My first permanent job on national newspapers was awarded for me arguing with the Editor. My most recent was utterly infuriating for the same reason.
Twenty-odd years ago I didn't go into my first features conference with the intention of arguing - to be honest I hoped I could just get by with well-placed nods, murmurs of content, laugh at the right jokes, scribble determinedly in my pad, don't embarrass myself, emerge unscathed.
Instead, the notoriously fearsome editor, having been told by all his senior executives that a certain piece was perfect for the paper, leaned back, scrunched up his face and then shot a fatal look in my direction.
'What do you think?' (Sad to say that as I was still a part-timer, I was not yet 'Grant', just 'You'.)
I think I was taken by surprise, my inner diplomat didn't have a chance to engage my brain (that's a bit of a common occurrence, actually). Instead, I told it as I saw it. 'To be honest, I wouldn't read it. I mean the story collapses after the fourth par. It's well written but it's boring.'
'Exactly!' he thundered. 'Why can't anyone else see that. Right, what else have you got?'
OK, so I was l loathed by a couple of senior executives for about five minutes but a couple of weeks later I got a job. 'At least you stuck your neck out and were prepared to argue,' I was later told. 'If everyone just agrees it's pointless.'
Cut to more recent times and a colleague too thin-skinned to ever accept there's two sides to a story. Much like a golf club, there is no black, only white. Arguing, debating, discussing are anathema to good journalism, in his eyes. You either accept something is so, or you're wrong.
Well, for someone like me who loves to play devil's advocate just to see where a conversation will go and if another angle to a story thus emerges, this was enormously depressing.
Even more so when it dawned at me that almost everyone else preferred the sycophantic option rather than standing their ground - or, more cowardly still, taking the opposite line outside of conference, never taking a stand inside. As one particularly spineless executive admitted to me: 'I'm just here to pick up my pension, what's the point in speaking out?'
Insipid, boring, bland, unintelligent and predictable was the result. Sometimes even damagingly incorrect, too. New pastures beckoned...
I like arguing but not as much as Russell Brand is enjoying it. He's become the voice of the disaffected, wiping the floor with pompous, patrician presenters. Having first dismissed him as a hypocritical, naïve fool, I sat down this morning to re-read Brand's clarion call to revolution in last week's unusually entertaining New Statesman magazine. Part two, the response, is this week.
In it, he outlines why he thinks the democratic process is hopelessly flawed, rich politicians and businessman care not a jot for the people, wealth should be redistributed and we should show our anger by not voting.
I still think he's a naïve hypocrite (honestly Russell, you are not a victim of the system, you seem to quite enjoy your wealth and I doubt you plan to redistribute it). But it has taken me a week to reassess the point of the piece, and my own too-hasty dismissive instincts.
It was written beautifully but not terribly well argued, it made headlines but won't change anything, it made Russell look intelligent and no doubt helped swell his bank account.
But the real point of it was that he said something. Unlike script-reading automaton politicians on Newsnight and Question Time, Russell is genuinely standing up for what he believes in and happily (masochistically?) takes the beatings that the rest of the media doles out. He is prepared to argue. He is prepared to ask uncomfortable questions.
And what happened after his call to arms? We all started to talk about democracy, about voting, about bankers who've still got away with it, about rich hypocrites and celebrities who think they know it all and maybe, you know, he has a point, I mean I voted for Tony Blair first time around but ever since then it's been all a bit pointless to be honest bla bla bla pass the Ottolenghi couscous...
Arguing is good. It is essential. You might be wrong but you might eventually find that you're right. You might be misguided but you might take the debate to a more interesting place.
Old Etonian cabals in Downing Street would do well to learn that message, just as arrogant energy giants who all suspiciously agree with each other.
Try promoting someone who thinks differently. Dare them to put their head above the parapet. And if you can't find anyone, then release your inner-Russell. Do it yourself. It might actually do you some good.