism and political immaturity and it put me in mind of some the very early Occupy assemblies. Political movements are many things, not least a kind of kindergarten for radicals, and to be fair to Brand he was taking his baby steps on primetime TV rather than on the steps of St. Pauls Cathedral.

One of the first lessons in any kind of politics – progressive or otherwise – is that it is simply not enough to declare that the world would be better if everybody just loved each other and the same can be said for asserting that just not voting is the way forward.

Simply ignoring the system, rather like founding a vegan anarcho-punk love commune, will not make it go away however much as we would like it to. The fact is that voting is not useless; it is just a highly ineffective way to change the world. Exercising the hard-won right to vote is not selling out to the system any more than using the NHS to get your bad back looked at is a counter-revolutionary act. But if Brand’s is a failure of politics, then Webb’s shortcoming is a failure of both imagination and citation.

In his riposte Robert Webb shows a reactionary streak and a dubious grasp of politics and history. He (rightly, in my view) praises liberal democracy, while claiming that political revolution always ends in gulags and bloodshed. Webb, clearly an educated man, has either forgotten or simply does not know that liberal democracy is itself the product of a political revolution. See: the English Revolution.

We might also note that liberal democracies are quite capable of making their own gulags and are not at all adverse to a spot of bloodletting. It is fair to argue that Webb’s “advanced liberal democracies” look a little less shiny when you consider them in the light of the wars they persist in starting, the global network of military colonies they maintain and facilities like Guantanamo Bay?

Webb might also be interested to know that while revolutions, rather like little girl’s birthday parties, can turn certainly violent, they are not gore-spattered as a rule. The October Revolution itself was a rather peaceful affair.

We might spend a moment examining why revolutions turn violent when they do and note that it is more often due to the determination of a particular regime to hold onto power at any cost than to the bloodthirstiness of the peasants that they descend into savagery.

Even if a revolution does makes it past the first hurdle there is the risk of a counter-revolution; which is the point where things tend to get really bad.

It is worth considering that in the average revolution, like those cheeky little upsurges in North Africa recently which I’m sure Robert Webb would applaud, the regime generally has something of an advantage over the protestors when it comes to tanks, tear gas, sniper rifles and well-furnished torture chambers. And we might also note that these game-changing bits of hardware are routinely supplied by, yes, you guessed it, “advanced liberal democracies”.

In a comic misreading of Orwell, Webb prescribes Britain’s most lettered snitch to Brand. Orwell was a critic and opponent of authoritarianism but he was not, as Webb seems to think, an opponent of radical social change - which is fundamentally what revolution is all about. His very best work, Homage to Catalonia, (quite famously) records Orwell’s own time as an active (and, in that case, armed) participant in a radical, revolutionary struggle.

If Webb and Brand are the most politically conscious comedians out there, comrades, I worry for the cause of democracy – be it radical or liberal. But at least there will be some entertainment on the barricades with Brand and later during the show-trials run by Judge-Commissar Webb. Presumably Live at the Apollo.

The over-arching political question raised by this war of word remains. Which one is better? Revolution or liberal democracy? Perhaps Webb’s End of History-type assertion is right and liberal democracy is the least worst option and perhaps Brand is genuinely for a better world.

My suspicion is that these men are not disingenuous.  Just clumsy. And how can people decide which is better if both liberal democracy and revolution are being so grossly misrepresented? Karl Marx anyone?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor