by Charles Brown
It is reassuring when you see a great campaigning newspaper like the Sun, renowned for its fights against privilege and poverty, pointing out yet another injustice or example of wrongdoing on the part of Britain’s elite….
As intros go, that doesn’t even begin to match the contorted, dishonest rhetoric booming from this week’s Sun headlines, excoriating comedian and activist, Russell Brand for the temerity of supporting the residents of the New Era estate in their protest against its sale to US private equity firm, Westbrook Partners, and their demands for affordable housing. Again, the paper has shown itself in its usual, unpleasant colours, and demonstrated, yet again, the contempt with which it treats its readers.
Russell Brand is not everyone’s cup of tea but few could disagree that this is ludicrous. Brand has been accused of hypocrisy because firstly, he lives in an expensive flat and secondly, his landlord may engage in forms of tax avoidance.
The Sun is not the first to have suggested that there is something problematic about a campaign for affordable housing being supported by a millionaire who, in his own words, can ‘blessedly’ afford his rent. Channel 4’s Paraic O’Brien, also chose to focus on this rather than the campaign, a tack Brand, rightly, described as ‘snide.’
These arguments assume that any individual like Brand should be barred from showing solidarity with those less well off unless they choose, in Franciscan fashion, to dispense with all trapping of wealth and take a vow of poverty. One could, I suppose, be uncharitable and impugn the motives of well-paid tabloid editors and broadcast journalists in advocating such stances but why lower oneself?
We know Brand is a successful, wealthy individual. How has he done it? Well, not tapping phones or spinning lies about Liverpool supporters, rather by writing books, telling jokes and being a performer. Does the fact that he is popular or has made money from being an entertainer disqualify him from expressing egalitarian sentiments, holding radical opinions or showing solidarity with those less lucky than himself? I don’t see why.
Brand is known to contribute his time and money to campaigns, although he chooses not to shout about the latter. He does stress the importance he places in paying the proper rate of tax. It’s quite clear that the activists in these campaigns welcome his support.
The Sun’s claims regarding his landlord’s tax affairs are both bizarre and dishonest. Why should Brand know anything of his landlord’s tax affairs and what relevance would it have anyway? Is he supposed to do an audit before renting a property? It’s not his tax affairs that are under question here, rather someone to whom he pays rent. Great logic there.
The only self-serving, chiselling hypocrites who have cause for shame here are those responsible for commissioning and writing the article at the Sun. The real scandal is not the behaviour of Brand but that we lack a press that is prepared to campaign as forcefully for affordable housing and the conditions of working people. The solution to that lies in regulation to prevent media concentration and to ensure genuine plurality of provision. Then we might have some alternative to the cynical and manipulative coverage and editorialising shown by so much of our current mainstream media.