Comment: The laziness of Russell Brand’s revolution

By Phil Scullion 

Using long words doesn't make you a politician, any more than having long hair makes you a revolutionary.

Last night Russell Brand made an appearance on Newsnight, to the delight of the Twitterati. It's undeniable that he brings wit, eloquence and no small amount of creative flair to the programme. It is a shame given these considerable talents that the content delivered by Brand is so often empty populism, wrapped in linguistic window dressing.

Jeremy Paxman, "that pacman fellow" as Brand memorably referred to him on a previous Newsnight appearance, seems to rub along well with the comedian. They make an odd pairing, the serious interviewer up against the often facetious and occasionally ridiculous darling of popular culture.

The reason for Brand's appearance was his guest editorship of the New Statesman magazine. The left-wing publication is running a special revolution-themed issue, headed by Brand. It'll inevitably do rather well off the back of his involvement.

There is no doubt that Brand is intelligent and has a fabulous command of the English language – which makes it doubly frustrating when he chooses to preface his arguments with lazy straplines, or arrives at illogical conclusions.

"No, I don't vote," Brand said sombrely within the first thirty seconds of his Newsnight interview. He then moved on to the problems his version of utopia would avoid: "Shouldn't destroy the planet, shouldn't create massive economic disparity, shouldn't ignore the needs of the people." Well, quite.

The problem with his analysis is that whilst it is full of laudable ambitions, they are merely soundbites. Nobody in their right mind would disagree with any of those sentiments. The problem is that real politicians have to deal in action.

Brand says he doesn't vote because democracy is "not working". He believes that the "disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass" is not being represented by the political system, so nobody should vote for today's politicians because it would amount to tacit complicity.

This is all well and good, but it also reveals a flaw of logic in the comedian's argument. He asserts that people are apathetic because they are disengaged and unhappy with politicians. In fact Brand's argument is a great example of a non sequitur, as one point does not follow from the other. If you do not think politics affects your life, then you can probably count yourself lucky. Voter apathy grows in societies which are well fed, safe and where people feel they are being dealt with by the state in a just and fair manner.

It may be churlish to say, but a large percentage of the electorate really are more interested in the X-Factor and the Great British Bake Off than matters of state. And whilst that is thoroughly depressing if you happen to be a politico, it is probably a sign that historically speaking, the lot of the average UK citizen is not so bad.

People complain about politicians being "all the same", but they aren't sufficiently bothered about this to change things themselves or even research the different options available to them. Yes, politics is failing to connect to people and it is a problem. No, that doesn't mean that those people are necessarily unhappy, as Brand assumes.

What he completely misses is that things have got better. Being born in the UK in 2013 is pretty good news, all things considered.

But instead of accepting this Brand wants to tear up the entire political construct and start again. His first priority? Heavy taxation to redress the inequality in society. "Who would levy these taxes?" Paxman innocently enquires. Brand acknowledges that some form of administrative body might be helpful, before launching into a deflective rant ending in a bout of trademark silliness. Enjoyable as this may be, at no point did he actually engage with how the individuals tasked with levying huge taxes and making decisions to even-up society would be chosen, nor how this sprawling bureaucracy would operate.

This is the problem with Brand's forays into the political sphere. He makes grandiose statements which have you nodding your head, then dazzles with colourful language rather than delving into the subtlety such complex issues require.

There's something rather frustrating about this, particularly when some of his comments strike such a chord.

"What I noticed when I was in the Houses of Parliament… it's decorated exactly the same as Eton, it's decorated exactly the same as Oxford, so a certain type of people go in there and say 'this makes me nervous' and another type of people go in there and go 'this is how it should be'," Brand told Paxman.

This is a good way of explaining an actual problem with the way the current political system caters for and encourages elites. Go to the right school or university and you will fit right in. Grow up on a council estate in Keighley and you won't. But the problem, as ever, is what societal changes a government could make to fix that.

"No-one's doing anything about tax havens, no-one's doing anything about the political affiliations and financial affiliations of the Conservative party, so until people start addressing things that are actually real why wouldn't I be facetious, why would I take it seriously?" the comedian reasoned.

Whilst having such a high profile figure highlighting these kinds of legitimate issues will no doubt be valuable to the left, Brand once again offers no alternative aside from a vague call to arms for revolutionaries.

"I am angry, because for me it's real," he explained. "This is what I come from; this is what I care about."

That is almost certainly true, but it's easy to stand on the periphery pouring derision on the efforts of those politicians trying to make a difference. If Brand wishes to gain real credibility and make a tangible difference then he should not reject our current political system, he should get involved and change it for the better.

The only other alternative is for him to come up with a perfect utopian political solution that will supersede democracy and solve humanity's problems at a stroke. Seeing as that challenge has proven too much for every political philosopher in human history, it's safe to say that's a pretty big ask.

Phil Scullion is editor of and political analyst at the London Economic.

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