Wednesday 29 April 2015


A Frost/Nixon for our age? No, but the media reaction to Russell Brand's encounter with Ed Miliband is out of all proportion to what was said. The actual content of the interview is pretty innocuous, at least from the standpoint of grizzled lefties and hardened politicos. Yet where Brand's core audience are concerned, the teens to the mid-30 somethings who tend not to pay politics anywhere near as much mind as the likes of you and I, it's a different story. That is why Ed was absolutely right to seek him out and take whatever ra-ra-revolutionary verbiage cum cheeky banter on offer, and once again the expectations of the commentariat were confounded. The worst they could fault him for was dropping his tees and gees which, all told, is a bit pathetic.

This was the right move for another reason. For the first time in this campaign, a major media commentator - for that is what Brand is these days - has asked questions about issues that would never trouble the prompt sheets of your Paxos and Brillos. Class. Ownership. Capital. Change. The whole point of voting. The legitimacy of mainstream politics. These are matters absolutely crucial for understanding 21st century Britain, for getting to grips with the forces that structure and condition our politics and political debate. While it's right professional interviewers should scrutinise the details of party programmes, no one is interested in the bigger picture, of understanding how we as citizens can hope to change things with our individual votes when power is concentrated in huge, unaccountable private institutions? If Brand isn't going to ask these questions, then who will? Andrew Marr? Kay Burley? Ed Miliband, for his part, made the case for linking voting to wider project of progressive change, of tentatively stepping beyond the remit of representative politics. He rightly made the point that change can be slow, but that government is one avenue that can assist. Ed would have done well to have added that if none of this matters, then why are the Tories, their overseas fellow travellers, and their helpful friends in the city are pulling out all the stops to win - including today's helpfully out riding for what professional political comment thinks:
But I can’t understand why leftwing feminists have not come out in their droves to condemn Miliband for going anywhere near Russell Brand. By his own admission he has slept with more than 1000 women, including prostitutes. I find that man abhorrent and I think it is such a bad idea for a politician to have anything to do with him. It was unbearable to watch Miliband (who might not be 100% my cup of tea in lots of ways, and some of his ideas are bonkers, but he is a genuine supporter of women and I’m sure he would put his hand on his heart and say he is a feminist) be lectured by Brand on the uselessness of the female vote. The suffragettes would have hung, drawn and quartered Brand.
I'd take Allsopp's whinging more seriously if she gave a fig about what's happening to women less fortunate than her under the Tories. She has every right to criticise Brand for his sexism of course, which plenty of feminists have done before it became politically convenient to do so, but Allsopp's voice has been curiously silent during the destruction of women's shelters, the closure of children's centres, cuts to the public sector and social security, and the increase in low paid insecure work - all of which affect women disproportionately. And as she does so, at least Brand is making amends for past behaviour. Solidarity around the Kurdish struggle against Islamic State and, in particular, the leading combat roles taken by feminist comrades in that fight; and of course supporting the women of the New Era estate in their victory over an unscrupulous property developer. Actions speak louder than words, Kirstie.

Allsopp's remarks condenses the rubbish that gets written about Brand. People on the right and the centre left lecture him about his behaviour and his views, but for many of them politics is something they write about in the office. They don't give their free time to 'doing stuff', they don't weigh in and use whatever pull they might have to effect change. Politics is something others do. They observe and record, and that for them is enough. Brand doesn't fit into that mold and, in his own way, despite his wonkish aspect neither does the Labour leader. Yet he gets the big interviews, the book deals, the Question Time slots, the column acreage. His productions are anarchic, he plays fast and loose with the dialectic of serious vs unserious. Why use one word when seven will do is Brand's favoured approach. But ultimately, what Brand exemplifies is fear. Comedians are public figures, and Brand as Britain's current king of the pile is a working class boy done good who's muscling in on their turf. If hundreds of thousands can hang on this upstart's words, so other proletarian and semi-lumpen voices might also reach places polite, established debate cannot touch.


Speedy said...

Actually Brand is the closest thing the UK has to public intellectual.

Consider that.

BCFG said...

The hysterical headlines re Brand and Miliband are designed to sway back UKIP voters to the Tories and disaffected liberals back to the Tory in all but name liberal party.

The Tories are banking on this, and believe the current polls do not reflect this possibility. I fear that this will happne and the ConDem's will rule again.

Phil said...

Indeed, the Tories are pursuing a core vote strategy. Could it work? It might, but it's still not looking great for them in the key marginals where floating voters are likely to be put off by hard Toryism.

In other news, my comments about Brand have turned out to be right, at least according to BritainThinks who've researched the yoof response.