Hugo Rifkind

Russell Brand’s heart is in the right place – but it’s not the place he talks out of

Ed Miliband just went to meet the future of the media (under cover of darkness)

2 May 2015

9:00 AM

2 May 2015

9:00 AM

I write at a difficult time. The balls are in the air, but we know not where they will land. Perhaps, by the time you get to read this, more will be clear. Right now, however, we know only that Ed Miliband has been interviewed by Russell Brand. We do not yet know what he said.

Or what Brand said. Probably he said more. ‘That was interesting enough, but Russell Brand was a bit restrained’ is something that nobody has said, after any conversation, ever. Most likely he’ll have quite liked Ed Miliband. They’ll have friends in common. Probably even girlfriends, what with them both having such voracious sexual appetites. Plus, earlier this year, when Brand popped up on Question Time and everybody said he was an idiot, Miliband popped up afterwards and said he wasn’t. So there’s good blood there.

You can mourn the rise of Brand and to be honest I often do. He’s a vexing combination of clever and ignorant, and most infuriatingly seems to feel that his ignorance is everybody else’s fault. His childhood does sound like it was horribly rough, but he’s pushing 40 and he’s been off the drugs for at least a decade, and he doesn’t have kids or a day job. So he might have found the time to read the odd book by now, or at least to have had somebody explain to him how graphs work. His biggest failing, I think, is a sort of holy solipsism. When Russell doesn’t understand a thing, invariably it’s the fault of the thing.

Pointing this out in The Spectator, though, doesn’t get you very far. The main thing Brand does these days, as far as one can make out, is a regular Youtube video. He calls it ‘The Trews’ — a combination of ‘the news’, and ‘true’; bloody clever — and each video is watched by at least 100,000 people and sometimes by millions. Hence it not actually being terribly unreasonable that Miliband should be sneaking around to his house under cover of darkness for an interview. Call me an establishment stooge, but I’d rather live in a world where the likes of Russell Brand went to a potential next prime minister, rather than vice versa, only that’s not the one we’re in. Back in Brand’s more promiscuous days, when he was famously having even more sex than a young Ed Miliband, another comedian once quipped that his home was basically a bedroom and a waiting room. Perhaps soon it will be again, only with a whole different sort of nervous sweaty person sitting outside, awaiting their turn.

It is fashionable to regard Brand’s appeal to the young as a damning indictment of more conventional media and politics, latterly neglected by a system which has begun to prefer an intimate view of the inside of its own backside. To me, though, this seems to wrongly suggest that there was some golden age where parties and media were doing things better, with equal numbers of young people eagerly circulating the speeches of Clement Attlee and suchlike. I don’t think there was. More to the point, vast numbers watching Brand does not entail vast numbers agreeing with him. Millions follow him on Twitter, for example, but often only to write ‘PARKLIFE!’ in response to everything he says. Still funny.

He must have something, though. Loathe him, disdain him, despair of his appeal, but he has a direct line to parts of the electorate most politicians cannot get close to. In truth, blaming extant politics for not doing enough to stem the rise of Brand is a bit like blaming classical musicians for not reaching out enough to stop the birth of rock and pop. Indeed, maybe his political clout comes directly from the way that actual pop stars seem to have gone off politics altogether. So, while it’s tempting to see him as Che Guevara without a rifle, maybe he’s actually more like Bono without the songs.

Brand’s heart is in the right place, almost certainly, but that’s simply not the place he normally talks out of. Personally, I’m unsure that any sort of sane politics can survive the leery filter of The Trews. His schtick — a mix of charisma, justified outrage and intellectual laziness — seems to me to be a mobbish, populist and ultimately cynical way to look at the world; a filter through which nothing unpopular, complicated or truly brave can pass.

The thing is, that’s not just him. That’s the whole logical conclusion of a properly democratic mass media, accountable to nobody, free to sing out unbounded whatever song its audience wants to hear. This is the future, like it or not. And because of that, I have a sneaking admiration for Miliband giving it a go. I just hope he got the odd word in.

Labour rocks

Surprising news, meanwhile, from the creepy social media behemoth that is Facebook. This week, they put out a cultural-political study, having looked into the aesthetic preferences of party supporters. One finding was that Conservatives on Facebook favour pop, while Labour types prefer rock. For Conservatives, we had groups such as the Vamps, Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea (no idea). For Labour, David Bowie, Blur and Arctic-Monkeys.

Certainly, my own music tastes put me on the left. The last thing the left wants is to be like me, though. In fact, it seems to me that this is quietly devastating. Once you start seeing Labour as a party chiefly supported by slightly mimsy middle-aged men with trainers and record bags, the image never goes away.


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Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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Show comments
  • Mc

    “Certainly, my own music tastes put me on the left.”

    Now there’s a surprise – who’d have thought from reading his vacuous articles that Rifkind was on the left?

    • Hermine Funkington-Rumpelstilz

      The entire world must be crashing in on you right now.

      • Mc

        And of course you know that because you know me personally.

      • justejudexultionis

        Your name is ridiculous. Do you live in Chelsea?

        Signed, Zipporah Lisle-Mainwaring and Georgiana Moireach Gay Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe.

    • I think it’s weird even to think of music in those terms. I listen to everything, from Wagner’s best arias to Arabian techno-fusion dance music in three languages (French, English, and Arabic, usually in the same song).

      Since Rifkind mentioned Bowie: He’s the most famous rocker I know of with the least appealing body of work. There are a handful of standouts and that’s it, over decades of music-making. If you compare his output with Queen’s, you might see what I mean.

      • Mc

        Maybe it’s because Bowie was expending his energy on non-musical pursuits such as figuring out his orientation and changing his outfits 😉

  • Speedy

    Brand is a pound-shop Ali G.

    Ali G was hilarious, Brand isn’t.

  • Hermine Funkington-Rumpelstilz

    Ukip could never gather this many people to get out of their homes and line the streets or engage in the public realm. Never.

  • Probably even girlfriends, what with them both having such voracious sexual appetites.
    Blimey. I know you can say that about the tramp, but hasn’t Labour got a law pending that claps you in prison for life if you say that about one of their own?
    Personally I can’t imagine what woman in her right mind would want to be among their dank-and-darkness, but I suppose it’s all too human to be more h orny than discriminating.

    • justejudexultionis

      ‘he is a Communist suffering in a liberal democracy’ —

      Wrong on both accounts. Firstly, Miliband is a naive socialist with no real-life experience to speak of; he does not espouse Marxist doctrine. Secondly, the UK is a monarchy with no written constitution guaranteeing fundamental liberties, nor even the most basic form of constitution governing relationships between its constituent countries. The executive remains in thrall to the City of London Ponzi schemes, foreign property speculators and unaccountable international conglomerates. The electoral system is disintegrating, partly as a result of widespread disillusionment with the existing structures of government. Vast swathes of the country have been alienated from the political process due to massive political and economic centralisation engineered by the bourgeois London elite. It is clear that the UK is not in any sense a liberal democracy.

  • Mc

    “Brand’s heart is in the right place, almost certainly, but that’s simply not the place he normally talks out of.”

    Brand isn’t the only one who talks effluent. Rifkind is very fond of French whenever someone has the temerity to say something disapproving about him. It must be quite a burden being in his proximity:
    “@reddeviljp Yeah, sorry. It’s just a bit f****** boring. You’ve heard of my surname? Big deal. I started on a pop website, ffs.”

  • Hamburger

    I always thought that trews were tartan trousers.

  • John M

    I’d watch out if I were you Ed, he probably wants to shag your missus.

  • Ben B

    ….maybe Brand does spout a lot of pseudo intellectual nonsense….but he also speaks some sense as well……you yourself satirise & critique politics…so is it not arrogant of you to deny him his soapbox…..when he’s considerable more popular that you!

  • TrulyDisqusted

    You get paid for mass followers on YouTube. Advertisers pay for your audience.

    That is the ONLY reason Russell Brand is on YouTube.

    It’s ALL about the money. It’s always only always about the money….. Which might explain why Russell Brand earns more each year than 98% of the world’s bankers and why he’s happy to pocket £5million for a film (2 months work?) whilst most of the behind the camera people are working for free or on minimum wage…

    Rumour has it he recently paid $16 Million for a house in Hollywood….. but every other Rich person is EVIL????

    Did I mention YouTube pay him for his videos?

  • Ben B

    In response to truly disqusted –

    Such a cynical comment you make.

    1. The Trews channel has grown from nothing. There were no big contracts to start it off or large financial backing….No guarantees he’s going to earn money from this.

    2. He has used the publicity & fame to good effect to help people with a small voice in society. He helped single mothers on a council estates retain their homes at the hands of greedy property developers. Is that such a bad thing?

    3. Much of the profits it seems he’s putting into idealistic pursuits to help people. Is that such a bad thing?

    4. He has denounced the shallow effects of celebrity culture & called for a fair & equal society. He’s turned people onto real problems that face young Londoners today.

    5. The guy is far from perfect but he’s trying to do some good. So why knock him. Seems bizarre.

    6. I don’t think he’s calling for communism….If he pays Tax & has done well for himself good on him….if he raises pointed such as large corporations getting away with Tax evasion…good on him….If he pulls up Bankers……on their shady operations ….that have a negative effects on society….good on him…..

  • Ben B

    Also…….Wouldn’t the world be a better place if Brand returned to his shallow Hollywood womanising existence or even to his druggy early career….I really don’t understand peoples logic….some folks have this burning wanton desire sound clever by putting an ungracious spin on things…..