In defence of @rustyrockets and his politics, on Newsnight


1:12 pm - October 24th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    


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The comedian Russell Brand was on Newsnight last night, and although I was sceptical about watching the interview at first, it turned out to be much more entertaining and insightful than I expected.

Like the rest of Westminster, my first reaction to hearing that Brand had never voted, and didn’t feel like voting, was to pour scorn all over him: what right does he have to preach about politics then? But after watching the video, I realised that I was missing the point. Brand isn’t apathetic about politics, he is apathetic to our current state of affairs.

One of my maxims in politics is, never blame the voters. Yes, they’re frequently contradictory in their views and generally clueless about policies, but they behave on instinct and emotion, and that is important because the world would be an awful place if cold rationality drove politics.

Politicos usually agree that you shouldn’t blame voters, but they invariably do so anyway. They’re criticised for voting against their own interests or supporting other parties or sitting at home on election day. It’s tempting to criticise people for making different decisions to you, but it’s also silly.

My defence of Russell Brand is that he’s simply articulating this contradictory anger. People just want a better world and they’re not seeing anyone offer them to it. They’re just seeing people in Westminster talk in incomprehensible language while offering solutions that sound roughly the same. It has become a system geared towards the remaining voters, not all citizens.

Our political system is too narrow. If the proportion of people who didn’t vote were all captured by one party, it would be the largest in Parliament. Non-voters are the majority party, and their proportion has been growing steadily since 1945 (by tf support everette). And yet, even to a close watcher like me, Westminster politics frequently feels like two bald men fighting over a comb. There are no bold solutions on offer because the system has been captured by middle-class wonks and those paralysed by narrow interpretations of polling.

Even Tom Watson said this recently:

It’s been missing from the Labour Party since Tony Blair marched us into the arid desert of pragmatism that was so electorally successful. It’s belief. Belief in ourselves. Belief in the great cause of social progress. The marketing men, the spin people and the special advisers: they’ve won. For those brief minutes of Drenge I wanted to sack them all.

Brand will find sympathy for his frustrated outpouring because he is articulating a deep frustration, even among people who do vote. They don’t necessarily want a whole new system, they just want someone who emotionally engages them.

Politicos scoff at the fact that Brand hasn’t offered a comprehensive alternative, but that’s not his job that is the job of people who do this for a living.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. Matt Blissett

I watched it this morning, he was articulate and passionate and very insightful, better someone like him saying these things, as he tends to speak from compassion than the dangerous, divisive populism of Nigel Farage or Tommy Robinson.

Complains politics is over-run by middle class policy wonks

Claims developing new ideas “is the job of people who do this for a living”

Like the rest of Westminster, my first reaction to hearing that Brand had never voted, and didn’t feel like voting, was to pour scorn all over him: what right does he have to preach about politics then?

This rather assumes that the options offered to voters are something they’re interested in, at this point it’s not entirely certain what major difference in implementation there would be between either of the main parties in government. A situation not helped by Rachel Reeves relatively recent comments on unemployment.

So good on you for re-thinking your first thought, would that many others in Westminster would do the same.

I really like him and enjoyed the interview, but the fact is he’s not saying anything that hasn’t been said by a million 18-year-olds in a million bed-sits. All that marks him out is that he’s funny, has charisma, and is famous. Paxman was right to hold him to a higher standard if he’s going to try to influence people. And saying “don’t vote” rather than “build something worth voting for” is puerile. (He is also wedded to an idea of “spiritual revolution” that makes atheism as much an enemy as bankers, which will become more irritating as he ages.) By all means, people of the Left, take his insights as a prompt for self-examination but then leave him behind. His greatest fans (including himself) know just how intense his egotism is. The last thing he needs is people telling him that his anger and malapropped eloquence somehow makes him especially enlightened.

5. the a&e charge nurse

Brand just restates the Carlin hypothesis?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsL6mKxtOlQ&noredirect=1

my first reaction to hearing that Brand had never voted, and didn’t feel like voting, was to pour scorn all over him:

Really? That’s surprising. I’d have thought people not taking the parliamentary democracy scam at face value was quite a legitimate position to have – and quite obvious.
Brand is an intelligent and insightful person … and it must have been really something to hear him talking about things like this when he was taking mind altering drugs.

One might quibble with some of his analysis – but he makes a pretty good opening for a possible debate.

I like him, it’s good for someone popular to shake things up. He’s smart and his heart is in the right place. He also has an audience.

We’ve got posh dinner party politics and it’s crap. We don’t want tea party politics. Perhaps it’s time for all night party politics?

8. the a&e charge nurse

[6] ‘I’d have thought people not taking the parliamentary democracy scam at face value was quite a legitimate position to have’ – big, bad Noam amongst others have discussed the futility of party politics at some length.

He says, ‘at home (referring to the US) it is necessary to safeguard a system of elite decision-making and public ratification — “polyarchy,” in the terminology of political science — not democracy.
Or put another way, ‘Those who want to face their responsibilities with a genuine commitment to democracy and freedom — even to decent survival — should recognize the barriers that stand in the way. In violent states these are not concealed. In more democratic societies barriers are more subtle. While methods differ sharply from more brutal to more free societies, the goals are in many ways similar: to ensure that the “great beast,” as Alexander Hamilton called the people, does not stray from its proper confines’.

Brand might have played a similar hand debating Pax – our Jeremy might then have have enjoyed his very own Andrew Marr moment?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKRPIiMhqV4

9. So Much For Subtlety

There are no bold solutions on offer because the system has been captured by middle-class wonks and those paralysed by narrow interpretations of polling.

Politicos scoff at the fact that Brand hasn’t offered a comprehensive alternative, but that’s not his job that is the job of people who do this for a living.

Two articles in one!

So we want people who do this for a living to do it without middle class wonks or by asking voters what they want through polling?

Interesting.

So we want people who do this for a living to do it without middle class wonks or by asking voters what they want through polling?

No, I think polling is very important, but as a guide not a deciding factor. Too many politicos see polling in a very narrow way to understand people’s behaviour.

Also, not all people in politics have to be wonks.

I feel like Brand articulated the main issues as far as I’m concerned – global warming, huge divisions in wealth/power, no one in Westminster gives a monkeys what I think/feel. But I’m not sure the solution lies entirely in politics. As Will Self once said, the big problem with our society is decadence. We need a more comprehensive social transformation than promised by traditional ‘politics’

As i watched the video, I thought it could have been me speaking, but i disagree with not voting. I understand the principle, but it is the disengagement that allows unpopular policies to carry through. It is exactly what we don’t do that gives us what we get. Only a true democracy where we see the leader in ourselves and stop asking others to come up with solutions can we have the most palatable solution to our lives

13. So Much For Subtlety

10. Sunny Hundal

No, I think polling is very important, but as a guide not a deciding factor.

Does anyone use polling any other way? I think that polling and the sort of intellectual cowardice associated with it are one reason why governments tend to stay in office for a decade these days – well this one may not. No one does anything until it has been tested. So the voters seem to like it. However when it comes down to it, doesn’t everyone ignore the polls? Blair did in Iraq.

Too many politicos see polling in a very narrow way to understand people’s behaviour.

Some people carry the public along with them – Thatcher for instance. Some are cowardly and hide behind the polls. Brown for example. Given polling, if it works properly, is just telling politicians what we want, I don’t see it as all that bad. Just gutless.

Also, not all people in politics have to be wonks.

True. Iain Paisley wasn’t. Nor was Enoch Powell. Nor Tony Benn. As you can see it is not necessarily a good thing. Wonks are, by definition, people who are smart and know a lot about politics. I think we should have more half-assed amateurs in Parliament, but I think that is a minority opinion. Certainly LC is viciously cruel to any normal person who sticks his head above the parapet and makes a perfectly normal comment that the latte sippers of North London don’t like. So invariably, given the media’s general nastiness, you have highly polished performers who are advised by the best and never speak out of turn. I think there is a little bit of a problem here in that you all say you do not like this sort of politics, but you are also utterly vicious to anyone who does not conform to it. UKIP for instance.

A lot of people have said that politicians don’t care about important issues. I don’t think such a generalisation is fair. The problem is that many politicians are also powerless. Government has become corrupt, party funders dictate policies and multinationals wield unaccountable power over sovereign states.

Simply blaming politicians for the state of our politics is missing this very important point. There are those in the current generation who may be cheerleaders for the barons of the boardroom but there are plenty who would change things if they could. Disengagement and romantic talk of revolution only serves the status quo.

15. Paul peter Smith

Tha anti-war/ nuclear disarmament movement used to have a slogan ‘ what if we had a war and nobody turned up?’. Wishful thinking but Brand is making the same point about complicity. If you take part in a political process then you endorse the result, win lose or draw. If people are genuinely fed up with the whole thing, then not voting is the only way to register a protest. What if we had an election and no one turned up?
Election turn outs have been falling for a while and so long as the main party’s continue to be virtually indistinguishable I cant see that changing.
I wonder how low a turnout would be needed to render an election void?

Really, the interview was terrible.

Was this a 38 year old man purporting to make a serious point?
Or a parody of Rik Mayall’s character in The Young Ones?

Brand: we need a revolution
Paxo: what does that mean?
Brand: don’t ask me!
Paxo: you really are a trivial little man

Despite this I made the mistake of buying the Brand edited edition of the New Statesman. Equally terrible. Article after article of slightly greater, though not that much greater, articulacy on the same kind of themes.

Cherub’s “cheerleaders for the barons of the boardroom” don’t have much to worry about on this showing.

17. Polish Jenny

Nicely expresses the growing frustration with formal democracy. Yeah we all get a vote but money talks. True democracy will require a level playing field where income disparities if any are minimal and largely a matter of choice. It will need 100% engagement from the population discussing not the interests of one group over another and falsely equating that with the interests of all but a genuine discussion about our joint future. Democracy should be about arriving at a rational decision of the way forward for all of us not a wrestling match between opposed interest groups. As it is this formal democracy is about constantly securing and re-securing the dictatorship of capital over the population.

Politics is in a truly dire state. I accidentally caught some of Question Time last night, Hitchens frothing at the mouth, the LibDem trying to pretend the government’s mess was nothing to do with him, Labour dithering, the Tory saying everything will be wonderful if we carry on and Owen Jones being constantly interrupted by Dimblebore. Brand may have a point.

“It will need 100% engagement from the population discussing not the interests of one group over another and falsely equating that with the interests of all but a genuine discussion about our joint future.”

What exactly does this sentence mean?
Do you envisage a kind of giant Occupy “general assembly”?
How exactly will this “100% engagement” be accommodated?
Do you have any idea, or is this just rhetoric?

Or perhaps you mean something closer to Swiss referenda?
Though I suspect they don’t tend to go the way of which you approve!

People just want a better world and they’re not seeing anyone offer them to it.

No, they tend to want better lives for themselves. Few people care too much about what goes on elsewhere. That’s why Brand and co. would be appalled if the government actually obeyed the public’s wishes. Less migration, less aid et cetera.

21. Matt Wardman

I’m interested that Russell Brand sees himself as powerless and excluded.

He is complaining about rich people, advocating something-something-socalism and ‘redistribution’ and obviously highly ignorant.

He is worth something like £10m, and therefore one of the 0.1% (ish). What has he done with it?

If that can be answered I might take him slightly seriously.

Brand has the credibility of Mrs Sting 200 miles flying from New York to Washington in a private jet to instruct people on how to avoid creating too many emissions.

22. Elizabeth Anne Gregson

“They don’t necessarily want a whole new system” – no, we do want a whole new system -that’s the point.

Brand is an entertainer and he was entertaining. The notion of Brand-as-revolutionary-icon is difficult to take seriously. Wealthy celebrities are a little handicapped when staking out revolutionary positions… however impassioned and erudite. What is really needed is more in the way of unity and a plan. When Slavoj Žižek was in London during the protests he noted that it was largely inchoate action disconnected from a clear program… a strategy. Many on the left know only too well what the challenges are and while Russell Brand might help raise awareness, it will as usual go nowhere without unity and organization.


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