Tag Archives: london

Russell Brand and the media

It is almost pointless in writing an article about Russell Brand. Opinions are so divided about him that his haters seem to eat up every criticism of him no matter how stupid while his supporters seem to shrug off any criticism as if it’s all some grand conspiracy.

I’m not a Russell Brand fan, and at some point I may well bore on at length about why. For now though, I’m going to focus on his latest spat on Channel 4 News with reporter Paraic O’Brien.

Outside 10 Downing Street where Russell Brand was presenting a petition with residents from the New Era estate in protest at Westbrook Partners buying up their homes, O’Brien pressed Brand over his own living arrangements. An visibly irritated Brand evaded all questioning on the matter, pulled a protester into the shot to defend him and then stalked off, calling O’Brien a “snide”.

So far, so predictably divisive. Brand’s critics will leap on this as evidence of his hypocrisy, Brand’s supporters will attack it as the media attempting to discredit it so as to continue their neoliberal agenda.

Yet the fact is that if you watch the full report shown on Channel 4 News, it by no means focused on Brand. Instead, it was a genuine attempt to draw out the bigger picture. Leaving aside boring accusations of hypocrisy, the fact is that London’s inflated rental market is the real story here, making Russell Brand’s own living arrangements relevant. These wider issues are now struggling to gain attention, with Russell Brand’s behaviour in front of a camera once again dominating the story.

I would genuinely suggest to Brand that he gets some media training. The thing is, not only were Paraic O’Brien’s questions reasonable, but with a bit of preparation, Brand could have responded with something reasonable. He could have said something along the lines of “I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford my rent but if Westbrook are allowed to put up the rents of residents on this Estate, many people will be forced out of their homes. There are wider problems about the cost of housing in London which urgently need to be tackled and hopefully this campaign can help force this issue up the agenda and force politicians to listen.” If pressed, he could have said something like, “Yes, the amount of rent I’m able to pay for my luxury flat is part of the problem; so is the cost of your home. Ultimately this isn’t about one home or even one housing estate, but the bigger issue of housing in London.”

Okay, maybe it lacks a certain Russell Brand panache. Indeed, the fact it is a little dull is kind of the point.

Of course, this practice of staying on message is exactly the sort of thing politicians do. I can understand that might feel that indulging in such practices would be to play the media game. But it seems to me that if you want publicity (and he could quite easily evade publicity if he wanted) you have two choices: play the game or get played. The latter is what seems to be happening. Unless it was Brand’s intention all along to steal the limelight from the New Era residents, he can’t possibly be happy with the press his interview has garnered, which relegates the actual issue to paragraph 8. If he’d kept his calm, the New Era protestors might have been deemed less newsworthy, but at least it wouldn’t have been used simply to deflect attention away from the actual issue.

Of course, all this assumes that Brand actually believes there is a wider picture about London housing, and that the New Era estate controversy is the part of something greater and not just a unique story about corporate greed.

Even leaving aside the tactics of it all, one thing I don’t understand is how it squares up with Brand’s own calls for greater spirituality. Because surely the spiritual answer to “are you part of the problem” is always “yes”? Surely the solution always starts with the individual? Yet despite hearing Brand talk endlessly in abstract about how we are all one, and that our egos, greed and selfishness ultimately only work against us, when it comes to politics, he only ever seems to talk about Them vs Us. I’m genuinely mystified about how he can reconcile the two, because on the surface of it his political agenda is less spiritual than the most cynical Westminster hack. Perhaps I should read his book, but by all accounts it won’t actually answer my question.

Does anyone love the London Lib Dems?

Back from my local party AGM. When I say “local” I mean of course Lewisham and North Beckenham whereas I live in Barnet. I switched my membership just over a year ago partly out of loyalty to my friends in Lewisham and partly because, as someone who is used to upping sticks every couple of years, I simply don’t feel invested locally (although I do deliver leaflets for them).

Aaaanyway, the thing I wanted to write about was the London Lib Dems. I stood as a representative for both the Federal Conference and the London Region Conference. While the places for the former was contested/all the places were filled (delete according to taste), of the ten places available for the latter, just three were filled.

So why the indifference? I would expect such ambivalence towards the London party in a place like Bromley which prides itself on its contempt of London (believe me on this; I grew up there), but Lewisham is verging on inner city. And this is a particular problem because, frankly, the last two Lib Dem campaigns for the Greater London Assembly and Mayor have been frankly lacklustre.

The London Region needs Lewisham a whole lot more than Lewisham needs London Region. Lewisham is a real up and coming area for the Lib Dems, with two constituencies a viability and a real shot at the Lewisham Mayor. If the party is serious about ever having a significant level of representation on the council, it has to integrate its London-wide work with areas like Lewisham. The London exec ought to consider this a real problem (I’m talking to you Jonathan).

Why the lack of interest? I can only speak for myself: charging £20 to attend a regional conference twice a year is ridiculous given the fact that this is on top of being expected to shell out literally hundreds of pounds each year to attend Federal Conference. And for what? As I’m now an elected rep, I may well schlep up next year, but I wouldn’t even consider it otherwise.

And yet, London is a fairly unique place precisely because it contains in it people like me who might feel they have roots in the city yet feel indifferent to the borough they live in. The London region has a real role here in mobilising a relatively youthful, footloose and fancy-free activist base which has little desire (or financial ability) to settle down into one particular area.

My advice to the London region would be to axe the conference fees – consider it an investment – and take a leading role in things like policy development and socialising. No other region has such geographical advantages and it seems criminal not to manipulate them. If in twelve months time you can’t persuade 10 Lewisham and Beckenham North members to be interested enough in London Region to attend a one-day conference twice a year, then you will have failed at a pretty basic level.

Tory Dog Whistle Politics is Back! (did it ever really go away?)

I’ve been travelling back from my short break in North Yorkshire today but I have a headache. Tories have been blowing into dog whistles all day and the tinny noise has been reverberating from as far away as Whitby.

For years now, this blog has been reminding readers that the problem with Cameron is not Cameron per se but the fact that he doesn’t have any control of his party; indeed, the party has control of him. And that party is, to put it politely, out of control. As it stands, even when the CCHQ says one thing, there are enough hints and suggestions out there to make it clear that it simply isn’t going to pan out like that. I offer you two (and a half) bits of evidence from the past 48 hours:

Firstly, this John Bercow business. There is an interesting debate to be had about how the Lib Dems should respond*, but for the Tories their recourse should be obvious for four reasons. Firstly, Bercow is a Tory MP, for good or ill. They didn’t kick him out and he didn’t defect – in any respectable party that has to count for something. Secondly, as the party which has always positioned itself as the defender of Parliamentary convention, to oppose Bercow would be to politicise the role of the speaker to an intolerable level. Thirdly, allowing UKIP a foot in the door to the House of Commons will have consequences that the Conservative Party would be better off not having to live with. Broadly speaking, the Tories can afford to triangulate the anti-Europe right in General Elections for the simple reason that they have nowhere to go – just as Labour has successively triangulated the far left for two decades now. Once UKIP start getting MPs however, this all changes. Fourthly, as Farage himself happily acknowledges, he is the king of sleaze.

Yet this doesn’t appear to be happening. Jonathan Calder offers a good summary of the initial bloggers’ reaction to Farage’s decision to oppose Bercow yesterday. But the support seems to go much higher than just a bunch of rabid bloggers. Tim Montgomerie reported this morning that someone from CCHQ had effectively given a green light for Tories to support Farage, claiming that because Bercow wouldn’t be an official Tory candidate CCHQ would turn a blind eye. Eventually an official statement from the party contradicted this but it took them six whole hours to put it out.

Clearly the people that Eric Pickles likes to call the “boys and girls” at CCHQ have been feeling conflicted and decided to leave Bercow on the dangle for nearly two days before lending him his support. Conservative Home’s new poll suggesting that 64% of Tory members would prefer Farage over Bercow. If two-thirds of Labour members in 1997 had said they’d like a chance of electing, say, Arthur Scargill you can bet the Tories would have made something of it.

Secondly, we have Dan Hannan’s mysterious promotion. It is one thing for Cameron to try to disown Hannan as an eccentric on the fringe of the party, quite another if just weeks after causing him so many problems Hannan gets a fat reward. Hannan flexed his muscles this summer and it was Cameron who flinched, just as we saw back in 2007 when for a time the only thing resembling a Conservative Party policy on education was support for something called “grammar streaming.”

And my “half”? Well, I’d like to cite Kit Malthouse’s extraordinary intervention claiming to have taken control of Scotland Yard, except that, like Jonathan Calder, I’m struggling to see what the fuss is about. I’m very sceptical of the Tory idea of elected police sheriffs and if what Malthouse was suggesting was that they have effectively imposed this in London I’d be fearful. But what we have is a Police Authority and I’d rather see that have control over day to day policing than the Home Office.

With all that said, if Malthouse and Johnson want to claim responsibility for the Met over the last year, then they are the ones we have to blame for the appalling behaviour of the police back in April. If this is the sort of policing we are to see under a Tory government then we have good reason to be fearful.

All in all, what we are looking at is a Conservative Party that is very different to the one being projected by David Cameron. This is very different to the situation in 1997 when we faced a New Labour government with a firm grip on the remaining Old Labour rump. The electorate might think it is voting for a warm, fluffy, “progressive” party but what it will get is a fairly ravenous beast. The clues are all there, the headbangers are telling anyone who will listen and the Tory leadership are frankly indulging them in a hope that they don’t get their heads bitten off. The problem is, Labour has done such a poor job over the past couple of years, and the Lib Dems have failed to spell out enough of an alternative, that to a large extent I suspect that enough of the electorate is in the mood to vote the Tories in now and repent at leisure.

* I’ve given this some thought today and while I think fielding a candidate is certainly not something I would automatically rule out, I’m not currently persuaded that it would be a good idea. We could never afford to target it to the extent that UKIP will be able to (we’ll have considerably more target seats) and a half-hearted campaign will only serve to make Farage more credible. Things might change – if Bercow really looked like a dead duck we might have to reconsider – and I certainly agree that any party which supports democratic reform shouldn’t be too deferential to existing Parliamentary conventions (the existing convention couldn’t operate under a PR system in any case), but at the moment there seem to be far more cons than pros.