Why Natalie Bennett’s Green performances lack that Brand awareness


The Green party leader is failing to deliver a coherent and convincing message on national television and undermining the cause. Is it time for seasoned media commentator Russell Brand to stand in for her to articulate the vision of a fairer society and hit back at the cynics?

Once again, the Green party leader Natalie Bennett appeared on a political television show, this time the BBC’s Question Time, and once again, despite her best intentions, she failed to articulate her vision in a convincing way. Thankfully for her, perhaps, there was another member of the panel who stumbled more than she did, the former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, who has in the past struggled with alcohol and by the sounds of his answers and the view of many commentators online, appeared to be continuing to struggle. It was awkward to watch, and social media people have of course been relentless in joking about his performance, cruelly in the opinion of many others.

But while Charles Kennedy’s monosyllabic, slightly slurred answers prompted the online “is he, or isn’t he?” social media gags, it directed attention away from Natalie’s usual problem, that of a lack of confidence in her delivery, and the substance of her answers under sceptical questioning as they pertained to the Green party ethos. The continuing narrative as it is beginning to solidify once again among journalists and presenters, is that the Green party are hippy wackos who will destroy society if they are ever allowed to get anywhere near to power. The irony that this view ends up preserving and protecting a political establishment that is doing just that cannot be lost on astute observers.

Natalie Bennett gamely attempted to present the ideas and indeed the ideals of a party that represents the hopes of environmentalists, civil and human rights advocates and progressives of good conscience the world over, with potential policies that would offer the most radical departure from conventional political life since real socialism was part of the mainstream political discourse. The need for a radical world plan to tackle widescale environmental degradation is accepted by ecological activists and serious thinkers as absolutely necessary to ensure our survival as a species on this planet and prevent inevitable societal collapse. What industrial civilisation and the debt-based economic system is doing to society and the biosphere is a continuing catastrophe. The failure of mainstream politicians to tackle this is beyond scandalous.

There is a logical disengagement in the political process from so many people, so many opposed to UK involvement in the Middle East wars and beyond, the continuing corruption of big business, and to surveillance techniques used to suppress dissent under the guise of protecting us from terrorism. Many of us know what’s wrong, but so often the pragmatists demand to know from the progressives: “how are you going to make things better? What exactly are you going to do?” It is at this point, and in the face of such harsh and direct questioning, where many of us struggle to articulate what the vision might look like in real time. Natalie gets to do it on live TV and I can understand how difficult it might be. But if she cannot do it successfully (and so far she has not managed to do so) then it risks relegating the Green party to the role of a national joke, when the basic ideal of a fairer society is rooted in many practical solutions to real world problems.

Unfortunately, I do not believe unilateral nuclear disarmament is one of those solutions. It is based on an ideal (a world without nuclear weapons), but it turns into a policy (unilateral disarmament, the UK gets rid of its weapons), that cannot be seen as anything other than naive and dangerous by the public. Of course there are other countries that do not have nuclear weapons, but that does not mean if the UK unilaterally disarmed it would also be safe. Those countries are safe because their allies are armed. Of course it is insane to even contemplate a nuclear war and it would lead to utter devastation. But a defenceless Japan was brought to its knees because of a nuclear attack and the result was horrendous.

Military strategy is a fact of life. It may be an ugly fact of life, and we may (and indeed must) seek to lessen the need for weapons of war, and certainly end wars of corporate greed. But such a strategy has to be thought out and articulated in a way that engenders confidence in people that they will be protected, to enshrine in military strategy Bruce Lee’s philosophy of the art of “fighting without fighting” in such a way that the public can feel safe. Empathy cannot be enacted without qualities of strength and strategy. On matters of war and national security, Natalie failed to articulate the vision or to convince that the Green party would be able to protect its citizens for long enough to enact that vision of a world without nuclear weapons. It’s a tall order for any peacemaker.

On questions of the economy, once again people look to figures and once again Natalie is not able to present the overall strategy, to tackle the debt-based banking system and its systemic corruption, in any way that the public can engage with. She is tinkering around the edges with talk of corporations paying their tax. As important as this is to begin with, it is small fry next to the real problem in finance. Banks have hundreds of billions of pounds of invented public money underwritten by the state and that is before we even talk about corruption, interest rate rigging and all manner of structural failings that prevent investment in public services, infrastructure and well-paid jobs for all. Again, pragmatists will ask for the exact figures, but it is here where a charismatic leader, one who has some fire about them, can challenge the critics and impress upon them the urgency of the crisis facing society and environment and to persuade those who feel disengaged that this is a party that will fight for their rights and tackle these problems urgently.

And it is a fight, make no mistake, We are up against systems of belief so ingrained that even those of us who know how absurd the beliefs that are put forward as the only serious solutions are, find ourselves complying. Most of us are in some way accepting that politics can only be done this way by either a tacit or explicit compliance. This is why I have so much sympathy with the views expressed by Russell Brand, that politics is a rigged game and that we should reject it outright, that the very nature of the process corrupts and distorts so that the true aims are destroyed. That within this system, the political and spiritual message of harmony and community, an ideal that urges us to look within and find that part of us that can engage with our own humanity and find empathy in others, ultimately with even our harshest critic or our most vicious enemy, cannot be heard above the braying of smug, overfed bullies and corporate shills who offer us scraps from the table. Fuck ‘em all, he says, and many willfully disenfranchised people agree with him.

And though I too believe that it is a rigged game, and that perhaps things will have to get worse before they get better, I still can’t help wishing each time I switch on that blasted television set and watch those frustrating, agenda-set political debates, that for every appearance that Natalie has been on, that Russell had been on there in her place to face the cynical, sneering questioners and give ‘em what for. And though what’s past is past, I continue to wish that somehow he would stand in for her in the upcoming debates, which will not doubt intensify in their verbal brutality, covering for her in the manner of knight in shining armour,  and leave her to the business of political strategy and electioneering for which she is no doubt well equipped.

I am sure that Natalie is a competent politician and knows the ins and outs of specific environmental policy. But a vision needs to be articulated first. People have to become engaged and inspired, and Russell Brand is simply the most charismatic, articulate, bravest and sharpest public figure of recent times, able to express those basic ideals that ordinary people feel in their hearts and speak about constantly, that you get when you go into a cafe or pub and chat with regular, open-minded folk, of which there are many more in this country than the political and mainstream media peer group would have us believe.

I don’t think Russell needs to be a leader of the Green party and I’m sure he isn’t cut out to be a bureaucratic leader of a political party and neither would he want to be one. But he can at least be a spokesman over these next few weeks, since the Green party is not about a definite leader but about a collaborative vision. If David Cameron won’t go face-to-face with his closest rival, then why should Natalie have to be submerged in the dog-pissing contest that would surely ensue if the seven leaders all faced up in one televised debate?  For one thing, if he were to become the main spokesman, joining the Green party and urging the disengaged to vote this one time, it would shut those people up who say he is against voting outright, that he is a threat to the sanctified democratic process. I know he agrees with some of the Green party ideals. I do too. But I also object to some of the specific ideas, unilateral disarmament being just one (though I see no need to waste money on Trident). But that should not stop either of us supporting the Green through the rigged game of electoral ballot box politics just for this one last time, if only to offer some alternative to the blandness and utter idiocy and corruption of the rest of the flogged horses and the dreary pretence of serious mainstream media scrutiny of the election.

At least with the Greens, if they were to get a few MPs voted in at the next election, could present specific policy in the House of Commons. And perhaps more radical ideas, those of dismantling the banking cartels, renationalising and syndicalising public services so that people from the ground up have a say, could begin to be discussed seriously. Creating open-source networks, allowing radical ideas from all cultures and faiths to be expressed without fear of being branded an extremist, for the express purposes of not pushing people towards extremism by stifling free expression, as happens now, will encourage open dialogue and create a political narrative that is inclusive, and long overdue. If only that the narrative could become real and impressed into public life. This surely is the last chance to do so in the traditional way via the ballot box. Russell could even walk away after the election if the Green party get all bureaucratic and the walking away could be another measure of his integrity and commitment to his own revolutionary spiritual vision.

The important thing would be that in these debates, through the visual medium and the intense scrutiny of a cynical audience which Russell has negotiated and mastered like no other present public figure, some of those real debates about how we want to live in this country and in the world and how best to tackle the serious problems we are facing, would all be able to be aired in the serious context of political news, rather than as an anarchic celebrity sideshow, which is how Russell Brand is being presented by those same people, despite him being very obviously more than that to many people. The likes of Andrew Neill, David Dimbleby, Nick Ferrari and the rest of the establishment mob would face a sterner and more engaged response from the working class boy from Grays, Essex than any previous Green party politician and that in itself would be news. Maybe he doesn’t need the extra scrutiny. Maybe his celebrity status would obscure the Green vision and detract from the message. Maybe Natalie and the Green support would be so affronted by my suggestion were they to hear about it, that it would embarrass all concerned and make the possibility less likely, rather than more likely, as I would hope.

But I feel that unless such a thing happens, unless Russell in some way becomes the main spokesman for the Green party over the next few weeks, that Natalie will continue to stumble and stutter over the debates. Despite the fact that Natalie undoubtedly knows what the vision is and can articulate it to party members, despite there being 50,000+ members putting out the vision for radical change, urging progressive, ecologically minded people to vote, there will not be that media surge that has been predicted and the Greens will be lucky to get another couple of MPs alongside Caroline Lucas, who may not even retain her MP’s status. And in 2015, with the state of the world as it is and the reactionary right hovering with their fear agenda and corporate backing, that just isn’t good enough.

If it doesn’t happen, if Russ stays in non-voting, revolutionary mode, I may not even bother to vote either,  for the first time since I can remember, as disillusioned as I will continue to be every time I hear Natalie speak on one of these political shows, as I know in my constituency the only real possibility is that either the nice but ineffectual Lib Dem gets in again or the posh ex-forces Tory boy gets in to push his touted “free market” agenda. What price enraged apathy? Maybe I’ll just have to switch off the TV, trust in the vision and enact the ecological ideal with those I meet in my daily life. Be the change I wish to see. And maybe I’ll see the debacle of the 2015 election and recognise that the breakdown of the established social order that must surely come is not far away. We will all in some way be a part of the revolution, whether we desire it or not. I only wish I could believe it will be a peaceful one. Surely there must be a way we can engage the public now in a positive vision before things get a bit messier. If not now, then when?

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Bath Literature Festival – Election Special: A political discussion that left me speechless

P1090678Those who know me, know that I rarely let a chance go by to give an opinion on politics and so-called current affairs. When going to organised political discussions with mainstream journalists, I’m even more likely to proffer a provocative question and get into sometimes heated exchanges with the assembled speakers. But tonight’s discussion, one of the last of the week long Bath Literature Festival, on the upcoming election and UK politics in general, hosted by the BBC business editor Kamal Ahmed, left me so stunned by the lack on any meaningful appreciation of the disenfranchised political landscape, that though fuming throughout at many of the panel’s opinions, I could not bring myself to vent my fury, so futile did I think would be the likelihood of meaningful dialogue ensuing.

On listening to the guests, the Guardian journalists Gaby Hinsliff and Rafael Behr and the Times political sketch writer Ann Treneman, I wondered whether I’d slipped into a sci-fi alternate reality, where humanoid automatons mouthed inconsequential newspeak, self-referential dialogue intended to numb the senses and convince the attendant crowd that all was well in the corporate landscape, that there really was a difference between Ed and Dave and that those who thought differently were apathetic, angry, but were never to be described as informed or engaged or, perish the thought, sick of the whole parliamentary and journalistic charade.

And, yes, this dystopian reality has a name. It’s called the Westminster bubble. It’s a space inhabited by mainstream politicians and journalists, who each confirm each others’ biases about the state of British politics and the “apathetic” British public, discuss the minute differences in neoliberal austerity policy, without any apparent awareness or admittance that there have been alternatives offered to the economic neoliberalism that has been taken as gospel for over 30 years, and that has been foisted on the western world with ever greater force and conviction since the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent bank bailout, the greatest con in modern human history.

Not only have alternatives been offered and more or less ignored in the mainstream news editorials (unless spoken of one-step removed from the UK, as with discussions on Syriza and Podemos in Greece and Spain respectively), but the general anger and supposed apathy that has often been cited by mainstream politicians has time and again been misinterpreted and often deliberately so, by a political class that feels confident in supporting the reassertion of the power base of a class-based financial elite that has amassed untold wealth in the past 7 or 8 years, while the majority of the population feels the sting of economic belt-tightening and the poor and vulnerable struggle and are demonised and blamed for the worsening economic conditions of the middle classes.

The assembled writers held court, prompted by the BBC business editor, but they all might as well have been talking gibberish for any of the sense they made to me. They spoke of the difference between the main parties, disparaged ever so fleetingly the “radical” ideas of the Green party, and could not countenance the possibility that anything other than neoliberalism, the belief in the power of controlled free trade and the banking cartels’ ever greater hold on the wealth of nations, would be a dangerous throwback to vote-sapping 70s and 80s Labour militancy. It was as if Thomas Picketty and Syriza did not exist. These were journalists speaking inside a rarified echo chamber, and no one but me seemed to notice or seem shocked at what was being passed out as political expertise. And you wonder why people are disengaged in the political process? You wonder why people want a revolution, to throw this whole hypocritical, corrupt mess into the fire and to start again?

Sitting in the audience I pondered on whether to speak out, whether to disrupt proceedings, by simply screaming out in indignation when Times political sketch writer Ann Treneman – who seemed to have a good laugh at the supposed failings of the Green party – described Boris Johnson as different to David Cameron, as if there was any real ideological difference between the two old Etonians, who both believe in neoliberal free market economics as if it were a holy truth written in stone, and who approach foreign policy as if they were colonial generals fighting the Boer war.

This is class politics plain and simple, but whereas at least in the 1970s there was some semblance of a balanced debate, what passes for debate these days is to present right, slightly less right and bourgeois liberal as if they were any significant political difference between them. Gaby Hinsliff and Rafael Behr may well work for the Guardian, but much like the Labour party and the Conservative party, the differences they present are all superficial. When you delve under the surface you find a peer group, often of Oxford educated careerists, who see the world in much the same way and have a basic set of parameters as to what is considered acceptable public political discourse.

Yes, I could have shouted out at the insanity of austerity policy, the monumental shifting of public money – £500bn – from public to private hands, over the past three years in Britain alone, to say nothing of interest rate fixing and general corruption in the banking system that has gone unpunished. I could have shouted out that the financial system, built on a debt-based philosophy that has become so unbalanced that it is sucking up any real wealth and creating a concentration of power in the hands of a few people that is unprecedented in human history, must be ended to prevent mass social breakdown. I could have explained that corporate and military working in tandem are directly responsible for the destruction of the environment and continuing chaos in the Middle East, Africa and the borders of Russia, as well as poverty and social alienation in the west. None of this is even news to most of us even barely engaged in political discourse. How can it be that an event as this did not even get close to discussing such matters?

The lack of a meaningful debate left me perplexed but with a weary sense that I should have known better. I had wanted to believe at least a morsel of truth might fall out from the mouths of these seasoned Westminster commentators, but there was not even a whisper of recognition, not even a knowing aside and, as stunned and angry as I was, fuming under my breath, I cannot say I was surprised. It was a spontaneous booking on the final day, and Jon Ronson was sold out, so I got more than I expected, which was the maximum political ignorance dressed up as expertise. I could have spoken, screamed, tried to reason, maybe even stood up and decided to disrupt proceedings. But what would it have achieved?

Would I have managed to sound reasonable in the Guildhall building, surroundings that could not be more redolent of colonial opulence and a deluded sense of superiority if it tried, telling these journalists that they were part of the problem, that not a single word they said sounded remotely close to describing the political problems we face? That whether Ukip, or Labour, or Conservatives, or Lib Dems rise or fall, it is the same economic elite that continues to suppress truth and the real possibilities of tackling the crisis of our age? Would they have been any more convinced if I had told them that I spent five years working at both the Times and the Guardian, have seen and experienced the inner workings and the off-the-record disdain for the public, and regard them both as two sides of the same coin, both backed by corporate advertising revenue, and so both limited to running narratives that do not threaten the main orthodoxy of economic growth and military might and right?

Would they have even cared, closeted in their bubble, their comfortable salary and their belief that parliamentary politics is still relevant to the majority of people? No, I held my tongue. Listened to the bubble doublespeak rolling forth in ever so polite tones from the chosen journos, marvelled at the nonchalance with which they dismissed the issue of climate change, on the very weekend when even the Guardian posted a headline grabbing excerpt from Naomi Klein’s book on the environment This Changes Everything, with a quote from the book which reads: “It is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when an elite minority was enjoying more unfettered political, cultural, and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s.”

And I wondered whether they were even aware how irrelevant they have become, unable or unwilling to challenge the oppressive and delusive political discourse of the day. Gaby Hinsliff suggested the problem with democracy is that we have too many B-list politicians. I would suggest that we also have too many B-list journalists as well. And, yes, there is a problem with a prime minister who weekly refuses to answer questions at the despatch box when pressed by the opposition, which is an insult to parliamentary procedure that should cause outrage. And there is a problem with Ed Miliband, but it is not so much that he looks and talks like a geek, but that he is too afraid, unable or unwilling to challenge the banks, the corporations and the unaccountable power and wealth of City of London, to speak with greater urgency on behalf of the majority, who have been fed the lie of economic austerity, a policy that he will not challenge in any meaningful way. Whether you vote for red or blue, or even yellow for that matter, the same government get in. And Ukip are, as the comedian Mark Thomas says, just the Tories after a few pints at closing time, boorish and foaming with xenophobic bigotry.

There are many political problems to be tackled and on a weekend when hundreds of thousands marched in support of real action to tackle climate change, where we have a multitude of successful activist groups, social media campaigns and the ever on-point Russell Brand reminding us why the democracy we have is a sham and riddled with corruption, I am reminded how a simple debate on politics including celebrated mainstream journalists, two of whom work for a paper still described by too many people as leftwing, can be so far removed from the daily experience of a politically engaged public, that it can stun me to such an extent that it takes me a few hours even to muster up the words to describe the mind-numbing experience. If this is an example of the accepted political discourse, then a day of reckoning for Westminster and its cursed bubble is surely not far away. And it will be nothing less than they deserve.

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Why the Guardians faux progressiveness is more destructive than it appears.

Originally posted on Things that matter:

Why the Guardians faux progressiveness is more destructive than it appears.

By E.F Nicholson 

Whether we like it or not, our ever increasing participation in the world of consumption, allows us to be sliced and diced by advertisers into increasingly sophisticated demographic cages. The  advertising and brand awareness industry, pervasive and almost omniscient,  adopt  “cradle to grave” strategies that aim to massage you through every demographic group, squeezing the maximum amount of money from you at each stage. Corporations getting into the minds of their target audience  is big business. A huge amount of thought and planning goes into how those interactions take place and the impact they have on the consumer.

Companies like Coca-Cola and McDonalds invest massive amounts of money dedicated to access their key demographic and build their brand loyalty. Yet it is interesting to note that even when you are someone who dislikes Coke for its…

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The political is personal

Tor Mist

To some extent, I believe that the way we think and feel about the world has a direct effect on our immediate environment, the people we meet and interact with, cycles of projections of our thoughts and actions out into the world and the receiving and internal processing of what thoughts and actions come back. Perhaps it is my attachment to the political that keeps me open to the almost continual stream of negative media that seems to flood into my consciousness every time I switch on this computer. Perhaps this incessant political discussion presents a distorted picture of the actual world and its many different experiences.

For so many people, the political world is not something they have direct experience of, so they tend to leave it be, not feeling they can have any measurable effect on what goes on. I kind of envy those who can do this, who also recognise how it is important to look after one’s state of mind and emotions, and that it is only beneficial to give an opinion on that which one can directly affect. But I can’t pretend that the injustices I read about are not going on. And I can’t pretend that it doesn’t affect me or that our seeming collective indifference or inability to address these injustices are not a source of disappointment and sometimes anger.

I live in a country and in a time that offers so much in the way of progressive ideas, a society filled with people from so many different cultural backgrounds and belief systems, connected physically and virtually in a way that has not happened before in world history. In many ways, there is so much to be grateful for, to live in such a place in such a time, which seems to me evolving in self-perception and in the technological contributions to a planet encountering the effects of a growing number of energy intensive beings – us.

But I don’t believe that change will come about just by positive or wishful thinking. Equally, I don’t believe that me simply being aware of the many injustices that seem to be happening in the world right now as a direct result of decisions taken by governments we supposedly elect, is creating that reality. I believe it is reasonable to state that that reality exists, whether I choose to notice it or not. The anger I feel at the injustices is my own anger, yes, and I am responsible for how I use that anger. It has many roots, it is connected with what I have experienced about the world and how I have reacted to it. But that does not negate the legitimacy of that anger. War is real, torture is real, environmental degradation is real. I can maybe turn away from the news, look at my emotions more deeply, nurture myself, look after my state of mind, spread some positivity and love to whoever else might be finding life a bit of a struggle in whatever immediate way I can. Living in Glastonbury, I can be closer to the here and now, beyond the incessant noise of the urban environment and, among the many strands of alternative belief systems in this ancient market town with its spiritual roots, find my own connection to nature, which is so accessible here.

But eventually, whether online or in person, I am presented with the a view of the world which is political, which for me is about connecting with community using both the intellect and the emotions, and finding a way to speak from my heart and mind what I feel and wish to say. That will create, and has created, tension with others, online and in the physical world that has sometimes broken out into hostility. But, in the wider scheme of things, that is so miniscule compared to what others have had to face and face today for speaking out. And yet, in the midst of all the terrible tragedies and injustices, so many acts of kindness, even in the face of the recent brutal terrorist attacks, remind us that we are at root social beings, that many of us enjoy being in company, and that we also can create communities where those who wish for silence and solitude can have the space for that too. Art and verbal expression can be bridges between people of differing viewpoints, who at the root all share a common humanity. I’d rather focus on using my expression to bring people together rather than to divide.

But as long as I see what I perceive as injustice, as long as I feel a voice inside burning to be expressed, I must also honour that calling, no matter what others may think of me or say to me. I find, as much as I criticise, that I find receiving criticism difficult, so it is rarely easy for me to express myself. So do I just back out, keep quiet, or do I let it all flow? I cannot fully express my gratitude and joy at this undoubtedly privileged life I lead right now, unless I have also expressed my sadness and anger at the injustices I perceive, whether in my immediate environment, or out in the world. I have my words and my self-expression. Many do not even have that. So I commit to expressing what I can, when I can, about the world I see and resolve to be prepared to face the consequences. And if it all becomes to much to bear, I also commit to breaking away from the incessant chatter to find some peace among those I am close to, and to seek solitude where it is required, to replenish me to enter the fray once again.

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Russell Brand battles through a rigged BBC Question Time

The Russell Brand v Nigel Farage debate on Question Time was a bit of a disappointment to me and I shouldn’t have been surprised, as it has always been a bit of a rigged game, set up to favour establishment puppets like Nigel Farage and the Tory-Lib-Lab stealth coalition of neoliberal cronies. He looked as sounded as nervous as I’ve ever known him, which was unusual as he is normally such a brilliant performer under even the most nervy situation, often more so the higher the stakes. The debate was in Canterbury, Kent, where stoked up fear of immigration is high. Alongside “Poundshop Enoch Powell” (Brand’s brilliant stand-up phrase for Nigel Farage), was Tory MP, Penny Mordaunt, Labour MP corporate drone, Mary Creagh (who voted moderately for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas, voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war and voted very strongly for replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system) and the Rupert Murdoch-run Times assistant editor, Camilla Cavendish. All chaired by bluer than blue establishment bigwig, David Dimbleby. In a week when shocking torture revelations were revealed, where the United States is gripped by continuing mass civil disturbance over racism and brutal policing, we had a bland first question that lasted over 15 minutes, about whether politics was becoming too divisive. Talk about a non-question.

Brand was cold-shouldered by all the panellists and though he made some good points, his speech was slow, laboured and hesitant. Perhaps he was over-awed by the huge expectation of so many people, perhaps he was mindful of presenting himself in as serious a way as possible. In my mind, he was and is best when being irreverent, not giving a shit, and saying exactly what he feels, breaking protocol. He seemed to be kept on a very short leash tonight, perhaps of his own doing, given the widespread attacks on him primarily from the Sun, but also the “snidey” Channel 4 and equally snidey Guardian, who pretend to be his friend, while stabbing him with snarky comments. But Brand has more than done his bit. It is too much to expect that if the public pour all their hope on one man that he will single-handedly bring some reason and humanity into politics. Undoubtedly, there will be other opportunities for him in mainstream media in future to better that performance.

As the inevitable question about immigration arrived, with the inevitable responses by Farage, it was left to Brand to point out the corrupt banking system is the real cause of inequality and injustice, not the easy target of people who look different, stoked by a hysterical media and compliant liberal press and Labour party who feed in to the entirely false debate that “there’s not enough room” and “we have to close the doors”. Poverty has been caused by the rich and Brand was right to mention it. But no one backed him up on the panel, certainly not the Tory MP and journalist. Definitely not the former City broker, and shamefully not the Labour corporatist Creagh, who plays at being an equal rights campaigner, but presided over a government that Farage rightly accused of borrowing PFI money to fund NHS investment at extortionate interest rates that we are going to be paying off for a very long time.

But where Farage misleads, and where Brand failed to nail him on the question of the NHS, was that that money would not have been cleaner in the City, as Farage disigenuously suggested. In fact, the City made a profit on that money as that borrowed money and its interest and financial derivatives are inevitably traded in a variety of ways in the City, and throughout the financial centres of the world. A lot of corporatists made a lot of money out of that. And Farage wouldn’t change that, he’d make it worse and would inevitably open up the NHS to more stealth privatisation, before an eventual outright sell-off. A serious debate about this should be requisite for a publicly-funded organisation such as the BBC. But, instead, Auntie, as Brand likes to overly-familiarly call it, is deliberately avoiding such a debate, siding with the corporate-backed politicians of the three neoliberal parties and the racist Ukip, preferring to allow meaningless soundbites like “free at the point of use” while the whole system is hollowed out and sold to private interests.

So, despite a nervous performance from the comedian and amplifier of good causes, he still managed to land the soundbite of the night. “Poundshop Enoch Powell” was spot on, but in and of itself not enough. It is time to focus on exactly why Farage is so wrong, on why he misleads and to recognise that his issues of a corrupt Europe run by banks (while refusing to criticise the equally unaccountable and opaque City of London) and to talk about open door policies, when he fails to recognise that it is big business that is exploiting workers in Britain and Europe, is to miss the opportunity to bury Ukip, despite the support by easily inflamed and easily led and the plain old bigots. But we shouldn’t focus only on the Ukip bigotry, because we have to see how Labour is complicit in this neoliberal agenda, and also backed up by superficially leftist media such as the BBC, the Independent and the Guardian, with their co-opted lefty journalists who refuse to critique the organisations they work for. It is time also to recognise that, try as they might, the Green party is attempting to work within a political system that is not fit for purpose. The west is in a crisis situation. It is on life support, to be honest, as is the climate. Brand’s vision of grassroots activism, interdependent communities and a compassionate and empathic spiritual connection to people and planet is important and tragically undervalued, mocked and outright attacked.

But despite his rather muted performance, around the world fires are beginning to rage at blatant injustice, because the stitch-up I witnessed last night, that I witness on so many mainstream media approaches to major issues, be they about police brutality, war on terror, NHS or the neoliberal ideology, backed by supposedly liberal organisations like the BBC and Guardian, simply has to be challenged with passion and that will rightly shock and appall the establishment. That passion may well flare up in ways that spill into violence, and of course, in places like Ferguson, that already has, but though violence can never be condoned or encouraged, it is a natural response to repression, state violence and societally restrictive attitudes, whether of morality or convention. If heartfelt passion is brutally put down, ridiculed, or worse still ignored, it inevitably morphs into other forms. Violence is counterproductive, nonviolence will always be the core of the people’s resistance movement against corrosive corporate capitalism, but sometimes, the voice of the voiceless will be heard in ways that conventional society will not be able to accept as valid, but will nevertheless have to listen to. Humanity cannot compromise on truth and justice. As the saying goes, No Justice, No Peace

The woman with the dyed hair in the audience, who called Farage a racist and vowed that she was after him broke protocol and spoke from the heart, with burning passion that emerges from a deep compassion for the oppressed and in a way that others in the audience could not bear to acknowledge as legitimate (one woman calling her the rudest woman she had ever met). The man who attacked Brand with misplaced passion, backing Ukip, provoked her into action. The passion in her words are what Brand has always exemplified and even in his muted, spiritual humility that he displayed, with hands clasped together in prayer, apologising for his sexism and for interrupting a woman, even here, in the audience, that compassionate fire which is at the centre of Brand’s engaged spirituality, was able to express itself and impress itself on the evening.  Farage may have come out of the event looking more reasonable than he should have, and Brand may have missed an opportunity to really nail him (there will be other opportunities in the next few months, I have no doubt). But the “Poundshop Enoch Powell” jibe will live on and perhaps also, there will be ways to engage in such fraught political debates in ways that are not so divisive, that bring us together to heal, rather than drive us apart, increasing the pain. The countdown to the 2015 election has begun, and it’s time we all contributed to driving a different political narrative, one that speaks from the heart of the people of this country and does not comply to the spurious view that putting a cross on a piece of paper every five years is the only way to be politically engaged.

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The Guardian’s liberal establishment hierarchy is at its root conservative

I worked at the Guardian as a subeditor and occasional writer between 2007 and 2013. It’s been my newspaper of choice since university. Ten years previously I’d decided to train to become a journalist, and I considered working there in whatever capacity as an ambition. When I finally managed to get some casual freelance shifts, I felt a sense of achievement. When those shifts turned into the offer of a short-term contract to work as a subeditor on the environment desk, I felt everything was coming together. Having spent much time and commitment on antiwar and climate change demonstrations, with what I would describe as a mixture of eco-spiritual and anarchist communities, I believed (rather naively, it would seem) that my interests would chime, or at least not provoke suspicion among fellow workers at the Guardian and on that section in particular.

I found to my dismay this was not the case, that in fact there seemed to be a culture of open disdain at anything remotely radical or spiritual and, along with some very dubious office politics, which I openly and forcefully contested to no avail via official channels, I eventually had my contract terminated. I did manage to continue working as a casual freelance subeditor in different departments at the Guardian for another four years, proving both that I was capable in my job and friendly and forgiving enough to work with and that the Guardian has a varied group of editorial staff, some welcoming and friendly, others not so much. The experience of losing my contract was a bitter one, and resulted in me casting a perhaps jaundiced, but certainly critical eye on the editorial hierarchy. I was now conscious of resistance to certain opinions I held, which resulted in me recasting myself in a more self-effacing light to make sure I continued getting casual work shifts.

In such subtle ways, and though difficult to objectively confirm, parameters of debate are determined, even in casual workplace discussion. It was not that I held on to any particular worldview or identified with any political grouping. I welcomed, even craved, discussion on such matters. But discussions on controversial issues were not encouraged. They seemed, in fact, to be passively discouraged. For example, any comment I made even remotely critical of western mainstream media propaganda, whether from myself or others, anything suggesting that the (then Labour) government’s economic policy was neoconservative, or any suggestion that Tony Blair should be tried as a war criminal for his conduct in sending the UK to war on false premises, would often result in either an abrupt put-down, or an awkward silence, rather than open, welcoming dialogue. The political narrative in office consversation seemed to be dominated by New Labour thinking. There was a clear indication on certain desks that openly controversial discussions were not welcome in a busy newsroom, certainly not between production editors and commissioning editors. There was a clear demarcation line, but even among subeditors, the political viewpoints I would say leant towards a damp, liberal conservatism.

These are, of course, personal impressions, and details of my personal story at the Guardian and how my political/spiritual beliefs were treated could fill an essay in itself, but suffice to say the atmosphere was often cold and unwelcoming between myself and certain editorial staff members, conveniently it seemed, those in the most startegic positions, often editors or commissioning editors. In terms of my treatment in having my contract terminated (a few weeks before Christmas 2008 at that) I could additionally detail the almost complete absence of advice from my National Union of Journalists’ in-house chapel on my demotion back to the ranks of casual staff (not quite a freelancer, but not quite a staff member, a curious role for an ethical liberal newspaper that should be considered anachronistic). The NUJ chapel (what a quaintly religious and apt description of an outdated and musty organisation, which is supposed to represent the collective and individual rights of workers) was a grouping structured very rigidly within the Guardian’s offices among a small clique, with seemingly little time or inclination given over for counsel or informal discussion (again, in my personal experience).

But considering the social, political and environmental crisis we face in the world and the mainstream media’s inability or unwillingness to form an informative viewpoint which echoes public discontent, I’d like instead to concentrate on how I believe certain media narratives are constructed and maintained, and particularly on how the so-called liberal media, of which the Guardian is the flagship publication, seems to determine its editorial opinion. I’d like us as a society to begin to look critically on what ethical and moral basis such narratives rest. Though these are all personal impressions, I make no claim for objective fact, I will say that I am by no means the first, or likely to be the last, to make such claims. Thus they bear closer scrutiny among those on the political left. It is only a wonder that it is not common knowledge among the more noted young radical activist circles, though given that many of the more media friendly groups are often comprised of a mainly white and middle class demographic, perhaps that is not so strange.

I would suggest that it is the internal political and cultural make-up of individuals, from what appears to be an almost exclusively singular ethnic and class background, which ensures that specific viewpoints are only understood and expressed from within a narrow bandwidth of political and cultural reasoning. More often than not, this monoculture would seem to express itself through the prism of what has become known as Oxbridge bias, which manifests in many other British institutions, but which is in fact only a subset of those universities, specifically seeming to come from an even narrower cultural and political background. Many of the editors and commissioning editors are alumni of Oxford and Cambridge universities. It has been noted elsewhere that Oxford university’s Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) degree has a higher than usual representation in the higher offices of politics (David Cameron and Ed Miliband to name the two most prominent) and particularly the mainstream media, whether of left or right.

While much discussion has been formulated to describe the conservative roots of the upper echelons of British society, most recently in Owen Jones’s book, The Establishment, little focus has been given to this conservative elite’s liberal counterpart, the liberal establishment. The editorial line of the Guardian would seem to conform to a specific liberal secular viewpoint that is considered favourable to an establishment class, a liberal aristocracy of sorts, that stretches back in wealth and reputation to the European Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th-18th century, which follows a traceable line into postwar secular, liberal, democratic socialism and pacifism.

While radicalism has never been part of the Guardian’s official political line (this is, after all, a newspaper that condemned the direct action of the Suffragettes) it seems to have had a greater acceptance as a viable political viewpoint in times past. But while the right has become more extreme in many ways since the events of September 11, 2001, the Guardian and the liberal establishment in general has appeared to veer to the right in its qualified support for war and liberal intervention and its generally dismissive attitude to what was known in the 1960s as countercultural thinking. As such it has been unable, or unwilling, to mount a successful challenge to an increasingly bigoted form of multicultural class war.

Despite some mutlicultural and sometimes radical leftfield thinking contained within the pages of the newspaper and on the website, the hierarchy of the organisation remains ethnically Anglo-Saxon and culturally liberal conservative in its outlook, and, as such, it is prone to the same inability to objectively examine itself and the world without succumbing to cognitive and cultural bias, as other cultural groupings of classes and ethnicities might be accused of elsewhere. There would appear to me to be smatterings of other ethnic and establishment religious thought nestled within what seems predominantly a post-Anglican atheist, secular demographic. But the dominant political and societal narratives are viewed through this narrow post-Anglican prism, and I would contend that it is this cultural distortion that actually gives the neo-conservative military hegemony its moral and ethical basis, even as there exists an internal battle from within this establishment family, of the methods through which this western secular establishment maintains its power (the establishment fundamentalist and liberal Protestant Christians serving as a convenient buffer to hide the essentially secular atheist nature of western hegemony).

The Guardian undoubtedly has strands within its editorial staff and roots within its core readership, known historically for its socialist/communist/green philosophies, and such demographics were in times past characterised as the Guardian’s muesli-eating, sandal-wearing, hippie activist contingent. But this demographic was at least able to express itself more freely, though it was often mocked by the rightwing papers and the more conservative elements of the Guardian’s own hierarchy. In the past few years, though, with the rapid growth of the digital technocracy and a scientific materialist ideology presented as the only system of legitimate thought, there has been an increased obsession in society with visually impressive data sets that purport to give factual information as truth and to relegate all other forms of knowledge such as intuitive or spiritual, as irrational “woo”. This muesli-eating editorial line, a beloved accusation of rightwing commentators, is a myth. It no longer exists in any identifiable form. The liberal conservative technocracy is the predominant narrative of the Guardian’s editorial line.

Much like the Labour party at the height of its power, a misplaced and seemingly exclusive faith in technology and statistics above intuitive and experiential knowledge, is often at odds with grassroots community action and nonconformist spiritual and ecological traditions. Spontaneous individualism and collectivism is often treated with suspicion. Ironically, such exclusive binary, reductionist reasoning is being challenged in leading edge scientific, environmental and technological fields, with systems theory and holistic methods of social and environmental organisation such as permaculture gaining in prominence, and peer-to-peer structures in computing technology translating into real world methodologies, with innovative methods of communication gaining in popularity and efficacy. Yet, time and again, the Guardian’s hierarchy maintains a centralised, linear, top-down decision-making process, undermining editorial staff and often defying union advice, showing it to be conservative in nature.

In my experience, I have found there are individuals in the newspaper who are progressive in outlook, both in the suggested methods of production and in political opinion. They do try to implement more nonhierarchical, inclusive strategies. But openness and accountability from the management, though offered, often feels contrived. Open meetings, where editorial members are invited to express themselves freely, are periodically organised. But, in practice, when this happens, the meetings tend to have an awkward atmosphere and there is a very precise way that contentious points are dealt with. It is an overly formal and strained affair, like bringing different sets of friends to a birthday party and struggling to get them to mingle. One almost longs for the days of Fleet Street, when the local pub and alcohol would provide both a social lubricant and a cultural leveller. But these are different times, and different tactics need to be employed. One senses that the Guardian hierarchy is trying to be more inclusive, but once again, culturally it appears to me stiff, formal and conservative.

Business strategy is cloak and dagger and the NUJ chapel also negotiates in a very formal and rigid way. Union meetings appear overly hierarchical in structure, a desk of official representatives sat on a table at the head of a meeting room, taking questions in linear fashion, with no cross conversation between members allowed. Dissenting or radically alternative opinions were batted away by the overwhelming attendance at important meetings of the more outspoken conservative members of the editorial staff. In the past four years, editorial members have been culled in a voluntary redundancy scheme that was on the borderline of coercion, yet this was accepted as inevitable by a series of often unpopular agreements between the NUJ board and the Guardian Media Group (GMG) leading to a strained atmosphere among editorial staff that has lasted years and which I doubt has improved much since I left.

Finally, on the issue the editorial line of the Guardian, and how narratives can be constructed, I will return to the Guardian’s celebrated environment section, which underwent a significant change in 2008, during the very period that I worked there on a short-term contract. There is an ironic coincidence, considering my eco-spiritual and activist interests. It was at one of the first editorial meetings I attended at the newly set up online environment section. At the meeting, a decision was made to make the Guardian’s environmental focus an exclusively scientific (read reductionist) one. Alongside this, was a direct, expressly outlined decision to distance the newspaper from environmental campaigning and activism, offering a neutral stance in order not to alienate governmental bodies and fossil fuel and energy corporations, many of which were at the time undergoing a variety of what now would retrospectively appear to have been greenwash public relations exercises, but which were presented as ethically conscious strategies.

The Guardian seemed content to take these greenwashed claims at face value despite some prominent journalists at the time raising concerns (and being allowed to write the odd article decrying the companies in question, but never the Guardian’s specific involvement). At the time companies such as Shell and BP advertised across the Guardian’s environment site, among other companies with questionable environmental credentials, and excuses were given by management at the time for why such associations were needed (always a business decision over an editorial one and always maintaining the Guardian remained independent). Eventually, in the course of a few years, and after much complaining from readers and journalists, many of those questionable and high-profile associations have been severed. But, more recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, though ostensibly a charitable organisation, but one that is heavily linked with Monsanto and the landgrab in Africa, has invested in GMG, though it has not been made clear just how much or how extensive this investment is. Along with such associations, a seeming lack of editorial scrutiny of biotech corporations has been noted by many anti-GM and green campaigners.

A clear editorial line a few years back would seem to have cast GM agriculture and nuclear energy in a more positive light than previously, presenting “new evidence” of these technologies as part of a varied solution to climate change and food and energy scarcity, though there were a variety of campaign groups whose voices were drowned out by the increased prominence of positive GM and nuclear stories. Even when the Fukushima disaster in Japan happened, the slant of the news narrative insisted that any disaster claims had been exaggerated and public concerns were downplayed, though such concerns have a legitimacy simply on a human interest level. It must be sad for any regular Guardian reader and concerned environmentalist to see such a brilliant writer and human rights activist as George Monbiot become so closely aligned with the pro-nuclear narrative that he ended up downplaying the Fukushima disaster in several articles, against any ecological sensibility. Many more seasoned ecologists were not surprised at his stance, given his previous writings on nuclear energy. Such distorted narratives would seem to invite cynicism in those who take a more holistic approach to ecology.

While scientific reasoning and a solid evidence base is vital to gaining an understanding of our environment, there is a strong argument to suggest that activism of any kind, whether official campaign or unofficial pressure groups, plays a vital part in raising public awareness. Such voices have long been neglected and diminished by insidious coverage. They deserve their place in a supposedly liberal media organisation which claims to have a strong emphasis on presenting itself as environmentally conscious and representative of community rather than corporations. More recently, many of the same narrative techniques of context, feigned balance and editorial “neutrality”, taking corporation and government claims at face value, have been seen in relation to the coverage of the fracking plans to extract fossil fuels from the English countryside, and the activism that has sprung up to challenge it has been downplayed and presented in a supposedly neutral way, but often derogatory way. It is the faintly withering critique that can be the most damaging.

Scepticism of government and corporation claims should be the default position, knowing as we do that evidence can be manipulated by large corporations with teams of lawyers and scientists, as was the case with the tobacco industry over decades, while there should be a more encouraging, if equally sceptical, view of activists who are, after all, campaigning on behalf of the public, rather than shareholders or lobby groups. While the public was wary of such corporate shenanigans and sceptical of their claims, it seems the editors of the Guardian were not. This may be have changed somewhat in the past year or two, but there is a strong sense that it is not nearly enough, that government and corporations are still given a higher priority than environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth who, after all, have existed for decades and been at the forefront of raising environmental awareness. Should they not be afforded at least the same status as corporations whose primary purpose is private profit?

That grassroots campaigning groups were marginalised and continue to be marginalised, in order to curry favour with politicians and corporate bodies, shows how narratives can be distorted to place a false consciousness in the public mind of what the environmental priorities should be. Scepticism of environmentalists, which is often presented in the Guardian as solely backed by fossil fuel lobbies and conservatives, can also comprise, at the marginal end, working class and anti-corporate opinion that has become disillusioned with doomsday scenarios and centralised plans in the face of a growing distrust of the corporate agenda including the liberal media, often represented by the Guardian. A news organisation that was once a supporter of a more engaged grassroots environmental activism should not be bogged down in statistics and exclusively scientific jargon. It could and indeed must reinvigorate public interest by presenting ecological issues in a tangible and urgent, but also a positive light, inviting vigorous dialogue and collective action, rather than seeking to polarise opinion for sensationalist ends such as comment click-bait.

In becoming too closely aligned with corporations and government and dismissive of ecological activists, described by one staff member to me sardonically in an unguarded moment as “treehuggers”, the Guardian lost a key differentiation between corporations and grassroots environmentalism. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine how such editorial decisions can be extended to affect the paper in matters of economics and politics, finance and war. The delusion of treating the Guardian as a leftwing liberal news organisation, which has a multicultural and multidisciplinary make-up, has to be challenged in the interests of creating a news medium that is a truly balanced representation and reflection of British leftwing radical and liberal viewpoints. In order to even begin to do that, the editorial staff would need to hire from radically varied cultural, educational and ethnic sources to ensure that opinions and viewpoint emerge organically through different cultural prisms, rather than by patronage from a ethnic monoculture that may believe itself to be liberal, but which bears all the hallmarks of insular, upper middle-class thought.

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Russell Brand for Green party leader may be the only way to tackle the rise of Ukip and the cult of Nigel Farage

I was back in my hometown London last weekend, in east London and the famous York Hall, often used as a boxing venue, this night playing host to a Question Time debate, which was supposed to mimic the political jousting of our parliamentary representatives. The event was organised by the People’s Assembly, an alliance of socialists, the Green party and assorted groups of students, public sector workers and activists, hoping to answer the pressing issues of the day and come up with a strategy to tackle the increasing corporatisation of our culture and attack on our public services.

A crowd of 1,200 packed this beautifully crafted Victorian building, testament to a time when the richest people in society put money and effort into creating inspiring spaces in the poorest parts of London, recognising that if the poorest were left to rot, as had been the case in times past, even the rich suffered. It was only after outbreaks of cholera in the slums began to reach into the West End that investment in such buildings, and the green spaces of Victoria Park and elsewhere, brought some sanitation and some sanity to the area and to British society as a whole.

Today, it seems that there is investment in the area again, but rather than civic spaces, the money is going into private ventures, corporate hipsters taking progressive ideas and monetising them, creating rich playground spaces for the influx of billionaires now pouring into the capital city along with the less rich but equally eager immigrants, looking for a taste of this seeming increased wealth, at a time when we have been told by our elected government and their shadow parties, that the nation’s debt is too high and that economic austerity is the only solution, making the poorest pay for the billions lost by private banks in the financial crash of 2008. It is a swindle of epic proportions that should result in public outrage, but such is the control and propagandising of mainstream media, that we barely have a focused public response to this increasing injustice.

Since the Occupy movement sprang up in New York, London and elsewhere in 2011, there have been a number of theories as to why the reasons for this economic disparity have not been addressed. A number of academics and avant-garde thinkers have focused on the extreme injustice of debt-based banking, and anarchists, futurists, spiritualists and conspiracy theorists at least managed to find a voice in these public spaces, where they had previously been marginalised from both mainstream and leftist circles.

It needs saying, and you will not hear it often in regular organised leftwing meetings, but the anti-war and anti-globalisation demonstrations of the 2000s offered so much more than was apparent in the controlled and directed socialist narratives of the time. In the UK, the main organisers of demos and meetings were the Socialist Workers party and their part-creation, the Stop the War Coalition, an association of the SWP, the Muslim Alliance of Britain and CND, but a coalition which was, in effect, run by the SWP and administered according to their methodologies. You may detect here some criticism of this organisation, and you’d be right. From 2001, I attended a number of meetings and demonstrations and found them to be dogmatic and unwelcoming of alternative political viewpoints, particularly left libertarian and anarchist ones.

I leant towards more anarchist and progressive ideas, of which there were many, and I saw a systematic marginalisation of such outspoken voices by the politburo of the authoritarian left. That is not to say there were not progressive voices in those organisations, or that their organisational methods were not often effective. But you have to ask how a group that claimed responsibility for 2 million people marching on the streets of London in February 2003 against the imminent Iraq invasion a month later, was able to preside over the dissipation of support that now results in only tens of thousands marching against the recent air-strikes against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Mistakes were made, in my opinion, mistakes that I have not seen dealt with but which need to be addressed for the left to heal and unite in a common purpose.

So, as I arrived at York Hall to listen to the speakers, perhaps I should have been more prepared for what transpired. But my critical faculties were suspended because of one important guest. A man who I believe has done more for progressive politics in the past 18 months than any politician, unionist, activist or academic. That man is Russell Brand, and the vision he offers is so in tune with what I believe are the sentiments of this country and the world’s resistance to injustice, that I did not think for a minute that the event could be anything other than a success. And despite my ultimate disappointment, his involvement on this platform did inspire a thought that headlines this piece, and which I will address towards the end.

As I walked into the hall, and saw the preparation, and recognised one particular face on the unilaterally organised “Question Time” panel, and heard the first question asked and the replies all conforming to a singular view, I realised that, on some level, I’d been had. Here I was, once again, on an SWP-like rally, where contrary opinion is not welcome, where questions are vetted (ostensibly because there are too many put forward, but how convenient that the editing process can be made behind closed doors) and where the mainly young, white, middle-class audience will walk away with a warm, fuzzy feeling of change, but where no real effort will be made to engage with the wider public, who instinctively turn away, seeing these kinds of meetings as idealistic agit-prop, and who will, instead, continue to feel frustration that their issues are not being addressed.

Now, that is a harsh condemnation. The event itself was fun and informative on many levels. Russell Brand was his usual loquacious, vivacious and even rebellious self, offering many soundbites that chimed with the times we live in. I can see why the unions and socialist intellectuals like John Rees, who bat down dissent on the left as well as any rightwing politician, might want to use his celebrity status for their own ends. I’m sure that Russell Brand is smart enough to recognise if he is being used in such a way, and I sensed that perhaps he too was impatient at the plodding way the evening was structured.

My main issue of the night was in using the gimmick of calling the event Question Time, accusing the BBC of not allowing progressive voices on its programme (which is true) but then responding by organising an event which is merely a leftwing reflection of that same limited structure. At least there is some heated disagreement on the BBC’s Question Time, even if within a narrow band of opinion. There was little disagreement at the People’s Assembly Question Time. It became a backslapping echo chamber, which is not conducive to progressing ideas about how to tackle the world’s rapid shift to the right and the increasing control of public life by private corporations and the corruption of parliament. We need passionate dialogue, not a bubble of self-satisfaction.

John Rees spoke of the left’s failure being its fragmentation and bitter infighting. I would say its biggest failure is that the authoritarian left, which he is part of, successfully marginalised non-hierarchical groups, progressives and eccentrics of the left. Where Ukip has managed to find room for their own “eccentrics” (bigots of all descriptions, but a few harmless fools as well), the left has suppressed their own dissenters, often mavericks with important, if sometimes irrational and nonsensical contributions to make, as well as ordinary working class people with very pragmatic demands (how inspiring to see the E17 mothers and how starved the left has been of working class voices over the years). This is the essence of progressive dialogue, creating a broad church of differing but equally valued opinion, yet such views have been stifled and the structures of these debates could learn a lot from the Occupy movement. The authoritarian left is thus a distorted representation of a broader left movement, and the debate in such meetings and demos becomes controlled and sterile, which I believe has contributed to the public being unable to relate fully.

We are complex human beings, often contradictory and irrational in our beliefs. We cannot be squeezed into boxes that do not shift in perception. That is as stifling whether it comes from the left or the right. It is ridiculous and dangerous to objectify Ukip and their supporters simply as ignorant racists. We thus give them a power they do not possess. But it is just as dangerous to characterise those who wish to talk about alternative medicine and the role of Big Pharma, or debate the media narratives around 9/11 and 7/7 as conspiracy theorists. The authoritarian left has done this as effectively as anyone from the mainstream or the right and this has severely hampered open debate and a broad strategy.

Everyone on the panel, even Russell Brand to some extent, took this position of going for the cheap shot of Ukip (they can hardly be blamed, as the anger at their increasing power is completely understandable). It got laughs and cheers, but later that night Ukip got their first MP, so the laughs kind of fell flat. They will get an extreme amount of the media spotlight now (even more than the excessive amount they have already been getting) and they have done so, not only by appealing to the public’s ignorance and fear, but by being willing to go after and engage with the mainstream politicians (assisted by a hefty does of ruling class funding and a barely concealed mainstream media support, it must be said).

The authoritarian left, and that includes the radical elements of the country’s unions, is also used to shouting dissent from the sidelines. As I write this, I have to confess that I often do the same. When you have little sense of power, when you feel victimised, often the only chance you have is to voice your discontent on the margins of acceptability. I had the opportunity to voice my disapproval at that meeting in the York Hall. Why did I remain silent? I was angry at how stage-managed it seemed to be. But, because of past experiences of being shouted down at meetings, and because of the size of the attendance, maybe I backed out of voicing an urgent rethink of how we should organise in the next few months leading up to the general election. Maybe I also recognised there would not be enough time to engage in such a debate from the floor of a meeting attended by a thousand people with a structured process and time limit.

I believe engagement is important, that many radical ideas can be brought to the table, from all sections of the progressive left. Unions discussing pay and socialists discussing capitalism are but two facets of a much deeper and broader critique of society that involves ending drug prohibition, introducing hitherto banned natural remedies and patent-free chemicals, that there is strong, clinical evidence to suggest will deal with many of the country’s minor to medium health problems, which will save the NHS millions of pounds and take away our dependency on private pharmaceutical companies.

Additionally, there are complementary and psychospiritual methods of healthcare and counselling, with an evidence base derived from decades of research, that can begin to address the individual and societal trauma affecting not just our country, but the world particularly in the most violent and inhospitable places. Why aren’t these issues being addressed at the People’s Assembly? If it will not address them, then the People’s Assembly will fail in its objectives, in my opinion. If it seeks to use the same methods and critiques that have failed to engage with the public over the past few decades, why would anyone feel they can engage now? We have to look at more radical strategies.

The Green party has a major role to play in the progressive debate, I feel, since it is steeped in the kind of empathic and compassionate worldview that is conducive to such dialogue. Their members are generally aware and welcoming of the socialist critiques of capitalism that are necessary, and they are open to non-authoritarian methods of engagement. What they lack is a figurehead to galvanise members and to engage with the media narrative and thus get through to the public. Leader Natalie Bennett is a skilled politician and activist. Green MP, Caroline Lucas, is a brave and articulate campaigner who has put her reputation on the line tackling issues such as fracking. They will remain the intellectual and political driving force of the party and rightly so.

But to be honest, for all their knowledge and experience, neither can be said to capture the public imagination in a way that grabs headlines, causes controversy and has newspaper editors scrambling against their better judgment to discuss the pros and cons of their policies. It may be unjust that politics in the media world should be reduced to superficial notions of personality, but this is how society presently functions and to ignore that is to throw away the possibility of effecting change through the pragmatic apparatus of parliamentary democracy. Why waste this opportunity when a radical and effective alternative exists?

In progressive politics, leadership should be about creating a focal point, the individual should act as a lightning conductor, able to absorb and transmit public attention towards the many pioneering and necessary ideas contained within the structure. The Green party has many policies that need exposure and which the public would relate to if they were presented them in a simple and direct way. I can see only one individual presently who is capable of creating that kind of buzz. He will of course enjoy the attention, but I believe he is also genuine and generous and prescient enough to understand why he could be effective in being used in such a way, and would be skilled enough to know how to direct that attention on to the issues and policies at hand.

The Green party’s election campaign trail represents an opportunity to bring as many progressive ideas to light for discussion as are needed at such a crucial moment in time. I would like to see Russell Brand take that step from rebellious voice to entering into the parliamentary fray as the Green party leader, and for the organising committee to show they are not like the authoritarian left and to recognise the opportunity that may be presented to them and which may not come again and put him up for nomination and a vote. It is a venture filled with risk, and there may well be huge resistance within the party, but nothing less than 100 or so Green party MPs at the next general election will do to prevent the further injustices, the roll-out of the Translantlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and rolling back of decades of European Human Rights laws, and there is no chance that with the party’s present set-up, it is equipped to successfully challenge the mainstream media narrative and the cult of personality that is Nigel Farage.

It is a massive gamble, one that I admit is unlikely to happen without a monumental shift in perception, but it is a massive gamble to allow our society to continue as it is presently. The heat generated from such a move will be enough to galvanise support in many constituencies, off the back of the undoubted controversy and searing narrative that will be generated by a radical leader who is highly skilled as an entertainer and condenser of complex political ideas, who has proved his commitment to changing our society for the better. The Green party, under the banner of a maverick, can gather the support of the left which will challenge the monstrosity of austerity politics and the criminal transfer of public wealth into private hands. And if it happens, then this new alliance can begin by going after the establishment and fake establishment politicians to engage in a more honest debate about the future of this country. Can you imagine a live debate between Russell Brand and Nigel Farage? Does anyone doubt who would come out on top? “We’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy,” the singer Seal once cried. So why not now? Is there really any other alternative that can challenge the rigged game we are being presented with? I can’t think of anyone better suited to challenging the cult of Farage than the boy from Grays, Essex. Russell Brand for Green party leader. You heard it here first.

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