Not having a TV, I missed Russell Brand’s Newsnight interview when it first aired, but with what feels like the whole world currently singing Brand’s praises (and the ‘R’ word being liberally flung about), I thought I’d better see what all the fuss was about.
I applaud Brand, and any celebrity for that matter (Benedict Cumberbatch, Dominic West and Patrick Stewart come to mind, but of course there are many more), for using his fame as a means by which to promote a cause, and one has to admire Brand for not only raising the issues, but the strength of his words whilst doing so. His repeated references to environmental concerns are particularly of note, as this is an area often overlooked by parties on both sides of the political spectrum. Rising inequality, disenfranchised youth, an exploited underclass and a government who seemingly cares more about bankers than the people they are meant to represent are issues often kept out of many mainstream media outlets, but that desperately need addressing. If it takes a celebrity showing an interest to propel these issues from left-wing discourses to centre stage, then so be it.
Despite this, I feel Brand’s arguments fall short at times, and at others are irresponsible. He speaks of his interest in alternative political systems, and states this as a reason for never voting, but when questioned on what these alternative systems look like, he doesn’t have an answer. He does however go on to talk vaguely of a social egalitarian system based on redistribution of wealth (his wealth?), taxation of corporations and responsibility for those exploiting the environment. This, of course, sounds fantastic, he definitely talks the talk and it is easy to see why so many have been so impressed, but the real world is a lot more nuanced and complicated than Russell suggests, and the apparent simplicity of his argument may perhaps be misleading for the young, first-time voters most likely to be influenced by him.
He later downplays his ideas from ‘revolution’ to ‘change’, concedes that there is need for government, and when questioned by Paxman on how this government would be chosen, knowing the answer is clearly ‘by vote’, he creates a distraction by launching into a sentence of which any Scrabble champion would be proud. It is this issue of voting that is at the heart of Russell’s ‘revolution’: he is encouraging people (particularly the young it seems) not to vote, not to engage. He tells us we should wait for a genuine alternative before we vote, and yet, that ‘the time is now’.
It is not to say that it should be Russell’s job to imagine this alternative, he is not the first to speak of the problems with our current situation without providing solid answers for reform (many would argue that this is currently a huge problem for movements on the left), but he goes further than this: he calls on young people to disengage. I feel it is a gross misstep to encourage the younger generation, those who have been saddled with the burden of the economic crisis just as they reach adulthood, to not participate in the running of their country. While it is tempting to dream of a mass vote of no confidence in our leaders, and in the current system, unfortunately have to ground idealist notions in reality, and any voter apathy in the UK, particularly among young people, will work in the Tories’ favour – and a Tory government at the next election will be bad news for the same young people encouraged by Brand not to vote. It is one thing for someone like Russell to choose not to vote, whatever the outcome of the next election he’ll be fine, but to encourage those whose lives are at the mercy of governmental whim to not do so is quite another.
I believe what we need is quite the opposite of Brand’s suggestions. The UK is showing itself to be rather an apathetic country in comparison to other European nations when it comes to speaking out against austerity and inequality, and it is my opinion that we should be supporting not just the young, but people from every walk of life, to get involved, get angry, pressure our government, make their voices heard and their opinions known.
It is refreshing and encouraging to have these crucial issues brought to the fore of Britain’s collective consciousness, and yes, Russell shares the vision of change so many of us hope for, but I don’t believe his ideas of how to reach it are workable, and, if carried out, may actually have quite the opposite of their desired effect.
Added to the disgraceful Bedroom Tax, and the massive proposed cuts to legal aid, we have just heard the chilling attack on the Human Rights Act by Grayling at the recent Conservative Party Conference, along with Cameron’s foreboding promises to ‘get tough’ on under 25s if the Tories win in 2015. We are being pushed and squeezed from all sides, from a government who seems bent on restricting our freedoms, reducing our rights, and punishing us for an economic crisis we did not create – and all signs suggest they mean to continue in this onslaught.
Brand is certainly right about one thing: the time really is now.