Russell Brand has stepped into the political arena and is being made to pay a heavy price for it. Ever since his first and by now legendary Newsnightinterview with Jeremy Paxman a year ago, the comedian and entertainer has come under attack from all and sundry, with words such as 'irresponsible', 'naive', self aggrandising', 'incoherent', and even 'bumhole' being thrown at him like verbal hand grenades.
His second and recent Newsnight interview with Evan Davis has resulted in a similar furore, uniting voices of the left, right, and right-on in condemnation. No matter how you cut it this is a remarkable feat for one leather-trousered comedian and entertainer.
Indeed such is the level of anger and indignation levelled at Russell Brand for 'daring' to publicly articulate his disenchantment with the status quo, with the political and economic system, and worse daring to write a book with the provocative title Revolution, you would think he'd just committed some heinous crime. The criticism that has attached to him over his reinvention as a political activist, writer and campaigner says more about those throwing barbs than it does about him, however, echoing perhaps Oscar Wilde's assertion that, "Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities".
When it comes to Brand's dim view of voting, which he articulated in the Paxman interview, he was challenging the received truth that serious politics begins and ends at the ballot box - a ritual that takes place ever few years to elect a government of in the main privately educated, privileged, white men to continue where the previous lot left off in abasing themselves before the market with policies near indistinguishable from those of their predecessors. The point Brand makes is that the political class, establishment, elite - however you choose to describe them - is hopelessly disconnected from the mass of ordinary people and their needs. How else to explain a housing crisis in Britain that is a badge of shame for any industrialised country? Or what about the culture of low pay, under employment, zero hours contracts that exists alongside the obscene executive salaries, bonuses, and tax avoidance enjoyed by a tiny minority? We can trace it all back, via an unbroken thread of Tory and Labour governments, to Thatcher and the war she unleashed to destroy the social justice, solidarity, and collectivism underpinning both the very concept and creation of the NHS and welfare state.
The outcome in 2014 is a British political class wedded to the interests of the rich to an extent not seen since the age of the US robber barons in the 19th century.
When it comes to Brand's statement about being 'open minded' when it comes to 9/11, I disagree with him. But, here again, the very reason such conspiracy theories manage to gain the traction they do is the breakdown in trust in the political class. This mistrust is well placed when you consider the exposes of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden in recent years. But while I may disagree with Russell Brand over 9/11, this doesn't invalidate everything else he says or the questions he is asking about the current political and economic system.
Indeed Brand does not assert that he has the answers to the present crisis in representation and the crippling inequality and social injustice that is the new normal in society. What he's doing is asking questions, and it those very questions that are obviously striking fear into the hearts of the political class and professional commentariat. This is a good thing and more power to the man for stirring things up.
Among the chorus of shrill voices that have denounced Brand in recent weeks, John Lydon and Polly Toynbee stand out. Lydon would seem to have reinvented himself as a professional contrarian, continuing where he left off with the Sex Pistols in embracing form over content. His shrieks of disdain directed at Brand have been notably lacking in anything more than ad hominem attack. Perhaps the real problem Lydon has with the comedian turned political campaigner is more to do with his own personal issues than Russell Brand. I don't know. What is clear is that Lydon comes over as decidedly unpleasant, whose stock in trade is vitriolic abuse.
As for the Guardian's Polly Toynbee, this is someone who extended herself in laying into Tony Benn upon his passing before the man's body was cold in the grave, intent on rubbishing his legacy. In this she was carrying on her feud with the Labour Party she left way back in 1981 to form the breakaway SDP, paving the way for Thatcher's re-election in 1983. As such her criticisms of Russell Brand merely validate the man.
I like Russell Brand. I believe him to be sincere, passionate, and committed to fighting the corner of those who have been marginalised, disregarded, and alienated by the status quo. When it comes to the eruption of criticism he's attracted in the process, the inimitable words of Lance-Corporal Jack Jones of Dad's Army spring to mind: "They don't like it up 'um"!