On December 5 as part of the last installment of the PPE Speaker Series for the term we had the pleasure of hosting Rory Bremner, longstanding comedian, impressionist and satirist. Before his show where he lapsed from impressions of Tony Blair to Donald Trump, I got a chance to sit down with Mr Bremner in the now all too familiar setting of the Art Centre Café. This conversation was on everything and anything in what has been a remarkable year in world politics.
From the outset I could see that this had been a bad year for Rory, who although admittedly had “voted for different parties at different times,” has a robust liberal core. To move the conversation away from the light-hearted small talk of careers, I asked him if he was shocked by the referendum result.
His eyes noticeably drooped. With a solemn tone, he said that the ‘compassionate and liberal streak in the British public’ was dying amongst the foray. At this moment, I rather foolishly assumed that the whole interview would be dominated by tales of woe over the destruction of the liberal consensus that we have heard from many centrists and leftists in the aftermath of the referendum. Cue whining and attempts to immigrate to Canada.
With a solemn tone, he said that the ‘compassionate and liberal streak in the British public’ was dying amongst the foray
However, on this note I was presently surprised. Indeed for the first half of our interview, he painstakingly critiqued the EU, claiming that “Europe has a lot to blame,” over the referendum vote. He clearly was not happy with the Remain campaign in general, while also lambasting the leadership of the European Union for not being more visible in Britain. “They didn’t make the positive argument,” he sighs.
Indeed, on both counts he has a point. Rightly or wrongly, the leave campaign was generally seen as the more optimistic of the two, with the label of ‘project fear’ sticking well to the Remain camp, which came to define the drive of their campaign throughout the course of the debate. Moreover EU leaders largely stayed out of the fray, largely to their own undoing.
‘They didn’t make the positive argument,’ he sighs.
When did Juncker, Tusk or Draghi come and make the case for the EU in Britain? The leaders of the EU failed to campaign at all in the UK, much to the regret of Mr Bremner. Indeed, if only the campaign focused on “all the things we’ve tackled together, like terrorism, climate change and financial regulation,” maybe Remain would have had a better chance, he laments.
When did Juncker, Tusk or Draghi come and make the case for the EU in Britain?
After a few eerily accurate impressions of Mr Trump, Mr Bremner began to phrase the next few years in the context of a great contest, noting that “battles we thought we won are coming up.” In this, he not only talked about the emergence of the alt-right, but also of the disintegration of the left as well.
He clearly is not a fan of the current leadership of the Labour party, joking, “I didn’t see Corbyn coming […] but then neither did he!” What worries Mr Bremner is not so much Corbyn’s sentiment which he views as genuine, but his fractious polices along with his “unprepared” leadership qualities.
He clearly is not a fan of the current leadership of the Labour party, joking, ‘I didn’t see Corbyn coming […] but then neither did he!’
In this increasingly brave new world, I asked him what would be the role of the satirist. Surely, I thought, with characters such as Trump, Farage and Boris their job of lampooning the political fray must be fairly easy, right? Mr Bremner smiled and stated “part of my job is to make politicians more ridiculous than they are. Do you have any idea how difficult that is right now?”
He insists that satirists must walk a fine line. By caricaturing these figures it is possible to “create a space around them in which they can operate.” UK figures such as Boris exemplify this, with the response to his many gaffes all too often being “it’s Boris being Boris.” It becomes all the more sinister when we consider that Donald Trump, whose gaffes are often prejudiced and deeply disturbing, can operate under the same guise.
By caricaturing these figures it is possible to “create a space around them in which they can operate.”
As our time draws to a close, my persistent requests for more impressions are beginning to fall on deaf ears. It seems I would have to wait for his talk along with the other students. Mr Bremner takes the last sips of his coffee and ends on a solemn tone.
‘We don’t pretend we have all the answers, or any of the answers,’ he says. ‘All we need to do is adhere to facts, and humour and truth shall come forth!’