by Jonathan Todd
It would take a heart of stone to be unmoved by some of the songs that Morrissey has sung. It’s also necessary to be drunk on this emotion to not cringe at some of the daft things he’s said. Whether his friend, Russell Brand, has reached equivalent comedic heights to those scaled in musical form by Morrissey is debateable. But I’ve enjoyed all the Brand gigs that I’ve been to.
When Brand outraged America by calling George W Bush “that retard and cowboy fella”, I appreciated the joke on Uncut. When his phone jinks with Jonathan Ross went too far, I bought tickets for his next show. When he went to the Home Affairs Select Committee, I thought he spoke powerfully and perceptively about addiction.
But – Morrissey pun alert – that bloke isn’t funny anymore. He is a comedian who seems no longer able or willing to be so. While others, such as Mark Thomas, have made the dreary journey from a comedian with political content to an unfunny activist, Brand is a pied piper with wackier ideas and more followers. He’s telling them to not vote, that no established politicians or parties care about them, and that there is a grand collusion between this politics and the media and business – to such an extent that we should keep an open mind about what really happened on 11 September 2001.
Of course, politics has its problems – Adam Lent of the RSA gives a good account of them. But is every single member of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties – hundreds of thousands of people – part of an establishment stitch-up? Or are they, while divided on what this constitutes and how it might be achieved, all united in wanting the best for UK and the wider world? In this sense, are they really any different from the Occupy protestors that Brand applauds?
As for business, does anyone really think that markets cannot fail and that business is always beyond reproach? Even – as it backs TUC calls for pay rises – the Institute of Directors?
Perhaps I think this because my mind has been addled by a pernicious media? That same media that, at least it seems to me, continues to provide a plurality of opinion as circulations decline in the face of upstart rivals? If all these different channels are in on a conspiracy, it is a highly organised and complex conspiracy. Maybe that cowboy fella wasn’t really so dumb and has been the evil genius behind it all?
Or maybe – just maybe, let’s keep our minds open – there are other explanations. Maybe voters vote and activists get active amid a flawed political system but with the best of intentions. Maybe journalists largely do all they can to hold the powerful to account and have succeeded in contributing towards more knowledge, information and transparency more readily available than ever before – even if some people remain less well informed and engaged than we might wish. Maybe businesses sustain themselves through the choices of consumers and the hard work of workers and sometimes these choices may be ill-judged and this work poorly focused but that’s just people for you.
It saddens me to see someone who I’ve liked and laughed along with become someone peddling arguments so obviously inadequate that they can be shot down like fish in a barrel. When Robert Webb did some of this shooting last year – arguing for the importance of voting – the Labour twitterati piled in behind him. But Owen Jones – a frequent speaker at CLP fundraisers – has “a lot of time for Brand”. And the Brand pitch is a supercharged version of something that Jones can encourage into Labour’s narrative: what Bertrand Russell called “the fallacy of the superior virtue of the oppressed”.
While Labour should have more time for Bertrand Russell than Russell Brand, Brand seems supremely sure of himself. He was addicted to drugs. Then sex. Now he seems high on politics. Or at least throwing political shapes that please what he is revealing to be a sadly more closed mind than it seemed when he was intentionally funny. As much as I now struggle to not laugh at him and worry about more impressionable minds, not least in the Labour party, getting caught in the webs that he weaves, in happier days, I laughed with him. But the joke was always on him. Him and his drugs. Him and his sex. Him and his tabloid hell.
Now it’s Him and his revolution. He seems even more certain of it than Nigel Farage is of throwing over the Westminster applecart on the way to Brexit. But what will become of Brand and Farage when those things don’t happen? Farage will nurse a pint and fart fitfully at the TV. I worry more about Brand. He might not have reached the heights of Morrissey but I fear he has a similar capacity to mine the depths of deep, dark, self-absorbed tunnels.
It doesn’t have to be this way, Russell. Open your mind.
Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut