Something is up with everyone’s favourite crusading comedian, Russell Brand. I watched last night’s Question Time, which pitted Brand against UKIP’s Nigel Farage, to save you the trouble. Here’s what I observed.
These shows are a sort of trial by fire for any politician these days. You don’t envy them. But it was Brand who last night looked ashen-faced and dejected. With wearying predictability, the first question was: “Is the petty, adversarial nature of politics causing its own decline… Russell Brand?” Quite cruel of Dimbers, that.
And then we were treated to the latticed fingers and slightly incredulous expression on Nigel Farage’s face as Brand waffled, ducked, bobbed, weaved. It was as if even the camera couldn’t keep the focus on spent force Brand.
Oh, Brand. The jabbering and the crazy eyes are gone. I hope Brand is not medicated. But the conspiracy theories remain: he repeated a debunked observation about MPs’ attendance in the House of Commons. It’s as if he doesn’t even open the emails from his flabby fantasist sidekick Johann Hari any more. Hari would have known.
Russell Brand the miserable autodidactic loner is reasserting itself. He couldn’t reliably pronounce the word “adversarial.” He read talking points from cards prepared from him, trying to make a theatrical show of things but only really proving his own ignorance.
He got floored by a disabled member of the audience who said that Nigel Farage has never gone after the vulnerable, as Brand likes to insinuate, and that if Brand, a campaigner, has the courage of his convictions he should stand for Parliament himself. He even tripped into an oblique allegation of sexism from the useless Mary Creagh MP.
He even, woefully, transparently, dodged a question about whether or not people should vote–pretty much his signature issue–with a mealy-mouthed fluff. He changed his line on this to: “Give us something to vote for.” Well, Russell, Nigel Farage has–you just don’t like the something.
About half-way through the debate, Brand’s entire political raison d’etre was demolished in a few sentences by Times columnist Camilla Cavendish, who remarked that his one-note dismissal of the entire political class reminded her of the 1930s, and the ideal conditions for the emergence of fascism. Harsh.
And as a symbol of how far we’ve come: that wasn’t a joke with Farage at its butt. Farage did well, as usual, flooring Creagh when she tried to claim he was a career politician with a nice gag about Ed Miliband not even spending 6 weeks in business before starting a life in politics.
Remarkably for the Question Time audience, mewling and yelling at each other and the panellists as ever, applause for Brand and Farage was comparable. (Then again, this is Canterbury, where Brand goes down like a cup of cold sick.)
Neither Brand nor Farage welcomes the comparison, but they represent the two new urgencies in British public life, and so are very similar: the Tory party in exile and the soulless soundbite culture of the Left and comedians who treat politics as a route to punchlines.
What a mess the Left has made of things: the only active choice for viewers and voters now is between conservatism and apathy.
Brand’s face fell further and further over the course of Question Time, perhaps as it dawned on him how niche his opinions really are–something he probably doesn’t experience on his tours and from sycophants on Twitter and in his YouTube comment sections. He went from looking like a dog waiting to be punched to a dog that’s had the shit kicked out of it. Slouching, despondent, grey-skinned.
Heartening, at least, that we seem to be moving from a period when the public was satisfied with platitudes to one in which they demand answers and integrity. Not everyone likes Farage’s answers; other political parties, such as the Greens, will cater to them. But this moment of feel-good, fight-the-power, populist Left-wing ideologues is coming to an end, I think. Russell Brand has made sure of it.
One last observation. Brand seems to be doing his own hair these days. Perhaps times are hard; something to do with exchange rates. It has lost some of its lustre. Fewer products, maybe. A bit less teasing and backcombing; tragically lessened volume. Not a bad metaphor for his newly deflated persona.