Russell Brand is one of those people who talks a lot without ever really saying much. Well-intentioned, he can often come across like the precocious student we all know who talks in the way they think an educated person ought to talk – all clever-sounding adjectives and look-at-me vocabulary.
And yet going by the attention Russell Brand seems to get whenever he appears on a serious programme like Newsnight, there appears to be tremendous appetite for his peculiar brand of ‘Revolution’.
And in one sense it is easy to see why. When Brand writes in his latest book Revolution that ‘The richest 1 per cent of British people have as much as the poorest 55 per cent’, he is making an important point. He might also add that a quarter of children in Britain will be living in poverty by the year 2020. Meanwhile, a property millionaire is now created in this country every seven minutes, mainly in London. In Tony Blair and David Cameron’s ‘meritocracy’, there are people working two jobs who have to rely on the state to survive while the Chancelllor George Osborne, himself a multimillionaire trust fund baby, stands at a lectern to tell the poor that in Britain “No one will get something for nothing”.
There is a profound sickness at the root of any society which tolerates this. Most people who bother with the matter at all will admit as much, or they will reduce the question to one of individual moral failure – as if the man who makes million on the stock exchange really is morally superior to the woman who earns a pittance cleaning up excrement in a run-down NHS hospital.
Russell Brand’s approach to this predicament is two-fold. The first revolves around the desirability of “necessary Revolution” - the only thing which stands in its way is, according to Brand, “the venal entitlement and self-interest of the people who benefit from things staying as they are.”
What Brand appears not to grasp is that any revolution simply involves the replacement of one set of unaccountable leaders with another. Without knowing it, he exemplifies the juvenile desire to fell the tree because trimming it effectively is slow, tedious and incremental.
Brand’s desire for Revolution also betrays a lack of historical awareness. 25 years ago the Berlin Wall was pulled down by jubilant East Germans. The Wall was erected in the name of Revolution but in reality its purpose was to keep East German workers in an open prison. Even today, in Cuba the word Revolution is synonymous with the secret police and the boring three-hour speeches from the Maximum Leader. While it would be unfair to accuse Brand of wishing to replicate the ‘revolutionary’ regimes of recent times, he seems to be painfully unaware of where the “if I were in charge” approach to politics has led in the past. The answer isn’t the land of milk and honey, as he seems to think; it is society of the concentration camp and the Gulag.
The second thing which characterises Revolution is a wholesale rejection of the “conventional politics that doesn’t represent us, the ordinary people,” as he told Evan Davis last night.
Critics of Brand are often accused of cynicism; and yet his ‘movement’, if you can call it that, is built on a casual disregard for anything that has a whiff of ‘authority’ about it.
A healthy disrespect for the privately educated Oxbridge PPE class ought to be de rigueur for any radical. But there is always a danger of being so open-minded that you gravitate, moth-like, to anything which reeks of a wishy-washy ‘alternative’. This scattergun approach to politics, characterised by a total distrust of authority, is one of the reasons that Brand last night launched into an incoherent treatise on 9/11, saying that “we have to remain open-minded as to any possibility”.
This appeals not so much to an open mind as an intellectually lazy one; to the person who hasn’t bothered to sift through the evidence or taken a cursory glance at violent Islamist ideology. It can also have sinister consequences: are we also supposed to keep an open mind about the “official establishment narrative” of the Holocaust?
Russell Brand is the natural response to a politics that is bereft of alternatives to the grim free market settlement of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and now the Coalition. During the 20th century the Socialist God failed and nothing has replaced it.
At one time radicalism meant either the gradual reformism of the Labour Party or the violent romanticism of the Bolsheviks. Brand disregards the former for its “silly administrative quibbles” and tells people that to vote is to waste one’s time. As to the failures of past revolutions, Brand can only shrug his shoulders and murmur about how unfair it all is.
Millions of people may be fed up of the racket that is free market capitalism, but this really is Revolution as play, and in indulging it the left risks becoming a parody of itself.
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