One of the problems with political punditry is that if a story is big enough, you must have a Take upon it – even if that means shoehorning it into a wildly inappropriate lens.
That, I think, is the most generous explanation for why anyone would imply, as has Toby Young, that there is anything more to the timing of the Times and Channel 4 exposé on Russell Brand than that this is when, after many failed attempts, someone finally managed to stand the story up.
Of course, this is the man who once wrote about what Donald Trump could learn from Aleksandr Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus, about winning elections, so such generosity may be unwarranted in this particular case.
But it is a broader and unhelpful trend. See the rightist commentators digging up that old Owen Jones column, trying to put a darker spin on something rightly mostly remembered, if at all, for its punchline of a headline. Or the pressure on Ed Miliband over his decision to be interviewed by Brand in 2015, a fairly abject attempt at connecting with young people also widely ridiculed at the time.
You can, if you squint, see the slightly chin-stroking point about whether the then-Labour leader ought not on some level to have known that the superstar comedian was a wrong ‘un.
But given both Westminster and Fleet Street have pretty appalling records when it comes to rooting out sexual predators, arguing that Miliband should have avoided or denounced Brand, then at the height of his popularity and whom presumably Miliband had never met or at least did not know, looks like a pretty dangerous game.
Of course, the Glasshouse Stonecasters seldom have trouble putting together a First XI. Yet whilst dragging it straight back into politics might be more comfortable terrain for politicos, there are more important questions and more deserving targets, most obviously the media bosses who gave Brand his fame, the key to what he called his “Wonka ticket” to sex. As with Phillip Schofield (remember that one?), it needs to be examined the extent to which people in positions of power could have turned a blind eye.
But I don’t mean in any way to diminish the importance of that question when I point out that it is a perennial one. It arises every time something like this happens; there is nothing particular to Brand about it, save “the ol’ fame”. Power imbalances are not exploited by stars alone, even if it does sometimes take a falling star to illuminate them clearly, if usually briefly.
What Brand’s case does do, in a way the disgrace of the average hack or politician does not, is hold a mirror up to society, by which I mean (as Lady Thatcher would insist I clarify) all of us who were consuming popular media when he was at his height.
For the ugly truth about big corporations is that whilst they are easy to blame, much of their evil flows from their pursuit of the bottom line, which very often means you and me. It might be screamingly obvious in retrospect that Brand’s persona would not survive the MeToo era; it is shocking that a BBC executive apparently found he and Jonathan Ross’s grotesque baiting of Andrew Sachs funny, until the public backlashed eventually forced both men out.
But they were on air in the first place because we found them extremely funny, if not you and I (never us) then at least millions of other people. And whilst Brand defanged his lothario persona with his formidable charm, he never really lied to us about it; we the public just decided that a man boasting of sleeping with several women a day was probably fine, or else mentally gave him the secret pass sometimes afforded to great entertainers.
The great conceit of jesters is they can get away with speaking the truth. But not all truths are noble, nor all laughter medicine. Where the consumer is king, those who can best package the darker corners of ourselves can do very well indeed.
Brand may or may not end up facing criminal charges. He is in any event already banished from our screens; the audience for his modern conspiracy-mongering may number in the millions, but it is isolated from mainstream media (sorry, the MSM). This story will flower for a while and then it will pass, buried beneath the endless flow of news.
Although not for the complainants, of course. Nor, one hopes, for the police.