I was ambling around Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport last week, an experience I find both inspiring and depressing in equal measure. This mighty structure, a symbol of a modern, international Britain, appears perpetually oblivious to the existence of anyone other than first and business class passengers, such are the shops, or boutiques as I suppose one is meant to call them, that can be found there.
Having admired the Mulberry handbags and spluttered at the price tag of a Jaeger-LeCoutre watch, I glanced towards the heavens; to the executive lounge set above the rest of the terminal. The travel-hardened businessmen, for whom Terminal 5 is a second home, relaxed like Roman senators. Airports are one of the few places left where society is so brazenly divided. In this environment, where the chasm between the “corporate elite” and “real people” is so evidently displayed, it seemed an appropriate moment for me to stumble across a copy of Revolution, the latest bout of rambling propaganda by comedian Russell Brand.
Throughout his book, and a number of promotional interviews, Brand has flitted between considered, well-researched argument and maniacal waffling or avoidance tactics. This was most notable this week when he angrily berated a reporter who dared to ask how much rent Brand himself paid, a question he refused to answer and avoided by insulting the reporter and hiding behind a fellow protester. (Further investigation found that his landlord is in fact KKY PTY Ltd., an off-shore company based in the British Virgin Islands where virtually no tax is paid, but that’s another matter). Brand continually makes sweeping claims and slogans, “affordable housing for real people”, “our current system exists purely to serve the corporations”, “social housing not social cleansing”, but fails to clearly state how he intends to achieve his aims, his revolution. Brand refuses to vote, as such an act would, in his eyes, be bowing to the system he is attempting so vigorously to change. Equally his resistance to the current system is such that he refuses to stand as an independent. Yet, the only realistic way he can instigate change is by using the current, democratic system to his advantage. Ignoring it is simply petulant.
Instead Brand prefers to lead marches and protests, as we have seen with increasing regularity recently. In October, he joined “Focus E15”, a group of homeless mothers, to protest their eviction from abandoned flats, which are to be sold off privately. In early November he led a protest against Richard Benyon MP and his brother Edward, after their family firm bought up a housing estate, threatening to raise rent prices in the area. He also added a sprinkle of celebrity to the Million Mask March, an anti-capitalist protest through Whitehall. In these instances he is purely stroking his own ego, building self-publicity and ultimately achieving nothing more than added media coverage for these causes.
After the events of the last few weeks, this book appears to have taken on an altogether different role to that which the author might have intended and now appears increasingly dangerous. I am twenty-years-old. Although my background means I am probably not in Brand’s intended sightline for his revolution, I am amongst the young people that he is trying to convince to take, and in some cases already have taken, “action”.
There is little doubt that, in essence, Russell Brand is doing a good thing. He might be going about it in questionable fashion but he is inspiring political thought and, more importantly, political action amongst young people. The student protests held in Parliament Square recently were a prime example. Wielding his book, his name and his version of the Che Guevara silhouette, students marched through Parliament Square with the intention of peaceful protest against university fees. During this display, an ill-advised minority crashed through barriers, vandalised local shops and added a tragic layer of violence which misrepresented not only those in attendance but the UK’s student body as a whole. These incidents are becoming more common, aided by Brand providing them with what they consider to be justification for vandalism, criminality and violence.
There is a major flaw in Brand’s encouragements to “take action”; in that no one knows what action they should be taking. He offers few solutions, only problems. I have been an occasional viewer of his “Trews, News you can trust” Youtube channel. While it can be a fascinating watch, its only purpose is to highlight what he sees as major injustices of the corporations towards the “real people” to which he continually refers. There is no action plan, there is no grand scheme for reform let alone revolution.
Russell Brand has a clear idea of what needs to change and he raises legitimate issues that affect thousands of people everyday, particularly in London’s ludicrously expensive society. What he fails to mention is how it should be done. His current tactic is purely stirring animosity and outrage towards a system that is far from fatally flawed. He is becoming a broken record, a walking thesaurus, as he is so often labelled, stuck on repeat. He has substantial support, both active and passive. He has the platform of a celebrity from which to work. If he ever really wanted to see changes, to see a new society, he must take action himself, take advantage of this position that he has worked admirably to put himself in. The only way to fix the current flaws of the government and the selfishness of the corporations is to work within the current structure. For the moment though, his public antics make him all too easy to ignore.
By Ben Grimshaw, Junior Writer at Daily Political View