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Toxic Brands: Lessons from Russell's Revolution

04/11/2014 14:49 GMT | Updated 04/01/2015 10:59 GMT

For the career path less trodden, see Russell Brand. In less than a decade, he has undergone an astonishing metamorphosis: from notorious sex addict to revolutionary firebrand, via a brief stint as celebrity boyfriend. Che Guevara eat your heart out.

Now, this lank-haired demi-god is figurehead of a revolution he has concocted, packaged and now markets. Drawing endorsement this week from Boris Johnson, alongside public calls for him to launch a mayoral bid, there seems to be no limit to what he can achieve.

This exposure has made Brand's voice the loudest on matters ranging from politics to sexuality to drugs. And for every soapbox sound bite he offers, there are a gaggle of commentators; venerating, vilifying, and adding to the myth.

The sum effect is that this man, who is no doubt charismatic, articulate, and no mean flirt, has assumed the role of de facto mouthpiece for the dissatisfied and disenfranchised. Brand may not be qualified to hold that position - an intellectual opus running to two editions of 'My Bookie Wook' hardly makes you Mao - but that's not really the point. He didn't ask to be elected and his ubiquity is not solely his responsibility.

He occupies this position precisely because no one else would. Where our political classes might have supplied big ideas and charismatic characters, there is a void. Recent polling attests to that fact. On the question of which party were most likely to keep their promises, Labour romped home in first. A whopping 27% of people trusted them to deliver on their mandate.

On questions of leader image an interesting quirk emerges: 67% of respondents perceived Cameron as being out of touch with 'ordinary people', compared to only 39% for Farage. Ask people which leaders have a lot of personality and those figures switch. It would seem that some semblance of a personality might bring a leader closer to those they deign to serve. Unfortunate then, that only one in five reckoned Miliband had any.

These figures expose vacuums at the heart of power: gaping holes in trust, legitimacy, popularity and character, both for parties and for politicians. Our politics used to be deridingly described as a 'Punch and Judy' show. Now we're fortunate to catch our leaders shadowboxing.

There is an empty stage at the core of British politics, and Russell Brand has been allowed to step on to it. From that position he has aired views ranging from the preposterous to the blindingly obvious. All the while he has shown a brazen willingness to speak truth, or at least his version of it, to power. His allure is simply this: he is willing to say something contrary, to challenge consensus, to ruffle and to agitate.

That he has done so with such effect is a damning indictment of our parties. In a narrow sense the party in opposition has failed to live up to its title, providing little in the way of a coherent alternative to an unpopular coalition. Speaking more broadly, there appears to be no concerted effort to reform the structures, both political and economic, which drove us to the brink in 2008.

This political environment, with its small 'c' conservatism and seemingly aloof attitude to the lives of the electorate, has allowed a beer swilling bigot and 'that bloke from St Trinian's' to become the lodestars of our generation. That should be of serious concern to the major parties. And yet, rather than articulating reasonable alternatives, our major politicians have gravitated towards these characters, the better to bask in their reflected glory.

There is a great deal to be proud of in this country. But there are inevitability cracks, and we seem to lack the refined craftsman to fill them. Instead we are left with the man who blames the handiwork of foreign builders, and the guy who suggests we just knock the whole bloody house down.

So, Brand may be a quack - a self-styled oracle whose message is 'out with the old, and in with the nothing'. But that's not the issue. The concern is why we should be expecting to take our guidance from this celeb in the first place, why we feel it necessary to critique Revolution as if it were a serious text. The real issue is this: quacks flourish only when faith has fallen out of the system, and boy how this one has flourished.