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Russell Brand Isn't the Problem with London

It's easy to look at his recent media appearances and think, "Please be quiet, Russell Brand, please." But sometimes a champagne socialist is better than no kind of socialist at all.
December 3, 2014, 4:15pm

Photo by Philip Kleinfeld

This post originally appeared on VICE UK

I'm not one for calculating the amount of my life I have frittered away on a one-note activity—I don't like how Steam calculates how much time I have lost to

Football Manager

, for instance, and I don't like to consider how much of my life I have wasted by sleeping, or showering, or very carefully making what has turned out to be a very underwhelming sandwich—but I would guess I have lost a solid 45 minutes to an hour of my life just watching that video of

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​Russell Brand

 losing his shit at Channel 4 reporter Paraic O'Brien. That bit again where he furrows his brow and brings a fellow campaigner over to shout at Paraic like it's kicking-out time at the pub Wood Green Wetherspoons gets me every single time.

Brand, who was outside 10 Downing Street to deliver a petition about housing prices, was asked by O'Brien how much the house that he lives in costs to rent. Then he did that thing he sometimes does where he leans in and switches to "substitute music teacher who snaps about 45 minutes into a lesson and barks at you to grow up" mode. He's since ​acknowledged he was "wound up," putting it down to his "volatile" personality.

Here's the thing: I work in East London and I read the news so I have had, I would say, a decent fill of Russell Brand billboards and Russell Brand interviews and Russell Brand news in recent weeks. When you see as much Russell Brand as I have lately, it's easy to look at his Channel 4 interview and think: Please be quiet, Russell Brand, please; I cannot hear another three-syllable word come out of your mouth when a one-syllable word will do. I'd quite like to think about something else for a bit.

But he wasn't at Number 10 to very publicly boast about how he can afford his rent. He was there to champion the cause of the New Era estate in Hoxton, ​where 93 residents are faced with eviction after the blocks—originally built 80-odd years ago as affordable housing—were sold to a US private equity firm. And not a socially minded one, either: one whose early plans seem to be to refurbish the flats, add a couple of stories on to the side, then yank the rent up to market level and offer them to whoever can afford them, i.e., not the people who currently call them home. You can't really go in two-footed on Russell Brand for being verbosely angry about that. He is definitely not the baddy in this situation.

As part of a wider whole, yes, a rich person paying rich-person rent prices to another rich person for an undoubtedly nice house is one of the facets driving the London housing market into the distant stratosphere. But then, what do we expect? Is Brand supposed to live like a divorced dad, in some kind of room-and-a-bathroom travel-kettle arrangement, with a very murder-scene-looking stain on the carpet, just so he spends less on rent? Would that legitimize his rage, somehow? Can Brand only speak for the people when he lives like one of them? If I had Russell Brand money, I would wear clothes made of banknotes and shoes made of gold. I would destroy supercars and make Bond villain bets in VIP casinos. I would buy Rangers. In comparison, he wears his wealth quite modestly.

I can see why people might find it tough to reconcile Russell Brand the shouting man with Russell Brand the good-doer. I get that his smoke-and-mirrors essence—the constant wrestling between ego and empathy, of rich man and man-of-the-people, of Parklife self-lampoons and actual books where the word "love" is highlighted in red—makes it hard for some to take him seriously. And those accusations of hypocrisy settling like a thin mist around Brand in today's newspapers—accusations he's since ​threatened legal action over—do seem to be clouding the good, important conversations he is very loudly having at and around people. I'm just not sure who benefits if a useful and impassioned mouthpiece is shut down for renting a nice house. I'm pretty sure the New Era protesters wouldn't have made it as far as Number 10 without him—look what happened ​when Brian Harvey tried it. Yes, he might call someone a "snide" sometimes. But to the 93 people who are facing up to the prospect of being homeless, a champagne socialist is better than no kind of socialist at all.

Follow Joel Golby on ​T​witter.