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

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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little