Russell Brand’s revolution

Comedian Russell Brand may have caused a stir on Newsnight, says John Stepek. But it won't do anything to tackle the real problems.

Comedian Russell Brand has gained a lot of column inches over his disillusionment with our political system. I watched his interview with Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman on Youtube to see what all the fuss was about. What could he have said that was so profound, so radical, to have got so many people talking?

It was a letdown. Brand boasts a passing resemblance to Che Guevara and he's giving voice to a sense of outraged, foot-stomping impotence that it's easy to empathise with. But in terms of content, it's drivel like watching a precocious 14-year-old rant at an indulgent uncle.

In short, there's too much inequality in the world, and it's the fault of evil corporations and their puppet politicians particularly, in some not-entirely-explained-way, Tory politicians. So don't vote, because it only encourages them. If you've ever been to a debate in a student union (or in the bar afterwards), you've heard it all before.

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But it's not what he said, it's his rapt reception that matters. The real significance of Brand's apparent mass appeal is that it just encourages politicians to pursue more soundbite-ready, populist measures in the hope of winning the next election and, as a handy side-effect, to extract more tax to pay off our huge debts.

They won't tackle real problems if you want to address wealth inequality in the UK, you would start by ending the very favourable tax treatment of property, and we all know what a vote-loser that would be.

And they won't target the super-rich' everyone complains about, for the simple reason that like it or not the super-rich are fantastically well-equipped to dodge tax, so no matter how hard you try, you're never going to get much out of them.

And, of course, no one dare say boo' to the banks, because rather than force them and their bondholders to take their losses when the crash happened, we chose the slow and steady route to get us out of this mess which is again all tied into the sad obsession with property that dominates our economy.

So who will pay? Unpopular industries such as utilities and payday lenders (who deal with their customers far more transparently than the banks ever do). And anyone with savings who lacks the scale of wealth and the knowledge or mobility to shelter them easily. What does this mean for you?

You can expect the government whatever its stripe to be more hostile towards any attempts to save significant sums, and you're going to have to be nimble and ready to use whatever tax breaks remain open to you. We'll look at this more in a future issue.

And if you're still keen on revolution, give Brand a miss and have a read of some genuinely fresh ideas from regular MoneyWeek contributor Dominic Frisby his book Life After The State came out this week. You can pick it up on Amazon, and it'll give you a lot more food for thought than anything Brand trots out.

John Stepek

John is the executive editor of MoneyWeek and writes our daily investment email, Money Morning. John graduated from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology in 1996 and has always been fascinated by the gap between the way the market works in theory and the way it works in practice, and by how our deep-rooted instincts work against our best interests as investors.

He started out in journalism by writing articles about the specific business challenges facing family firms. In 2003, he took a job on the finance desk of Teletext, where he spent two years covering the markets and breaking financial news. John joined MoneyWeek in 2005.

His work has been published in Families in Business, Shares magazine, Spear's Magazine, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator among others. He has also appeared as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio Scotland, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Bloomberg. His first book, on contrarian investing, The Sceptical Investor, was released in March 2019. You can follow John on Twitter at @john_stepek.