Show Hide image

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