Russell Brand vs Nigel Farage on Question Time: You need two wings to fly.

The Daily Mirror poll
I'm a recent fan of Russell Brand. I didn't like him at first. Someone on cookedandbombed once suggested Chris Morris's TV show Nathan Barley was based on him. That seemed about right, another anxious-to-be-famous nob head. I generally did my best to avoid his TV show "Big Brother's Big Mouth" and only continued to be aware of him because my girlfriend at the time fancied him.

Then he started effectively doing a talk show on Radio 2, name checking David Icke and even putting him on air a few times. For the uninitiated, Icke argues our world is run by evil blood-drinking shape shifting space lizards from the star constellation Draco, a point of view hard not to like[1]. When Brand then went on to announce he thought there was going to be a revolution in the UK and declared it's not worth voting in elections I became convinced he was worth supporting[2].

I've not changed my mind about that. I still "support" him. However, this is because I believe people learn from failure and, make no mistake, this performance was anything but a success. "Last night Russell Brand the political activist died a whimpering, withering death" writes Fleet Street Fox in The Daily Mirror. Death is a bit extreme but visibly he was knocked out of action and deflated by the experience.
A word about being a "fan" or "supporter". You'll notice there's a poll which The Daily Mirror carried in response to the clash. When I encountered it there was part of me that wanted to click Brand's name to "support" him. When I took a screengrab of it more people had done that than they had for Farage. Instead though I have decided to be honest. There's no point telling a boxer he won the match as he's carried away unconscious on a stretcher.
Images like this are questionable.
The tone was set by a question, asked by the guy pictured above, about whether politics has become too petty. Brand was given the chance to answer first. Question Time often pick questions ideally suited to panel members, this one seemed tailor made for him. yet, from the off, he stumbles over his words and spoke with unusual difficulty.

This suggested to me that the "writhing, nervous gut" he wrote about in his response to the show was still present. In the piece he said of his performance, "I sat politely on my hands, keen to avoid hollering obscenities". The result though was he opened stumbling into a point relating to the ubiquitous, "MP attendance meme". Nothing to do with the question, which was about petty politics. Unfortunately it's a meme which has recently been savaged by an influential Spectator piece: The menace of memes: how pictures can paint a thousand lies

This demonstrates his key error throughout the whole show, he failed to answer the questions and was strangely controlled and timid throughout most of it. A mistake when tackling Farage, whose main skill is to appear relaxed and comfortable with himself. The UKIP leader's first answer pointed out the lack of a difference between the political parties. He bemoaned the lack of "proper ideology in politics". He has a point, when meaty issues are decided behind closed doors all the front line faces of Her Majesty's Government have left to debate are the scraps. This is why politics is petty.

John Higgs's piece about the UK political scene immediately leaped to mind.
Had Brand have gone into a similar routine maybe things would have gone in his favour. Unfortunately the moment was lost. The first "spat" we witnessed was between Farage and Labour MP, Mary Creagh, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. She tried to say Farage was a career politician while claiming she wasn't[3]. She then started to sound like she was reading from a Labour press release as she talked about the "big difference" between the Tories and Labour. All the while Brand was in shot sat next to her looking like he was "on her side". In fact it's one of those pictures which he used on his blog.

Just vote Labour and forget about it, yeah?
The questioner, who thought politics had become too petty, was brought back into the conversation: "it's like they're treating us as fools," he cried. Then another audience member dived in with "doesn't help when people are telling us not to vote," a reference to Brand's infamous outburst on Newsnight.

5:57 in and he's not looking happy already.
When asked to respond he went in again, stumbling and tired, then corrected by the panel on the number of people voting in "the last election". What he'd meant to say was the last European election. He got a decent dig in at Farage, about his working for the city, which he argued was good practice as that's what most politicians do.
However his little lecture was cut short by Dimbleby, who reminded him what they were talking about. In this instance not Nigel Farage but him and his idea that people shouldn't vote. An idea I agree with and which Brand has defended well in the past.
But what the questioner was saying...
Yes, you SHOULD vote..
"But what the questioner was saying [...] was that people SHOULD vote.." said Dimbleby as the camera cut to the confused and disapproving face of the woman who'd made the original point. His response, when pushed, was weak: "give us something to vote for".

A better response, which he has given previously, is "why participate in a ridiculous charade?". I could not agree more. The idea that we should vote for these scumbags is absolutely absurd. The current system is not a democracy. It's an arrangement put in place by the establishment to create the illusion we live in a democracy. No one voted for the war in Iraq, or mass immigration, or the EU, or to bail out the banks, or on any of the major issues we face in this country.  We're NEVER consulted on the big issues, ever. Here was another of Russell's chances to shine. He's aware of direct democracy. Why not nail that one to the wall, as Omid Djalli did recently? If we lived in a direct democracy where there were referendums before war we could all collectively feel responsible for the mess in Iraq now. Instead we blame that on someone else and as a result the same mistakes will be made again in the future.

"My mate, Lee Pickett, who works for the Fire Brigade," droned Brand. He always mentions this, someone must have told him it makes him seem more "man of the people" but 'support the unions', is the message behind it. It strikes me as "New Labour stooge" point. This is a large part of the problem he faces. By identifying with classic "left wing" causes and rhetoric his inevitable trajectory is to go round in circles. Regular blog readers will know: you need two wings to fly. Without being able to move where you like on the political spectrum, depending upon the issue, you end up with a very orthodox and establishment style of politics. The left wing vs right wing narrative has played out for centuries with little real progress. Sat next to Mary Creagh, from the Labour Party, in the traditional "lefty comedian" slot any sense that his stuff might be "dangerous" to the status quo was gone. It's a tactic known as "death by patronage". Powerful people destroy threats by seeming to giving them conditional support which can then be withdrawn at any moment.

This happened with remarkable rapidity on this edition of Question Time. Our Labour MP was initially grinning inanely when Brand interrupted the Tory, Penny Mordaunt, who claimed to respect firefighters, "pay their pensions then, luv". In my opinion that comment alone would have been fine. Instead he elaborated by scolding himself for being "sexist". After this you could hear Mary Creagh say in a school matronly tone "no more sexist language". Then, as Brand cut in again, came a very awkward moment as she turned on him for the crime of "interrupting women".

DO NOT interrupt WOMEN
Remember, by this point we're only ten minutes in and Brand has been attacked by the audience, himself and The Labour Party. Already there are clear gaps in his game, the main one being he's not answering the questions. He looks tired, daunted as his lefty mate tries to score a few points off him for her own career.
I was still hopeful but in retrospect it was not looking good. The point Penny Mordant, the woman Brand interrupted, went on to make is that his twitter feed should have a more "positive message". How inane is that? She soon got a telling, her claim to fame is that she dropped the word cock into one of her speeches recently: "Tory MP Penny Mordaunt said 'c**k' several times in Parliament speech as part of Navy dare".

Probably Brand's finest moment on the show.
"You don't take it seriously and you work there Penny, how are we supposed to take it seriously?" he shot back. Nicely put, "I'm a comedian on twitter" he emphasised.

Cavendish, writes for The Times, thinks Brand will cause fascism.
Then we get Camilla Cavendish, of the Murdoch-owned Times newspaper. She dived in and accused Brand's "don't vote" stance of being the kind of idea that caused the rise of fascism in the 1930s. She went on to claim she meets "a lot of decent MPs" and, to paraphrase, they're a good sort. Remember, she's a journalist. The CSA inquiry is not news to her, she'll surely have looked into it at some point. The delays to the Chilcot Inquiry won't be a shock either. All sorts of Westminster sewage will be known to her that you and I have never even heard of. Yet she comes out in favour of them.

By this point it's abundantly clear there's no one on the panel who has time for our hapless revolutionary. He's been attacked by all of them at this point, aside only from Farage.

Cue the killer question, "is Britain really over crowded?".
Farage thought it was full. He was pretty clear on why, he thinks there's a shortage of GP surgeries and Primary School places. He also thinks road traffic is another indicator. Fair enough.
Brand on the other hand ignored the question and went in with his now widely quoted "pound shop Enoch Powell" comment. For me it was a misfire. Nice line, not particularly damaging. Also, it had little to do with the question. It looked like an unprovoked ad hominem attack. I was tweeting furiously, it was obvious to a seasoned Question Time viewer what was about to happen.

"This is called Question Time and the idea is members of the audience ask questions and we answer them," nailed Farage. Right smack in the weak spot of Brand's game. It was like watching someone walk nose first into 'the big elbow off the top rope'. People hate politicians ignoring the question yet here was Brand doing exactly that and, even worse, having it pointed out by a politician. "There IS money, it's just not being distributed" whimpered Brand and the audience applauded but really he was heading for the mat.
This is widely seen as the moment things got really bad. It wasn't good. "Stand for Parliament" shouted a bald guy with a walking stick, "stand!". As he finished his rant he glanced over at Nigel. Although I love that his identity has since been revealed in the press I don't think he was a "stooge" in the traditional sense. Even if he was Brand's response was tired and got a groan, "I'd stand for Parliament but I'd be scared that I'd become one of them".
Nigel uses his smug expression for the 100000000th time.
The reality started to sink in. Brand was not on form. Nigel and the audience's UKIP supporters had stuck a real blow during the exchange. Then, to make matters worse, a halfwit called Bunny De La Roche dived in from the back of the audience and threatened Farage. A massive own goal if she was intending to support Brand. In the heat of the exchange Nigel slyly suggested that was the case. "One of your voters" he joked.
"The left" seem chronically unaware that threats of violence make them look, well, nasty and violent. I suspect this is down to what people term "noble cause corruption". People stuck in the left wing paradigm can often become convinced that they are "good" and their opponents are therefore "evil". This misunderstanding has been the cause of much of "the left's" failings.
Immigration is a topic which bores me rigid. The main reason it is so tedious is because it's dominated by idiots who say pointless things. One lot are obsessed with racism, like the angry left, and then the other lot state the obvious, 'we can't just let anyone in'.
From that point onwards, Brand seemed almost physically to accept defeat.

There then followed a long and tedious conversation about the NHS. As I re-watched it while writing this review it occurred to me that by this point Brand appeared to have lost his sense of humour. It's very hard to make an audience that doesn't like you laugh. I suspect that may have been part of it. Also though, his aim on the piece seems to be to nail statistics and facts to the wall. Part of me wonders if he over-prepped for his appearance.

As the conversation moved to education Brand had another pop at Farage but it lacked weight. By this point he'd lost and seemed like he was playing for sympathy more than anything else.

As I said at the outset, I'm still a fan. His YouTube stuff is excellent. He's dishing out enough interesting ideas to justify support and I think he's sincere in what he's trying to do. He just needs to sharpen up and get away from "left wing" dogmas, particularly thought-crimes such as "sexism". It's dishonest of people to think pretending all went well will make it so. More than anything else it could mean more disasters like this one in the future.

Overall the first half was great, a classic Question Time. The second half limped though as Russell Brand seemed to wish he was back in the more traditional showbiz world.
Nick Margerrison

[1] I've interviewed Icke many times. Two of the "fan favourite" interviews are here and here.

[2] I announced my support for "Brand Revolution" in this episode of the podcast:


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