Independent on Sunday, 27 October 2013
To some people, Russell Brand’s adolescent waffle sound likes informed opinion – but his pride in refusing to vote is foolish and dangerous
Just for a moment, I’d like you to picture a meeting in a town hall where a local political party is selecting its candidate for the next general election. In comes a fast-talking, lank-haired celebrity who has a ready answer when he’s asked why he wants to go into politics: “When I was asked to stand for Parliament, I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me,” he smirks. I don’t think you would have to be a passionate feminist to conclude that this guy is (a) a sexist idiot and (b) a narcissist whose ideas about politics are likely to be only slightly more coherent than those of a 13-year-old boy.
Neither of those things, it has to be said, are an impediment to guest-editing a political magazine or appearing on BBC2′s Newsnight. The quote I’ve ascribed to an imaginary candidate is a slight rewording of Russell Brand’s explanation for his decision to edit an issue of the New Statesman; the “beautiful woman” who asked him is, I assume, the paper’s associate editor and current Brand love interest (for want of a better phrase), Jemima Khan. The comedian repeated the line on Newsnight, which not for the first time mistook a scrap between two well-known blokes for a grown-up political debate.
It should be obvious that Brand gets this exposure for two reasons. One is that he’s a canny self-publicist who knows how to come up with a good one-liner; the other is that he reflects a widely-shared loathing of politicians. Brand uses an article in the New Statesman to dismiss them out of hand, claiming that the current political system is “nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites”. I must admit to feeling some amusement when I hear a man with an estimated personal fortune of £10m calling for a “massive” redistribution of wealth. But Brand’s refusal to vote because of his “weariness and exhaustion” in the face of the “lies, treachery and deceit of the political class” would be more convincing if he had ever engaged in any sort of political effort himself. (I’m afraid that impulsively abandoning a shopping trip with a stylist to join a riot doesn’t count.)
Brand knows what he’s against but he’s barely considered any alternatives, which is one of the reasons he got angry with Jeremy Paxman on Wednesday evening. All he can come up with is some adolescent waffle about “revolution” and a decidedly ahistorical view of earlier cultures: “If like the native people of America we believed God was in the soil, what would our intuitive response be to the implementation of fracking?” Personally, it’s not the god in the soil I’m worried about so much as earth tremors.
When Brand talks about the environment, he sounds like Prince Charles, that scion of a privileged dynasty whom we are not allowed to vote out of office. They were both at it last week, saying blindingly obvious things about the survival of the planet without much in the way of practical suggestions to secure it. Indeed, Brand’s spirit guide seems to be Fotherington-Thomas, the Ronald Searle character who skips around St Custard’s exclaiming “Hello trees, hello sky”. In Brand’s case we should add “Hello river”, since he thinks there would be less pollution if we revered rivers “like the Celtic people”. The past was apparently full of these happy agrarian folk, living in societies which were “socialist, egalitarian and integrated”. (Just don’t mention the Aztecs, I guess.)
I wouldn’t take any of this nonsense seriously were it not for the fact Brand’s anti-establishment rant strikes a chord with individuals who share his distaste for voting. As someone who has knocked on thousands of doors and delivered thousands of political leaflets, I don’t have much time for people who complain endlessly but don’t value democracy sufficiently to engage in it. Nor am I impressed by the foolish notion that voting doesn’t make any difference; if Labour had won in 2010, we wouldn’t now have the bedroom tax, the dismantling of the NHS, a cut in the top rate of tax or the destruction of thousands of public sector jobs.
Thank you, Mr Brand, that will be all. Go back to your lovely home in the Hollywood Hills and leave politics to people who aren’t afraid of difficult ideas and hard work. You’re one celebrity, I’m afraid, who’s more idiot than savant.