Russell Brand: Margaret Thatcher Is Right Again

Russell Brand and Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher.

I say Margaret Thatcher is right again to be on the safe side, as she is right this time and I’m guessing she must have been right at least once before. The inhabitants of the Falkland Islands seem to think so and if Argentina were to attempt the colonization of North London, I hope the current government would follow her lead by immediately dispatching a naval task force along the Dollis Brook.

However, she was definitely wrong, when she said during an interview in Women’s Own in 1987, “There’s no such thing as society.” We know she is in error as in 1998 the then-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, instituted ASBOs (anti-social behavior orders) to clamp down on, well, anti-social behavior, including drunkenness and yobbishness. And you obviously can’t have anti-social behaviour, unless you have a society to begin with. ASBOs were replaced subsequently, apart from in Scotland.

She was, in contrast, definitely right, when interviewed by Hatsuhisa Takashima of NHK Japanese television the following year (i.e.1998) and she said:

The freedom of peoples depends fundamentally on the rule of law, a fair legal system. The place to have trials or accusations is a court of law, the Common Law that has come right up from Magna Carta, which has come right up through the British courts – a court of law is the place where you deal with these matters. If you ever get trial by television or guilt by accusation, that day freedom dies because you have not had it done with all of the careful rules that have developed in a court of law. Press and television rely on freedom. Those who rely on freedom must uphold the rule of law and have a duty and a responsibility to do so and not try to substitute their own system for it.

This was a criticism aimed at the Thames Television program Death on the Rock about the allegedly unlawful killing in Gibraltar earlier that year of three Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) members by the British Special Air Service (aka SAS).

Thatcher’s observations are particularly pertinent following the recent Channel 4 TV documentary Dispatches (in liaison with The Times and The Sunday Times), where anonymous women accused comedian-turned-political-commentator, Russell Brand, of sexual offenses including rape.

A “media lawyer” said this was not a trial by television. He is right, because, as Thatcher pointed out, it has not been “done with all of the careful rules that have developed in a court of law”. In a court of law, these witnesses would have been questioned by the defense lawyers, who would also have put a counter-case.

So it is not a trial by television. It is far worse than that. It is half a trial by television, namely the case for the prosecution without any of the normal precautions that ensure a balanced and fair treatment for the defendant.

Russell Brand, convicted by Channel 4 television.

Section 2 of Article 6 of the UK Human Rights Act 1988 states: “Everyone charged with a criminal offense shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law”. (Article 11 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights says the same.) There are various other rights that an accused person has, including time and resources to prepare a proper defense.

Russell Brand has been afforded none of these rights but has immediately been treated as guilty, on the basis of which his YouTube channel, along with some of his other platforms, has been demonetized. In other words, his living has been taken away from him.

The priority of the media is not to hold a fair trial with due process, but to create stunning stories to sell more papers and get more viewers (while simultaneously avoiding an expensive libel case). The media (and many other parties) have not shown the slightest interest in Section 2 as above with the presumption of innocence. Perhaps they should be prosecuted for not doing so. That would certainly shake things up a bit.

The reaction of greedy or (in the case of YouTube and the like) scared or puritanical media organizations is put in the shade by the UK government, embodied by Dame Caroline Dinenage, Chair of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

In my first year of secondary school, Brentwood in Essex, the headmaster presented us with a Civics lesson, so that we could go on to become High Court judges and members of parliament etc. Jack Straw managed to become Home Secretary (he left the term before I arrived), but my contemporaries turned out to be entertainers – Douglas Adams, Griff Rhys Jones, and Noel Edmunds.

Nevertheless, the Civics lesson was not wasted on me. I learned there were two main branches for the efficient and safe running of the country, namely the legislature and the judiciary, and, to misapply Kipling, “never the twain shall meet”.

The legislature (the government) makes the laws and the judiciary (the courts) interprets and applies them. The two hold each other in balance and act as a check on potential excesses. A government action can be ruled illegal by the courts. The courts will be given new laws by the government, but will not be able to make laws themselves.

If you’re still not convinced by the necessity and efficacy of this arrangement, I direct your attention to the “show trials” of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia as notable examples of the judiciary when it is merely the tool of a despot.

Dame Caroline Dinenage DBE MP, photo by Richard Townshend CCA 3.0 Unported.

I am not suggesting that Dame Dinenage has achieved the lofty status of the Führer or the Soviet Union General Secretary, but surprisingly she does seem to have missed Civics lessons in her education and not quite managed to catch up, despite her list of prestigious political appointments (maybe that’s not so surprising after all).

She has taken it upon herself to carry out a letter-writing campaign against Russell Brand to the likes of video platform Rumble and social media site X (formerly Twitter). On 19 September 2023, for example, she wrote to Dr Theo Bertram, Director of Government Relations, Europe for TikTok:

I am writing concerning the serious allegations regarding Russell Brand … we are concerned that he may be able to profit from his content on the platofrm. [sic]  We would be grateful if you could confirm whether Mr Brand is able to monetise his TikTok posts, including his videos relating to the serious accusations against him, and what the platform is doing to ensure that creators are not able to use the platform to undermine the welfare of victims of inappropriate and potentially illegal beheaviour.[sic]

Let us look at her inappropriate and potentially illegal behavior. As a member of the legislature, she is interfering in a potentially judicial matter (she even confirms the latter). She is breaking the Human Rights Act by violating Brand’s presumption of innocence before he has had any fair trial. She is attempting to sabotage his livelihood. She is accepting the assertions of his accusers based on a television documentary and calling them “victims”. I presume she does not mean victims of the mass media.

Rumble and Elon Musk of X have not caved into her undemocratic intimidation, to their credit, the former’s chief executive, Chris Pavlovski, commenting rightly: “We regard it as deeply inappropriate and dangerous that the UK Parliament would attempt to control who is allowed to speak on our platform”.

The self-stated remit of Dineage’s committee is to monitor “the policy, administration and expenditure of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and its associated bodies, including the BBC, on behalf of the House of Commons and the electorate.” Apparently “it also conducts inquiries into areas of current interest within its remit … The Committee chooses its own subjects of inquiry and seeks written oral evidence from a wide range of relevant groups and individuals.”

All well and good, but there is no evidence of any objective scrutiny with a letter to YouTube enquiring on what basis they have demonetized Brand’s channel and how they square this with his presumption of innocence under the UK Human Rights Act.

The present situation is intolerable. The court system has been completely bypassed and yet I am firmly convinced that Brand is guilty as charged. That’s because I am brainwashed by the media. The awful thing is that he may be innocent (perhaps that’s not a very fitting word for him), at least legally.

But therein is the problem: we don’t know. There has been no due process, no proper scrutiny. Journalists make judgments but have a different agenda than the judiciary. Accusers can have all sorts of agendas. The worst ones are not liars, but fantasists, because they really believe the falsehoods they are saying. I am not saying Brand’s accusers are not genuine, but unfortunately, like everyone else, I don’t know.

Trial by television.

Sexism also counts against him. Males don’t get cut much slack in this arena. In the year to March 2022, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that 798,000 women aged 16 or older had suffered some form of sexual assault.  Yet there were also 275,000 men, a third of the number of women, but not negligible. In the US, thanks to its penal system, more men suffer sexual assault than women.

Certainly “something is rotten in the state”. What is the solution? The obvious one is that criminal allegations should be presented to the authorities for a criminal investigation, not to the public as mass media entertainment. Allegations should not be treated as facts. People accused (particularly anonymously) should not be penalized when they have not been found guilty of anything.

Alternatively, we can accept the fait accompli of trial by media and merge the court system with broadcasting companies, so the documentary would be the trial, carried out with the proper protocols and safeguards, overseen by a judge. As trials are increasingly being televised anyway, perhaps this is the way to go.

I don’t spare much time normally over Russell Brand. He is certainly innovative, sharp and witty with the ability to see and speak from original angles, some of them powerfully insightful, but he tends to lack gravitas and I can’t see how he could succeed if he were ever in a position to enact his ideas, not just talk about them. Even Margaret Thatcher didn’t manage to prevent the press and television from substituting their own system for the rule of law.

Stop Press.

The Attorney General’s Office and the Rt Hon Victoria Prentis KC MP have just issued a press release headed “Media Advisory Notice: Russell Brand” to “editors, publishers, and social media users”, not to publish “any material where there is a risk that it could prejudice any potential criminal investigation or prosecutions” and that doing so “could amount to contempt of court.”

Note the keyword “potential”, an offense under common law, which may or may not have been superseded by the word “active” (i.e. legal proceeding initiated) in the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

One might well consider that Channel 4, The Sunday Times and The Times have already crossed the threshold, along with hundreds of online commentators. Unsurprisingly The Times has protested vigorously over “a thinly veiled threat intended to have a chilling effect on reporting”.

Meanwhile, Dame Caroline Dinenage, covered by parliamentary privilege (provided she is acting officially) is free to continue publishing material that one might well consider has a risk of prejudicing any potential criminal investigation or prosecution.

Charles Thomson is co-founder of The Stuckists.