How George Lucas would have ruined the Force Awakens

In my review of the teaser trailer for the Force Awakens, I opined that while Lucas ‘might have a genius for universe building’ he, in sharp contrast to JJ Abrams, doesn’t understand the human element necessary for good storytelling. This deliciously mean parody of the teaser trailer illustrates this by imagining what Lucas would have done with the new film:

Unnecessary CGI, unwanted Hayden Christensen and unbearable droning about ‘trade negotiations’!

Stop sharing those stupid empty Commons photos. They are FAKE!

A reminder that just because someone has posted something on social media that doesn’t mean it’s true.

To be clear these were not mistakes. The people who made them knew they were fibbing. They had to take a screenshot of PMQs or MPs debating tuition fees in 2004 and write a caption below it saying it was a discussion about MPs pay or expenses. So if you share this kind of stuff without checking it you are helping to perpetuate a deliberate deception.

Honest Movie Posters

Posters for awful films should be required to include quotes of Mark Kermode slagging them off


For me as a Christian, the Gospel of Mark is a book in the New Testament written by Saint Mark. As a film fan, however, they are Mark Kermode‘s reviews. I don’t think he’s not always right, I’m no fundamentalist and he think Twilight is good, but more often than not his reviews are the most interesting ones out there.

He’s also famous for gloriously splenetic rants about certain films. Buzzfeed have come up with the wonderful idea of using quotes from these to replace the usual misleadingly edited words from the Milwaukee Herald you find on movie posters.

So, for example, here’s their new poster for the worst film I’ve ever seen:

The Da Vinci Code , 2006.

And the most caustic quote of all:

Keith Lemon: The Film , 2012.

My reaction to the Force Awakens teaser trailer

So there’s an outside possibility that you might have noticed this already but the trailer for the upcoming Star Wars film has arrived:

This must be fast becoming some of the most closely analysed 90 seconds of footage ever. Despite this it’s hard to tell too much about the final film from it. This is the most teaser of teaser trailers. We get only one small snippet of dialogue and next to no plot details. And crucially, we don’t get any insight into how the characters from the original trilogy will mesh into this new film. As Den of Geek puts it this trailer is ‘fanfare’:

It may not tell us too much – other than that the Rebels, the Empire and the Sith are back, which is plenty to be getting on with, admittedly – but it’s a rallying call for the saga’s legion fans. Star Wars is back.

And in that regard it seems to have worked. Fans seem (even more) excited by what they have seen. That, however, seems mostly to be on account of the cool stuff in it: the new improved stormtrooper uniforms, the new improved X-Wings, the new improved Millennium Falcon and that adorable droid football thing.

As nice as these are to see, and the aesthetic is to look at in general, I don’t think this is the most encouraging thing about the trailer. If one looks back to the first trailer for the Phantom Menace, an experience which brings back painful memories but which is nonetheless instructive, you’ll see plenty of cool stuff there: Darth Maul wielding a double bladed lightsabre, podracing, Samuel L. Jackson as a jedi master and YODA!!!

The problem was that Lucas was really good at coming up with cool things to fill a universe with hopelessly inept at using them to build an engaging story. Watching the Phantom Menace one feels that not only were the special effects computer generated but that the plot and dialogue were too. It’s lifeless and lacking in pathos.

Compare that with the shot of John Boyega that opens the trailer:

His expression, the sweat pouring from his face and his isolation all combine to make one feel his utter terror. This single shot generated more empathy from than anything in the entire prequel trilogy let alone the Phantom Menace trailer.

It’s a demonstration of director JJ Abrams’ prowess as a storyeller. That’s something that Lucas, despite his genius for universe building, always lacked. It was this absence that became so evident in the prequels. But give Abrams Lucas’ universe to play with and we just might be about to see something special.

He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very vague boy

Why the prophet of a more compassionate Christianity leaves me feeling decidedly uncharitable.

Rob Bell is a guy I really ought to be more impressed by than I am. He’s pretty much single-handedly made it respectable for evangelicals to believe in universal salvation, an idea which is central to my understanding of Christianity. Yet I’ve never found his presentation of it (or of much else) terribly convincing.

A large part of why is captured in an excellent article by Meghan O’Gieblyn in the Guardian. She describes how grappling with the notion of hell eventually pushed her out of the evangelical faith she grew up in. One of its strengths is that it tougher on those Christians who dodge the notion as on those who proclaim it loudly. Foremost in the former camp are the new, and often very successful, brand of evangelicals who hope that the relentless use of syrupy songs about love can make the bitter message that most of humanity is facing damnation palatable. She’s also pretty brutal about Bell:

In the spring of 2011, I was browsing through a crowded airport newsstand when I glimpsed an issue of Time with the headline “What If There’s No Hell?” The subhead elaborated, “A popular pastor’s bestselling book has stirred fierce debate about sin, salvation, and judgment.” The book in question was the modestly titled Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who’s Ever Lived, and the pastor was Rob Bell. Bell wears hipster glasses and black skinny jeans. Most of his congregants were generation Xers who had difficulty with the Bible’s passages about absolute truth, certainty and judgment.

I found a copy of Bell’s new book at that same airport and blew through it during my three-hour flight to Michigan. It was a light read. Bell sets out his prose like a free-verse poem, and roughly half the sentences are interrogative, a rhetorical style that seems designed to dampen the incendiary nature of his actual argument. He does not, as the Time headline suggests, make a case against the existence of hell. Rather, he argues that hell is a refining process by which all of the sins of the world, but not the sinners, are burned away. Those who are in hell are given endless chances throughout eternity to accept God’s free gift of salvation and, because this gift is so irresistibly good, hell will eventually be emptied and collapse. Essentially, this is universal reconciliation – the idea that all people will be saved regardless of what they believe or how they conduct themselves on Earth.

Love Wins created an uproar in the evangelical community. Zondervan (basically the Random House of Christian publishing), which had published Bell’s previous books, dropped him upon reading the proposal. After it was published, Albert Mohler Jr, a prominent pastor, called the book “theologically disastrous” and thousands of Bell’s congregants left his church in protest. At the same time, a lot of evangelicals who seemed to have been harbouring a private faith in universal reconciliation defended the book. In the secular media, the theology of Love Wins was lauded as visionary. “Wielding music, videos and a Starbucks sensibility,” Time magazine wrote, “Bell is at the forefront of a rethinking of Christianity in America.”

“Rethinking” doesn’t feel as accurate as “rebranding”. Throughout Love Wins, Bell seems less interested in theological inquiry than he is in PR. There was one moment while reading Love Wins where it seemed as though he might initiate a much-needed conversation about the meaning of hell. Toward the end of the book, he begins to mobilise a more radical argument – that heaven and hell are not realms of the afterlife but metaphors for life here on Earth. He recalls travelling to Rwanda in the early 2000s and seeing boys whose limbs had been cut off during the genocide. “Do I believe in a literal hell?” he asks. “Of course. Those aren’t metaphorical missing arms and legs.” Here, I brightened at the idea that perhaps Bell was out to make a statement as bold and daring as [Megachurch pastor] Hybels’s 9/11 sermon [about his own desire for revenge], using hell as a way to talk about the human capacity for evil.

But no such moment came. As I read on, it became clear that Bell wasn’t actually looking for a way to talk about the darker side of human nature. Soon after he posits the possibility of a metaphorical hell, he glosses over its significance by suggesting that the “hells” of this Earth are slowly being winnowed away as humans work to remedy social problems like injustice and inequality.

Love Wins succeeded in breaking the silence about hell, and its popularity suggests that a number of evangelicals may be ready to move beyond a literalist notion of damnation, reimagining hell just as God-fearing people across the centuries have done to reckon with the evils of their own age. At the same time, the book demonstrates the potential pitfalls of the church’s desire to distance itself too quickly from fire and brimstone. Bell claims to address the exact theological problem that motivated me to leave the faith, but rather than offer a new understanding of the doctrine, he offers up a Disneyesque vision of humanity, one that is wholly incompatible with the language biblical authors use to speak about good and evil. Along with hell, the new evangelical leaders threaten to jettison the very notion of human depravity – a fundamental Christian truth upon which the entire salvation narrative hinges.

This resonates pretty strongly with my feelings toward Bell. I first came across him when he was one of the big names speakers at the Greenbelt festival. He delivered an affirmational pep talk replete with pat anecdotes yet lacking much reference to the Bible, God or anything else that couldn’t have equally been used by a lifestyle coach or new age guru. Nonetheless, I gave Love Wins a chance. Or rather I did for the first 100 pages after that I gave up. Never has such a short and breezily written book seemed longer. He just wouldn’t come to a point – any point in fact. It was as if he’d anticipated the backlash and hoped to avoid it by burying his message under reams of platitudes. This was not only infuriating for anyone who likes their writing reasonably direct but seemed to negate its value as evangelism. How was anyone new to Christianity supposed to detect that within this book was something new. Rob Bell obfuscating about there being no damnation must sound an awful lot about an Alpha Course avoiding discussing the opposite.

Why focusing on benefit tourism will actually reduce public faith in the immigration system

Left Foot Forward has an insightful review of David Cameron’s speech on migration. It highlights that many of the proposed measures such as stopping people claiming child benefits for children living outside the UK. But there’s a fundamental mismatch between the limited scale of benefit tourism and what Cameron claims to be able to achieve by tackling it:

It isn’t credible to say numbers are the problem and then tout a benefit crackdown as the solution

This goes back to the first point: if you want to bring down the numbers coming to Britain, and if very few of those coming to the country are claiming benefits, then it follows that a crackdown on benefit tourism isn’t going to significantly reduce immigration. In the long-run this kind of rhetoric increases public distrust in politicians: the public may have a slightly distorted interpretation of how many migrants do claim benefits but they aren’t stupid: they do understand that people overwhelming come to the UK to work.

Crackdowns on ‘benefit tourism’ have become almost a bi-monthly phenomenon; and yet the number of migrants entering the country continues to rise. At some point the public will put two and two together. Nick Clegg is right to say that ‘over-promising and under-delivering’ does damage to public confidence in the immigration system.

To help the world’s poor we need to think small

A roundabout water pump. This superficially appealing notion has become a standard example of the naivety and hubris of many Western interventions in poorer nations.

Why do so many aid projects that seem so impressive at a small scale, fail so spectacularly when they are scaled up?That’s the subject of one most interesting and important articles I’ve read in a long time. In it the aid worker Michael Hobbes reflects on his profession. What he recounts is not pretty: expensive medical equipment sent to villages without the electricity to operate it, small studies in Kenya used to justify not giving Indian children textbooks and charities that plunge themselves into chaos by slashing their internal administration so they can claim to have low overheads. Hobbes suggests that all these examples arise from the development sector’s pursuit of a single formula for lifting people out of poverty which can be rolled out wherever people are in need. This, Hobbes argues, is unrealistic: poor societies are complex and varied, and will respond in a highly individual fashion to interventions. This leads him to a sobering conclusion:

I’ve just spent thousands of words telling you all the ways the incentives of donors, recipients, and NGOs contradict each other. Why not just scrap it altogether?

Because I don’t think that’s the conclusion these examples suggest. I think they suggest something much less dramatic: It’s not that development is broken, it’s that our expectations of it are.

First, let’s de-room this elephant: Development has happened. The last 50 years have seen about the biggest explosion of prosperity in human history. China, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey, Mexicothese aren’t the only countries where you’d rather be born now than 50 years ago. Even the poorest countries in the worldBurundi, Somalia, Zimbabweare doing way better on stuff like vaccinations and literacy than they did earlier in our own lifetimes.

You sometimes hear this Cambrian proliferation of well-being as an argument against development aid, like: “See? China got better all by itself.” But the rise of formerly destitute countries into the sweaters-and-smartphones bracket is less a refutation of the impact of development aid than a reality-check of its scale. In 2013, development aid from all the rich countries combined was $134.8 billion, or about $112 per year for each of the world’s 1.2 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day. Did we really expect an extra hundred bucks a year to pull anyone, much less a billion of them, out of poverty?

Development, no matter how it happens, is a slow process. It wasn’t until about 30 years after Mao’s death that China’s per capita GDP reached lower-middle-income status. The country’s growth is arguably the fastest of any country’s since we, as a species, started gathering economic statistics. Even in the most cartoonishly successful scenario imaginable, countries like the Central African Republic (per capita GDP: $700, adjusted for purchasing power), Burundi ($600), and the Democratic Republic of Congo ($400) will take decades just to reach the point where China is now.

The ability of international development projects to speed up this process is limited. Remember how I said the deworming project had a 60-to-1 ratio between the price of the pills and the increase in wages for the kids who got them? The increase was $30. Not $30 per year. The kids earned $30 moreover their lifetimes as a result of the deworming treatment. You find this a lot in the development literature: Even the most wildly successful projects decrease maternal mortality by a few percent here, add an extra year or two of life expectancy there.

This isn’t a criticism of the projects themselves. This is how social policy works, in baby steps and trial-and-error and tweaks, not in game changers. Leave the leaps and bounds to computing power. If a 49-cent deworming treatment really does produce a $30 increase in wages for some of the poorest people on Earth, we are assholes for not spending it.

And this is where I landed after a year of absorbing dozens of books and articles and speeches about international development: The arguments against it are myriad, and mostly logistical and technical. The argument for it is singular, moral, and, to me anyway, utterly convincing: We have so much, they have so little.

If we really want to fix development, we need to stop chasing after ideas the way we go on fad diets. Successful programs should be allowed to expand by degrees, not digits (direct cash payments, which have shown impressive results in Kenya and Uganda, are a great candidate for the kind of deliberate expansion I’m talking about). NGOs need to be free to invest in the kinds of systems and processes we’re always telling developing countries to put in place. And rich countries need to spend less time debating how to divide up the tiny sliver of our GDP we spend on development and more time figuring out how to leverage our vast economic and political power to let it happen on its own.

Is he correct? I don’t know enough about development to say. However, the notion underlying Hobbes argument that societies change slowly and unpredictably is one I would endorse. Economic changes often have roots that are centuries old. For example, it seems that the fact that the industrial revolution happened in Europe and not Asia can be traced back to the demographic impact of the Black Death way back in the fourteenth century. We might not want to wait centuries for our efforts to transform the lives of planet’s poorest and it may be that with deliberate planning and greater resources we can do better. However, Hobbes makes a compelling that patience will always be a prerequisite for social change.

If you like the Hunger Games, you’ll love Snowpiercer


This year’s best film is about the conflicted, young leader of a revolution but it’s NOT Mockingjay part 1

For a generation frequently derided as shallow we Millenials have remarkably dark tastes. Witness, for example, our infatuation with dystopias. We seem to devour Divergent, the Lovely Bones, Maze Runner and, the series which ignited this trend, the Hunger Games. The latest installment of the cinematic adaptation of which is out this weekend.

Like its predecessors, Mockingjay Part 1 is an impressive film. This was a series that was unlikely ever to go completely wrong; the filmakers could have shot Jennifer Lawrence filling out her tax returns and she’d still be compelling to watch. But the extent to which they’ve got in right is remarkable. Mockingjay 1 manages to be epic yet personal. It opens the story out to encompass the fate of the revolution against the Capital yet continues to anchor us to Katniss’ scared and confused perspective. It also evokes war very effectively as when it shows the residents of District 13 enduring an airstrike. And it’s remarkably bleak, especially for a such mainstream film, while still being inspiring.

The power of the Hunger Games films is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that Thai protestors have adopted the Mockingjay symbol as their own resulting in the film being banned in Thailand.

However, Mockingjay 1 is not this year’s best film about a revolution. That’s Snowpiercer, the most recent film by South Korean director Bong Joon Ho. It’s set in a near future in which an attempt to use geo-engineering to reverse global warming has plunged the Earth into a deep freeze. The last fragments of humanity are aboard a train powered by a perpetual motion machine. The passengers live in a rigidly hierarchical society: squalor at the back of the train, co-exists with opulence in first class. A young worker named Curtis (Chris Evans) galvanises those cheated by this system to rise up. However, as they drive towards the front of the train, the death toll begins to mount and Curtis finds himself doubting the morality of what he has done.

Snowpiercer is adapted not from a young adult novel but an obscure French comic. This may explain why it has not achieved the success of other recent dystopian films. While it broke box office records in Bong’s native South Korea, a dispute between him and the production company mean it has not had a cinematic release in either the UK or the US. I’ve only seen it because I’ve moved to Vietnam.

However, this commercial disadvantage has been an artistic boon. Snowpiercer does not have to gesture towards the tropes of young adult fiction: hence no forced loved triangles. Not dealing with immensely valuable intellectual property also gives Boon a lot of freedom. Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence more or less had to make a rather workman like film, a studio is not going to risk breaking new ground with such a valuable franchise. By contrast, Boon has the scope to experiment with the visuals and tone, and he uses it to the full. And Snowpiercer does not have to weaken its excellent cast by adding bland so-so teen performers like Hutcherson and Hemsworth.

Where it really gains the edge, however, is with its more apt and better directed satire. The Hunger Games might appear to be about the issue of the moment: the monopolisation of power and wealth by an elite. However, its real targets are reality TV and the celebrity culture. These are still worthwhile targets but in the light of the global crash they seem less of a priority than when Collins wrote the books in 2006. Snowpiercer, by contrast, is focused on one of the most alarming trends of recent years: the extent to which inequality is leading us to dehumanise those more or less fortunate than us. This is perhaps best illustrated by the character played by Tilda Swinton – a performance which ought to get her a best supporting actress Oscar – a first class passenger whose job is to hector those at the rear of the train for being lazy, disgusting and ungrateful. If you’ve ever wondered what the Daily Mail would be like if it became an individual person, watch Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer. However, what makes this aspect of the story particularly disturbing when we hear the same ideas being repeated by a class of cute first class children.

Moments like these are why I would implore you to seek out Snowpiercer. This is especially true if you have enjoyed the Hunger Games. It delivers a similarly intelligent mixture of darkness, heroics, action, world building and uncomfortable questions.

5 reasons why this season of Dr Who was the best so far

Season 8 of Dr Who recently finished. It saw the show rejuvenate itself and reach new heights.

A month or so before Dr Who returned this summer, I opined to a friend that I wasn’t really a Dr Who fan anymore. It was just the methadone for my Sherlock addiction. I suspect what drove this feeling was the fact (and it pretty much was a fact) that by the end of its seventh season it had come to feel rather tired. It felt like it was not only running out of ideas but also of ways to repackage old ones.

What a change the past 12 episodes have been. A new Doctor, a new Clara and a fresh approach made it unmissable telly. Here are some of the ways it topped all its predecessors.

Oh and be warned:



1. The Best Doctor

Ecclestone, Tenant and Smith played the Doctor; Capaldi is now (for me at least) the Doctor. He inhabited the character and his millennium of flaws, hopes, contradictions, wisdom, insecurities and memories. Previous Doctors oscillated between light and shade. Capaldi didn’t need to because he could be both at once. We should not have expected no less from the man who brought us Malcolm Tucker: an awful blend of hilarity and hate. Capaldi’s Doctor is essentially the inverse still: still a figure of both tragedy and farce but this time amounting to a mighty angel not a nasty little demon. He’s a creature so lofty that his at once absurd, intimidating and inspiring. That’s a lot for an actor to convey but Capaldi did it faultlessly.

2. The Best Companion

Now here’s something I didn’t expect to be writing. Last season’s Clara was the worst companion new Who had given us. This time round she was the best. She was no longer a puzzle to be solved masquerading as a manic pixie dream girl. Rather she a fully developed character. And quite a character at that!

Gone was any sense that the companion was the Doctor’s human pet.  Clara came to as to being the Doctor’s equal that any human is ever going to get. She was even able to pass for him when necessary and to put him in his place if that was likewise required. At one point she remarked “you’re not my boss, you’re my hobby”, at another warned him that “if you speak for me again, I will detach something from you” and most pointedly condemned his decisions during “kill the moon”. She was not angry with him prior to show how things really were. He took one view, she found that morally repulsive. And the show never did anything to undermine the validity of her viewpoint.

The character and Jenna Coleman’s superb acting (where was that last season!?) were sufficiently strong that they overcame this run’s main weakness: Danny Pink. He seemed intriguing at the start and he was noble at the end. However, in between he was bland at best and dislikeable at worst.

3. The best/worst monsters

Since Dr Who has returned its best monsters have been those built around a single idea: the Weeping Angels (‘don’t blink’) and the Silence (‘you can’t remember’). By contrast, many of the weakest episodes are those which have tried to restore classic monsters like the Sontarans and Cybermen to their past glories.

The writers seem to have noticed this and we had a slew of successful conceptual monsters: robots you have to hold your breath to escape, a Mommy which kills you after 90 seconds, fear itself and most chillingly creatures which exist only in two dimensions.

4. The Best Big Bad

What do you get when you cross Heath Ledger’s Joker with Mary Poppins? Michelle Gomez’s version of the Master it turns out.

I think comparing Missy to the Dark Knight’s villain makes sense because the secret to both is that they are so unhinged that we’re denied the comfort of being able to guess what they might do next. Rather than maniacally pursuing plans to conquer the universe like Simm’s Master did, Gomez has the more alarmingly personal mission of fucking the Doctor up. Witness, for example, her cruel lie about knowing the location of Gallifrey

And the scene where Missy kills Osgood (*sob,sob*) had the same gasp inducing nastiness as the Joker making a pencil disappear. It was probably the darkest moment the show has given us so far.

 5. More consistency

Dr Who has always been a difficult show to be a fan of.  Giving up 45 minutes of your life to watch an episode has always been a gamble.  You might get pure genius like Blink or Midnight but you were equally likely to have to watch excruciating flops like the Curse of the Black Spot or Love & Monsters.

Season 8 broke this pattern. Sure there were weak episodes but they at least had redeeming features. Kill the Moon was the bottom of the barrel. It was spoilt by unnecessary lunar spiders and an unwanted terrestrial teen. But it did set up the important and effective moral clash between the Doctor and Clara which I mentioned earlier.

And more importantly such quality control failures were rarer than they had been in the past.


Dear Stephen Moffat and BBC Wales,

More of this kind of thing please! 🙂


The tarnished Brand

I get grumpy about Russell Brand (again)

You can generally spot when someone has written something in a hurry and in a bad mood. I first noticed this while doing political campaign. If you put out an attack leaflet then quite often you’d see the other party start delivering a response with great haste. Almost as often, they did little to mitigate the damage. At time you could just the target of the original attack sat at their desk bashing out a response too furiously to consider if it made much sense or how it would come across to its readers.

I got this same sense of irritated thumping of keys while reading James Robertson’s defence of Russell Brand. Robertson is defending the wannabe revolutionary leader from the attacks made on him in a review of his book for Prospect. Given that that review was written by my friend Robin McGhee – indeed I quoted approvingly from it in a post last week – and that I’m not a Brand fan, I was predisposed to disagree with Robertson. However, even I was surprised how weak it is.

Let me take you through it and its myriad howlers. It begins:

“By following Brand’s ramblings and refusing to vote, people are submitting to a system they purport to be protesting against.” Robin McGhee’s shallow assessment of Russell Brand is not only factually inaccurate; it’s politically naive.

This our first sign that this article has been sloppily written. As we go on we’ll see plenty of arguments from Robertson as to why he thinks that Robin’s review is “factually inaccurate; it’s politically naive”. However, there’s nothing to really back up the choice of “shallow” as the correct adjective to use here. It just feels like the first insult which came to Robertson’s mind and which ought to have been switched for something more pertinent in a redraft that never happened.

Let’s start with the facts.

Spoiler: this is overpromising.

Brand is not “anti-voting”. He refuses to contribute to the reproduction of the political class that dominates the British establishment by endorsing any of them at the ballot box. That’s no more anti-voting than a vegetarian who refuses to dine at a steak restaurant is anti-eating. He won’t vote because there’s nothing politically palatable on the menu.

I’ve written before about Brand as an example of an ‘immature democrat.’ Someone conditioned by a consumerist culture to expect a politics tailored to their individual preferences, and therefore rather dejected by the results of a process which is a compromise between the preferences of an entire society. Or put another way someone who thinks voting is like ordering at a restaurant! We can decide not to go to a particular restaurant. Short of emigration, we are stuck with the society we have. And when the discontented choose not to participate that makes change harder to realise. Witness, for example, how the retreat of the young and economically disadvantaged from participating in this week’s mid-term elections made a Republican victory much easier.

I also continue to find it strange that Brand thinks there’s no one for him to vote for. Surely, the Green’s brand of luddite socialist nonsense would be perfect for him?

 However, on Newsnight in October, Brand said he “would have voted yes” in the Scottish referendum as this was a form of direct democracy that would have actually made a difference.

That doesn’t actually refute the notion that Brand is de facto anti-voting. We live in a representative democracy. Deciding you will only participate in the odd referendum removes your influence over the vast bulk of decisions which are not subject to referendums. Indeed, such exercises in direct democracy only come about because of other elections. Had the SNP not won a majority in the Scottish Parliament then there would have been no Indy referendum to Brand to approve of voting in.

McGhee claims, “Without voting you have zero chance of changing anything”. Let’s remember that Brand is talking about “a revolution”. Voting didn’t bring independence to America. It didn’t bring the indigenous Zapatistas control over their land in Mexico. It didn’t bring women the vote or black people civil rights. These revolutionary moments were created by people engaging in a collective struggle for a better world – not by wandering into a local village hall and putting a cross in a box with an Ikea pencil.

Robertson’s definition of ‘revolution’ seems rather thin. It seems encompass any political change involving violent or non-violent civil disobedience and as a result winds up including a whole host of not terribly revolutionary movements.

We now think of the campaign for votes for women as being all about women throwing themselves under horses and going on hunger strike. The reality is more prosaic. The acts of civil disobedience were confined to a radical fringe. Largely lost to our collective memory was the much larger and more effective, movement led by Millicent Fawcett. She was a Conservative supporter and her organisation relied on petitioning and lobbying to achieve its goals. It also relied on the election of sympathetic MPs to achieve its aims.

Likewise, it’s hard to see how the US Civil Rights struggle would have been assisted by African American living in Northern cities and white liberals taking Brand’s advice about voting. Without them the political incentives for the Federal Government to have taken action would have been much weaker.

McGhee and other critics relentlessly attack Brand for the language he uses. For not being what McGhee calls, “a serious political thinker”. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the political bourgeoisie pour scorn upon a working-class lad for not speaking like they do. However what they fail to remember is that, as the Canadian political philosopher Will Kymlikca wrote, “democratic politics is the politics of the vernacular”. Brand is engaging a much wider audience than Chomsky precisely because he doesn’t use the language of the political intelligencer.

Actually what Robin attacks Brand for is trying simultaneously to appear like someone you should take seriously while also being funny, and apparently failing at both. Robin writes that “Brand is clearly desperate for people to take him seriously—punishing the reader with statistics and poorly written summaries of 18th century political philosophy. The constant changes of tone from whimsical memoir to sombre pseudo-philosophic discourse are unpleasantly jarring.” Robin is purporting to judge Brand by a standard the comedian has himself chosen; calling him out for posing as a ‘serious political thinker’ while failing to articulate any thoughts of substance.

Robin’s problem with Brand is not that he writes in ‘the vernacular’ but that he writes sentences like “Dear ol’ Thomassy Piketts, ol’ Piketty, Licketty, Rollitty, Flicketty, has been given a right kicketty by the right wing for daring to suggest that we need transparency around the wealth and assets…” which are neither funny nor enlightening.

Talking politics in an amusing way to a broad audience does not require producing such witless crap. In the US, the trio of John Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver have been showing how to do satire with bite and brains.

Brand isn’t claiming to be the heir of Chomsky or to speak “for the people.”

The fact that it’s in quotation marks might lead you to believe Robin uses the words “for the people”. Ctrl F it and find out for yourself.

What he does do is provide evidence that Brand does indeed see himself as engaged in a similar enterprise as Chomsky. Again Robertson dismisses this without dealing with that evidence.

Instead he is using his platform in the media to draw attention to the stories it ignores. Stories that undermine the disempowering narrative that there is no way out of life under capitalism: stories of the E15 mothers who refuse to be priced out of their community in London; stories of academics like Graeber who challenge the notion that debt should always be paid back, however unjust the conditions of the loan.

Side note British law does not support the notion that “debt should always be paid back.” The selling of financial products is subject to consumer protection legislation and there are insolvency procedures for dealing with unmanageable debts.

Brand provides the British public with a guided tour of alternative ideas, but he no more claims to be an intellectual or a representative of the people than the tour guide claims to be the attractions they draw attention to.

A nice analogy that gives Brand too much credit. If I asked my guide to elaborate on something or tell me how he knows that and rather than answering the question he began ranting that this was the kind of strategy that people used to show him up; I would conclude they were pretty useless at their job.

As a Liberal Democrat supporter, maybe McGhee is looking for a scapegoat in Brand for when next-to-nobody votes for his party next May?

Is this a serious argument or a weak excuse to bring up Robin’s Lib Demmery? Come May 7th, I can’t see anyone, including Robin, who’s asked the question “how do you explain these Lib Dem losses?” replying “Russell Brand.”

However, rather than joining the legions of puritanical lefties who relentlessly feel the need to prove their intellectual and moral superiority over this former drug and sex addict, perhaps McGhee should use the space that Brand is creating in the otherwise hegemonic media narrative to open up a discussion about how to address the colossal democratic deficit, social inequality and climate crisis, created by capitalism.

What’s ‘puritanical’ got to do with anything? Has Robertson just gone to a list of insults and looked up the ones starting with P?

Also since when has the media not talked about democracy, climate change and inequality?

Because as many times as pompous interviewers demand it of him, Brand, a celebrity engaged in a project to help people to regain control of their political destiny and collectively agree a way forward, will not and should not define how society should be organised. In a real democracy, that is for us all to decide, even you Robin.

No but he is advocating for a change. And it behoves him to explain what the change he wants is. If he wants us to join the revolution then we should know where it is going to take us. If Brand cannot or will not articulate that then he should make room for people who can.

This final point is a weakness you encounter in much other anarchist writing. Many of the other mistakes throughout this article just seem like sloppiness. I do genuinely wonder if Robertson read Robin attacking a figure he likes and agrees with and was riled up by that, and put fingers to keys without stopping to think through the piece properly.

Writing an article with greater haste than care and more passion than reflection is bad. Trying to summon a political movement that way is worse.