Russell Brand is sexist, obnoxious and annoying. But he might just be right about why we are so politically apathetic.
The ideas which gushed forth during that interview with Paxman on Newsnight last week, assumedly from the deepest depths of Brand’s stomach, were nothing special. Beneath the banter and incoherent ranting can be found problems that many a political theorist, including Marx and Lenin, has tried and failed to solve.
Interpretations of Brand’s polemic, which seems set to go down in history, are divided. But while many, including Joan Smith in The Independent, have attacked Brand for his refusal to vote, the reasons Brand offers for our lack of political enthusiasm have been seriously overlooked. He may be rich and out of touch himself, but he has explained our endemic political apathy in a way no current British political leader has succeeded to do. Indeed, he may be rich and out of touch now but he has not always been; this already distinguishes him from our revered political class.
Whether or not Brand was truly calling on comrades nationwide to “go ahead and throw your vote away” is irrelevant. In any case, Brand spent the entire interview discussing why he himself rejects the vote and elections – Paxman pointed out on more than one occasion this egoism is entrenched in all of Brand’s actions. With an estimated net worth of $10 million and no explicit attempts to relinquish this wealth and fame, Russell is not seriously attempting to rebrand himself “a man of the people”.
Arguably, political apathy exists in the UK because the wonderful ‘democracy’ (claimed by Joan Smith) is itself a delusion. To Brand and to so many others, democracy within the current UK electoral system is a farce; echoing the words of Victor Considerant in the 19th century, “the one right which the people reserves is the ridiculous privilege of choosing from time to time a new set of masters”.
As Brand exemplifies, potential voters often suffer from political lethargy because democracy is limited to voting every few years for a new, out of touch leader and a different out of touch party. Yet, we are
expected to summon the motivation and excitement to participate in a democracy that is thoroughly compromised as a result of a host of stifling mechanisms like the unfair voting system.
Many people in the UK do not have the means or the ability to assert democracy in its other, sub-state forms, through lobby and campaign groups, grass roots associations and non-governmental organisations. We’re not apathetic because we are lazy, but because we are prevented from
fulfilling our role within the democracy we have been promised. Critics should not fear that Russell Brand has said these things; the reasons why they have been so wildly received is what needs to be understood.