Take two people called Russell and Jeremy in a hôtel room in London, and ask one of them to put the world to rights.
Fringe meetings for Labour Party conferences for as long as I can remember have run panel discussions about how we can engage more people in the political process. For virtually of these fringe meetings which I have attended, almost invariably is the fact that political parties introduce policies for which people didn’t vote almost every parliament.
These issues remain dormant on the mainstream media for months on end, and yet continue to enrage people in the social media. Many issues under the umbrella of social justice continue to cause anger and resentment: these include the closure of English law centres, or the NHS reforms. The media continues to be skewed against such issues. For example, the flagship programme on BBC1 every Thursday, “Question Time”, regularly features a candidate from UKIP, a party which as yet has failed to elect a single MP. They have never featured a candidate from the National Health Action Party, and yet the running of the NHS continues to be a totemic issue.
Blaming the media would be like a bad tap-dancer wishing to blame the floor. And yet protest votes are not easily dismissed. Recently, in France, the right-wing National Front has taken the lead in an opinion poll before elections for the European Parliament, in a development that has truly shocked the French political establishment. The survey, which gave Marine Le Pen’s party 24 per cent of the vote, marked the first time that the party founded in 1972 by her father has led before a national election. The centre-right Union for a Popular Movement, which led in the previous equivalent poll, stood at 22 per cent and the Socialists at 19 per cent.
Part of David Cameron’s problem is that the initial friendship towards his Conservative Party was lukewarm to begin with. The intervening years (2010-2013) have seen a Party which just appears ‘out of touch’, which makes Sir Alec Douglas-Home look trendier than a hip-hop artist. But likewise, Russell Brand is not a ubiquitously popular man himself. Whilst some people feel he stands up for their views, irrespective of his reported wealth, others find him narcissistic and nauseating.
Russell Brand is however successful at being famous, and this is a peculiar British trait. He often begins his set by talking about his love for fame: ‘My personality doesn’t work without fame. Without fame, this haircut is just mental illness.’ He has found his way of getting his name in the news, and in the tabloids. His comedy is not even that popular, but at least he has the ear of the British media. The National Health Action Party would have loved ten minutes with Jeremy Paxman, although it’s quite unlikely a ten-minute video with Clive Peedell would become an instantaneous viral hit.
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, the UK Labour Party almost seems to have re-discovered its mojo. The triangulation of the past appealed to those in Labour who felt they could win simply by appealing to floating Tory voters. But it is a strategy that ran out of steam in 2010, leaving abandoned Blairite commentators to become embittered and self-consumed in a passion of self-destruction, while spitting bullets at Ed Miliband. Labour’s traditional supporters did not come out and vote, while floating voters saw through the cynical vote-grabbing exercises. Labour did not appear particularly ‘socialist’ any more.
Russell Brand didn’t mention the deficit once. Russell Brand did not have to appeal to his fans to say that there will be no return to the days of lavish spending. He did not have to say that he had learnt lessons from the past.
And yet deep-down voters do have excuses, if not reasons, not to vote Labour. There are some people who believe that Ed Miliband will need to identify Labour’s mistakes – the blind eye to a City running wild; an over-reliance on both high finance and a house-price bubble; or being ‘weak on welfare’.
And yet we are in a society which is absurdly superficial. Should Russell Brand have to bite the bullet for riding the crest of this banality? This strange Universe is not just occupied by reality TB stars. Many famous people are famous for being famous. Nicole Kidman is famous for being famous. Arguably, Nicole Kidman famous for divorcing Tom Cruise. At the same time when Russell Brand was selling what he sells best, that is Russell Brand, Cher was on BBC1 on ‘The Graham Norton Show’. And nobody sane can claim that Cher is the world’s best singer.
This does not necessarily mean that Labour should ignore the polls, although Labour will invariably say it ignores the polls when they are bad. From level-pegging to an 11-point lead in 10 days, Labour has plainly had a good conference, in terms of public opinion polling. After a difficult summer, YouGov’s poll put Labour at its highest level, 42%, since June. 30% now said Ed Miliband is doing well as party leader – his best rating since May. When people were asked who would make the best prime minister, Miliband (25%) was now within three points of David Cameron (28%). That was the narrowest gap since Miliband became party leader three years ago.
Ed Miliband is the one who keeps on saying that he wants ‘to tell you a story’. After the recent coverage of Ralph Miliband, paradoxically people appear to have warmed to the narrator as much as the story. In Russell Brand’s case, there is a curious mixture of some people liking the narrator as well as the story.
And yet for all of Russell Brand’s themes, such as global warming, inequality, or dominance of corporatism, for Brand it is simply entertainment. For many viewers, it is simply entertainment. Life is far from entertaining from some who have deeply suffering in this Government. Social injustices, such as in the personal independence payment or Bedroom Tax, have literally taken their casualties, and the myth of ‘the record number in employment’ has been blown out-of-the-water.
Russell Brand can be thanked for his form of escapism. But at the end of the day it is superficial crap, and not the solution to more than thirty years of failed triangulation in UK politics.