The Blog

Where's Russell's Revolution?


Lots of people on Facebook and Twitter responded '*YAY* Russell *YAY*' to Russell Brand's Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman, last week. He is certainly a passionate guy, who is very popular with young people, which are the two main reasons that current affairs programmes are falling over themselves to get him on their sofa.

However, last Wednesday evening, Brand's performance was terrible. It is all very well being anti-this and anti-that, but with criticism must come suggestions for how things might be improved.

I know, at present, it is very 'trendy' to sign up to the plague-on-all-of-your-houses mantra, but that gets us nowhere. In history there has rarely, if ever, been a successful popular movement which has not identified a solution to any given problem. For example, civil rights campaigners, in 1960s' America, wanted blacks to have the vote and access to public and private services on an equal footing to whites. And suffragists and suffragettes, in late nineteenth century/early twentieth century Britain, wanted women to have the vote on an equal footing with men. They knew what they wanted; they campaigned for it, drummed up popular support, and got it.

Indeed, by identifying a solution to a problem, one puts real pressure on the political elite to affect that change.

All Brand did on Wednesday night was to say 'boo, politicians rubbish; boo, British democracy rubbish! Let's have a revolution.' This might sound good and appeal to the popular wave of anti-politics which currently grips our country, but it provides no momentum for change because it does not identify any. It also plays into the hands of those who think all that is involved in political activism is 'liking' a Facebook status.

Brand might be disparaging of those who partake in mainstream politics, but how many doors has he knocked on? How many advice surgeries has he held, at which he's come into contact with people, at their wits' end, struggling with their bills? How many 'normal' people - since becoming famous - has he actually had sustained communication with on these issues he says he is passionate about?

It might be 'boring', but what Brand should be doing is to identify tangible changes he would like government to implement and actively engage with the public to drum up support - that would put pressure on our political elite. If only Syrians had that option!

This all probably sounds as if I am very anti-Brand, but this is not the case. In fact, some of what he says has a lot of merit. That is why I am so scathing. If there is any chance of his ambitions for our political and economic systems being realised, he has to pick up his game and move from the warmth of the television studio to the grind of the doorstep and town hall.

By restricting his political activity to prime-time current affairs programmes, such as Question Time and Newsnight, he does little but give the impression that his call for a revolution is just another vehicle for self-promotion.

Russell Brand's recent venture into politics is a welcome one, because it can only serve to increase debate, especially amongst the young and disengaged. However, his cause would be much more effective if, instead of simply rubbishing our politics on prime-time television, he proposed solutions and engaged with the public, off-screen, to make them happen.

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