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.