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Chris Deerin: Neil Oliver and co aren’t the radical, romantic revolutionaries they think they are

Neil Oliver and his chums are guilty either of profound ignorance about how real journalism works, or of self-serving cynicism.

Neil Oliver.
Neil Oliver has a large online following and a show on GB News (Image: Gideon Marshall/GB News)

With Scotland being such a small country, it’s always nice to see one of our own succeed at the highest level.

We invest a lot in these people, the actors who crack Hollywood, the politicians who meet with presidents.

It’s splendid, therefore, that we are also competing strongly in a modern growth industry. In Neil Oliver, Scotland has a world-class crank – the Kenny Dalglish of conspiracist nutjobs.

To no one’s surprise, Oliver was one of the grisly crew that immediately cried foul at the weekend, as allegations of rape and sexual assault were made against Russell Brand. The stories being reported are horrifying, and the decent and humane response is empathy with Brand’s alleged victims and a desire that their claims be fully investigated by the authorities.

Not in Oliverland, though, where Brand is a member of a twitchy, libertarian tribe that sees malign shadows in every corner. Oliver is a very online guy, with more than 200,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel and 360,000 followers on X (formerly Twitter).

He also has a Saturday evening show on GB News, and – of course – a Patreon account, where supporters can pay £5 a month (plus VAT) for “an exclusive weekly question and answer session with Neil”, “member’s quizzes with prizes” and “discounted and priority booking for all future Neil Oliver Live events”. It’s a lively, one-man business from which I’m sure he’s doing very well.

Oliver’s reaction to the painstaking investigation into Brand’s behaviour was to tweet that “the way Russell Brand is being treated by the relic media is plain wrong. The fracture between reasonable people and this travesty of a media is being made permanent.” He also retweeted fellow conspiracists making similar points: the former actor Laurence Fox, an ex-glamour model called Leilani Dowding, George Galloway. Naturally, Elon Musk and Andrew Tate soon added their voices to the pro-Brand clamour.

Their argument is that Brand has been targeted not because he is an odious creature but because he is a prominent member of a truth-telling gang of visionaries who pose an existential threat to the “elite world order”. Setting aside the narcissism, this doesn’t stand up to a moment’s reasoning – the recent cases of Huw Edwards and Phillip Schofield? The growing list of powerful men who have been brought down by the #MeToo movement? Oliver and his chums are guilty either of profound ignorance about how real, professional journalism works, or of knowing, self-serving cynicism.

Deep down the rabbit hole

It’s been a while since Oliver went full loco, and I still struggle to understand why it happened. With most of them, it’s obvious: it was a short hop from long-held, eccentric, anti-establishment opinions, usually from a starting point on the far right. Some have simply scented an opportunity to gain profile and make money from the troubled, the odd and the gullible.

Oliver, though, was an engaging and intelligent host of the BBC series Coast. He had great hair and bright prospects. He’s also… How can I put this…? Scottish. It’s rare for us to lose our minds in such a Californian way. We’re too practical, too Presbyterian, too cold.

Neil Oliver was one of several who came to the defence of Russell Brand, who has been accused of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse

The independence and Brexit referendums and the election of Donald Trump had an unsettling and radicalising effect on many people. But Covid, state-imposed lockdown and the vaccination programme seem to have pushed some completely over the edge.

The response from governments was identified as a global plot to control society and minds, rather than a desperate and muddled attempt to keep people safe and alive. This inclination slips easily down the rabbit hole into believing democracy is a con, climate change is an illusion, and wokeness and mass migration are orchestrated wars on native culture. The same people believe governments, banks, judges, the civil service, academia, the media and, of course, the Jews are all in on it.

Oliver is a very vanilla revolutionary

In an effort to understand what Oliver actually wants, as opposed to what he doesn’t want, I watched a video he posted last week. “I absolutely and completely refute the notion that politics can get us out of this,” he said. “The whole damn lot of them are captured, compromised, bought and paid for. Whatever you call the people responsible… globalists, collectivists, communitarians, one-world government, The Cabal… the mess is theirs.”

The elite wouldn’t go down easily, he warned, predicting “climate lockdowns, another ‘plandemic’, orchestrated food shortages, energy blackouts, a cyber emergency…”

Yes, Neil, but what is it you want? ‘Revolution… something new and better…’ I need a bit more, mate

Yes, Neil, but what is it you want? “Revolution… something new and better…” I need a bit more, mate. “Minimal government, with severely limited ability for that small government to spend our money and no ability to do it all without our express permission… and to keep the hell out of the way of sensible people.” At last, there it is! How vanilla. How John Redwood.

No one denies that we’re living through an era of economic, industrial and technological upheaval, that geopolitics are more unstable than they have been since the Cold War ended, and that populations are disenchanted with the status quo. It’s going to take deep thought, hard work and sacrifice to get through it all. That’s hardly novel in the history of our species.

Neil Oliver and his pals see themselves as radical, romantic revolutionaries, but they are really nothing more than a dismal combination of David Icke and Liz Truss. They have nothing useful to say. Please don’t indulge them.

Chris Deerin is a leading journalist and commentator who heads independent, non-party think tank, Reform Scotland