For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

It’s easy to sneer and knock Brand’s musings, but too much emphasis is placed on being 'constructive' in arguments

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The Independent Online

I’m not a fan of lists. Who cares what’s the world’s best bread bin or Britain’s favourite bird? Nevertheless, lists have dominated popular culture for some time now, and generally tell us absolutely nothing worth knowing. What difference does it make to the life of a sparrow or a grouse if we give them this kind of dubious accolade? A visit from Bill Oddie or Kate Humble?

Still, list addiction shows no sign of abating. Prospect magazine (not on my bedtime reading list, I admit) has conducted its annual poll to find the world’s greatest thinkers, and there has been widespread sniggering at the result, placing Russell Brand in fourth position, with 18 per cent of the vote. Mind you, only 3,000 voters took part, but his ranking reveals that – in spite of his rambling, illogical and somewhat scattergun approach to the problems facing society – Russell Brand has touched a nerve.

This week, Brand was in the news again, putting his money where his mouth is, using the profits from his book Revolution to fund a café in an east London estate which will employ recovering drug addicts.

It’s easy to sneer and knock Brand’s musings, but too much emphasis is placed on being “constructive” in arguments. Look at the election debate this week – did either leader really say anything of any import? I think not. It was all about style over substance. No wonder, then, that Brand – with his anti-voting, anti-capitalist agenda – connects with so many young people. He articulates their idealism and inconsistencies and I was just the same as a teenager.

The other important quality which Brand possesses in spades, which both Ed Miliband and David Cameron really struggle with, is utter sincerity. On Thursday evening, Milibandroid was asked about the effect of the leadership with his brother – he managed to come up with the word “bruising”. Cameron even stuck in a few “hard-working family” references when all else had failed.

To be brutal, neither man exhibits any kind of passion; both are the product of focus groups and back-room analysis. They spout the kind of anodyne drivel you get in charity campaigns like “End world poverty” – as if there’s any other intelligent option. When they say, “I love my country”, I want to scream, “So bloody what?” Would any politician ever say the opposite?

 

Brand also has real-life experience as a former drug addict, and he never forgets others in that position. As a result of government cuts to councils, the London Borough of Redbridge has stopped funding a pioneering charity, 1NE in Woodford Green. It had a 70 per cent success rate helping people addicted to drugs and alcohol, compared with expensive residential rehab centre where the success rate might be as low as 30 per cent.

Unlike the vast majority of charities working in this field, 1NE insists on total abstinence. This small unit, run by local people since 1987, will close next week unless it can raise £160,000 – and then it will have to charge patrons, many of whom are unemployed and destitute, from £5 to £50 a day.

Russell Brand and Iain Duncan Smith have both praised the work of the centre, which I know from experience because it saved the life of a close friend. Russell Brand may be annoying, but because he speaks from the heart, he confirms that our current political system is both moribund and out of touch with the electorate. Will more people vote as a result of Thursday’s election programme? I very much doubt it.

 

Housebuilders: please don’t follow Harrogate’s example

The Government’s new “relaxed” planning laws mean that more homes than ever are planned for the precious green-belt land which surrounds our major towns and cities. Some 220,000 are in the pipeline, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which claims this is an increase of more than 40 per cent.

I’m a passionate advocate of the green belt: it stops urban sprawl and ribbon developments linking towns, reinforces a sense of place, and it provides valuable habitats for wildlife as well as recreational space. I’ve walked much of it over the years, and even though it’s often polluted by noise from motorways and airports, the green acres that surround London are special environments which must be protected. There’s no need for towns to keep spreading outwards. Valuable space exists within existing boundaries, on brownfield sites like railway land, and in former factories and office buildings which can be repurposed.

The Government says we need 200,000 new homes a year, but if Harrogate Council’s plans are anything to go by, achieving that goal could take centuries. There are almost 2,000 people on its waiting list, with just over 3,800 properties occupied by tenants. Last week it announced it is going to build the first new council houses in the borough for 30 years. Guess how many? Exactly two. Words fail me.

 

The NHS tainted blood scandal will not go away

David Cameron stood up in Parliament this week and apologised to the thousands of victims and their families whose lives have been ruined as a result of the NHS giving contaminated blood to thousands of patients between 1971 and 1991.

It’s the worst scandal in the existence of the NHS, and I know about it from personal experience as an architect friend from my twenties was a haemophiliac who died as a result of being given this blood, which the NHS had taken from prostitutes and prisoners. All his grieving widow got was a pathetically small sum of money after years of fighting for justice. Victims had to go to up to four trusts to get any compensation (sums like £7,500 were offered), even though in Ireland awards averaged £750,000.

The idea that you go to a hospital to be cured and then are poisoned and the scandal hushed up is horrific beyond belief. Victims found they were infected with HIV and hepatitis C, then suffered horrible shame and depression, and had their lives wrecked. In all, about 7,500 people were affected and 2,000 have died, and up to 27,000 people may have undiagnosed hepatitis C.

In the UK, unlike France, Canada and Japan, there hasn’t been a single prosecution. Although the blood was given to patients throughout the UK, only Scotland has held an inquiry, which has taken six long years, during which time even more people have died.

Judge Lord Penrose’s findings, which were published this week, don’t blame anyone or come up with any recommendations. No wonder those affected have declared it “worthless”. Mr Cameron’s apology was equally pointless. The victims need cash, not words.

 

Go beyond the high street to see what a city is really like

Another stupid list: the Royal Society for Public Health has declared that Preston has the “unhealthiest” high street in Britain, a ranking achieved by adding up the number of tanning salons, bookies, loan shops and fast-food emporiums. What about the back streets and lanes in Preston? Might there be small businesses, bakeries and pet shops?

If I lived in Preston, I would be furious at this snobbish denigration of my town. Any town centre is full of drab chain stores, charity shops and burger joints, but away from the high street and crippling rents, small businesses (often based from home) are thriving. The Royal Society for Public Health is a self-important irrelevance.

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