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Our leaders are ham-fisted chumps

“The spectacle of implicated governments trying to stifle WikiLeaks is futile and undignified,” writ

I've come late to the WikiLeaks debacle as I live in Los Angeles and work in the film industry, a combination that does not encourage an investigative perspective of our planet. There are blind, naked mole rats that have more awareness of current affairs. But while surfing the internet for information on pet psychiatrists, hair gels and "me", I happened upon the diplomatic crisis that is dramatically accelerating our dwindling faith in those who govern us.

When a cultural phenomenon reaches the point of saturation, I wonder if its authors ever query their choice of name. I wonder if Smeg fridges would do things differently if given a second chance? Or if the Beatles, informed at their genesis that they were about to become the biggest band in history, might have paused to reconsider their "punny" title. WikiLeaks is not a good name for a whistle-blowing website, the contents of which embarrass the powerful and expose clumsy and brutal military activity. It sounds like a West End musical about a bladder condition. Or an unreliable, robot butler. I'm sure I could come up with a better name.

Dirty petty things

The information contained in the leaked embassy cables (toxi-tweets?) oscillates from the terrifying to the puerile. In spite of our nagging suspicion that the war in Afghanistan is being shoddily conducted, it is disturbing to read internal reports of civilian murder and deliberate misrepresentation of facts. It is also unnerving to learn of the creeping potency of China and the creaking shifts of the fragile axis of power.

Most unsettling of all, though, is the petty, snickering attitude of those exposed within. Ambassadors, ministers and spies the world over employ the conceited, insular vernacular of a bunch of oily prefects. Kim Jong-il is described as "flabby", the former president of Haiti is "an indispensable chameleon character" and Prince Andrew likes falconry. Kim Jong-il is flabby? That's a bit personal. I can see that for myself - I don't need a dose of international intrigue to confirm that. And, may I ask, what would an "indispensable chameleon" do? Reptilian First Aid? I've never been in a situation where a chameleon could not be sacrificed if necessary. When the pressure's on, the colour-changing lizards are the first to be dispensed with. They get a worse deal than the travellers. As for Prince Andrew's interest in falcons: unless he's about to train a kestrel squad to swoop into Buckingham Palace and peck out the eyes of everyone between him and the throne, I'm not sure that it matters. I'm not saying the Wiki­Leaks site isn't a valuable resource, obviously it is; I'm just concerned that much of the world of espionage is so snide.

On this evidence, the real-life 007 would not be a dashing bachelor skiing down mountains firing guns and thwarting Moonrakers, he'd be an insufferable geek sniggering about Blofeld's pussy and saying that "M" in fact stands for menopause. These documents pertain to the future of our planet, the leaders of our society and our ongoing colonial wars, but reading them is like leafing through Heat magazine for squares. Gossipy snitches are running the show; now they've been exposed, the humiliation is heightened.

The spectacle of implicated governments trying to stifle WikiLeaks is futile and undignified; like watching a duplicitous Victorian widow struggling to keep a fart beneath her petticoats. Alas, the stink is out and cannot be chased back into the burrow by any amount of protest, lavender scent or coy blushing.

Ever since my hallucinogenic adolescence, I have suspected, and drunkenly argued, that the very notion of "top-secret files" is proof of wrongdoing among the powerful. "Sure," I reasoned, "some of those files will be military information, necessarily clandestine to preserve our liberty, but the majority of protected information is concealed because if known we'd say: "What?! They killed JFK!" Or: "They knew there were no weapons of mass destruction and yet they invaded?!" Or: "There definitely ARE extraterrestrial nations communicating with our governments!!!" The last supposition, of course, is conjecture and may have been induced by the LSD.

Action stations

So, like most people of my generation, I am not surprised by the dishonesty or manipulation but rather amused by the haphazard manner of its execution. This is why I've never voted; that is why so few people of my age or younger vote or feel they have any stake in politics. Of course our apathy has allowed this unobserved, unaccountable body to become corpulent and erratic. The current administration, revealed in the Google-grasses (maybe?) to be regarded by the Bank of England as "a pair of whining tits" or something, has inadvertently re-engaged the students by penalising them financially to the point where direct action has become a feasible option again. In addition, the betrayal of the centre left by Nick Clegg has compounded a sense that those who govern have no genuine care for those they claim to represent.

Now this culture that, whenever possible, elevates the trivial and subjugates the profound has sought to conclude this business by condemning those who highlight these uncomfortable revelations. Julian Assange, the site's founder, has been conveniently accused of dubious sexual behaviour in Sweden, dragging the matter on to the more familiar terrain of salaciousness and character assassination, the currency of our celebrity pantheon. I hope that the important information revealed in these leaks can galvanise a new class of disengaged, disenfranchised people and help them to recognise that the individuals who govern are not an elite cabal of Machiavellians but a bunch of deceitful, ham-fisted chumps. Then the change that can be brought about by direct action does not seem unlikely at all, but inevitable.

Russell Brand is a comedian and actor.

Russell Brand guest-edited the New Statesman in October 2013. Find him on Twitter: @rustyrockets.

This article first appeared in the 20 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special

Photo: Getty Images
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It's time for the government to think again about Hinkley Point

The government's new nuclear power station is a white elephant that we simply don't need.

Today I will welcome Denis Baupin, Vice President of the French Assembly, to Hinkley.

His own choice to come and visit the site of the proposed new nuclear power station reflects his strong desire to prevent the UK disappearing up a dangerous dark alley in terms of energy policy. It also takes place as France takes a totally different path, with the French government recently adopting a law which will reduce nuclear energy in the country.

Greens have opposed Hinkley ever since the government announced its nuclear strategy. Hinkley, with its state aid and an agreed strike price of £92.50 per megawatt, has always been financially and legally suspect but it is now reaching the level of farce. So much so that George Osborne is required to be economical with the truth in front of a House of Lords committee because he cannot find anything honest to say about why this is a good deal for the British people.

Mr Baupin and I will join hundreds of protestors – and a white elephant – to stand in solidarity against this terrible project. The demonstration is taking place under a banner of the triple risks of Hinkley. 

First, there are the safety and technological risks. It is clear that the Pressurised Water nuclear reactor (EPR) – the design proposed for Hinkley C – simply does not work. France’s nuclear safety watchdog has found multiple malfunctioning valves that could cause meltdown, in a similar scenario to the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US.  The steel reactor vessel, which houses the plant’s nuclear fuel and confines its radioactivity, was also found to have serious anomalies that increase the risk of it cracking. Apart from the obvious safety risks, the problems experienced by the EPR reactors being built at Flammanvile in France and Olkiluoto in Finland have pushed the projects years behind schedule.

Secondly, Hinkley poses risks to our energy security. Hinkley is supposed to produce 7% of the UK's energy. But we now know there will be no electricity from the new nuclear plant until at least 2023. This makes power blackouts over the next decade increasingly likely and the only way to avoid them is to rapidly invest in renewable energy, particularly onshore wind. Earlier this week Bloomberg produced a report showing that onshore wind is now the cheapest way to generate electricity in both the UK and Germany. But instead of supporting onshore wind this government is undermining it by attacking subsidies to renewables and destroying jobs in the sector. 

Thirdly, there is the risk of Chinese finance. In a globalised world we are expected to consider the option of allowing foreign companies and governments to control our essential infrastructure. But it is clear that in bequeathing our infrastructure we lose the political control that strengthens our security. The Chinese companies who will be part of the deal are part owned by the Chinese government and therefore controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. What a toppy-turvy world globalisation has created, where our Conservative British government is inviting the Chinese Communist party to control our energy infrastructure. It also seems that China National Nuclear Company is responsible for the manufacture of Chinese nuclear weapons.

Of course it is the Chinese people who suffer most, being at the hands of an oppressive government and uncontrolled companies which show little respect for employment rights or environmental standards. By offering money to such companies from British consumers through their energy bills our government is forcing us to collude in the low human rights and environmental standards seen in China.  

Research I commissioned earlier this year concluded we can transform the South West, not with nuclear, but with renewables. We can generate 100 per cent of our energy needs from renewables within the next 20-30 years and create 122,000 new quality jobs and boost the regional economy by over £4bn a year.

The white elephant of Hinkley looks increasingly shaky on its feet. Only the government’s deeply risky ideological crusade against renewables and in favour of nuclear keeps it standing. It’s time for it to fall and for communities in the South West to create in its place a renewable energy revolution, which will lead to our own Western Powerhouse. 

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.