Sunday 24 November 2013

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

What to think of Russell Brand’s recent guest-editorial slot in The New Statesman? Or of his (now) famous interview with combative, impatient, veteran Newsnight anchor, Jeremy Paxman? The issue at stake was an important one, democracy, and how our current political representatives have failed it. Yet, in the end it was Russell Brand, the comedian, Russell Brand the actor and Russell Brand, the womaniser, who hogged the limelight. I’m not sure that was Russell’s intention, but like a bull terrier, whose reputation as an aggressive dog follows it everywhere, so is Brand punished for previous misdemeanours.

You can’t fault him for putting his agenda on the table from the word go when he took temporary charge of the political magazine The New Statesman. According to Brand, imagining the overthrow of the current political system is the only way I can be enthused about politics.

My problem, if I can call it problem, is that I am also enthused about politics. Whilst I agree with Brand’s core message that the status quo needs shaking and parts of it need dismantling, I disagree with his methods.

Politics has definitely taken a blow in recent years in the UK. I have (sadly) witnessed its downfall. From the euphoria that surrounded New Labour in 1997 when it came to power (I had just arrived in London) to the hundreds of thousands who marched against the illegal invasion of Iraq, I have had an almost front-row seat in all these events. At this point, British humour compels me to ask myself the question: and you’re still here? How come you haven’t taken the first flight back to Cuba?

Because it’s not that simple. Because politics – and politicians – are not that straightforward. If they were, we would have reached Utopia many centuries ago. We tend to see the political process as a system created by politicians and acted on by politicians. Democracy follows from that notion and therefore, when politicians fail, politics fail and, inevitably, democracy fails.

I believe that democracy is a system you create on a daily basis. This “you” is “us”, really, those of us who, through our attitude, alertness, morals, respect to each other and collective responsibility, take the bull by the horns, so to speak. We should never export these ingredients to politicians hoping they will make the soup for us. From that point of view, I agree with Russell Brand’s call to a “revolution of consciousness”. To me, however, this social movement would include the ballot as well.

I have lost count of how many times I have heard or read people saying that they can’t be bothered to vote because “all politicians are the same”. First of all, not all politicians are the same, just like not all police officers are the same, not all doctors are the same and not all athletes are the same. Some sportspeople even cheat, did you know that? Imagine if I were to say, based on the Armstrong case, that all cyclists are cheats. Why, then, do we change the language when talking about the people who are supposed to represent us?

Because they are an easy target. More importantly, they divert attention from the collective responsibility I mentioned before and our failure to act it out. This is not to excuse wrong behaviour. Members of parliament, prime ministers, deputy prime ministers, presidents and vice-presidents, must be held accountable for the decisions they make. However, they do not operate in isolation and they should never be allowed to do so. They are part of society and so are we.

That is one of the reasons why I still vote. Unlike Russell, I have not got the privilege of being apathetic. I know that the box I tick, the candidate I choose and the party I support might let me down, but I am willing to accept that as a side effect, if by my actions I can still keep our imperfect, deeply flawed and hypocrisy-ridden democracy alive.

The best case scenario of my decision to vote is a programme like Sure Start, guaranteeing every child in Great Britain the best beginning in life through a combination of family, education and health support. The worst case scenario is an illegal invasion like the one in Iraq in 2003. If I were to abstain one of the consequences would be the one I have already seen played out in other parts of the UK. What if by withdrawing my vote (which everyone is entitled to do), I brought in the kind of person I disliked so much that I would then try to vote him/her out of office? Ironic? Yes. Scary? Even more.

That is what Russell Brand conveniently forgets. He is in a position where the jackboot worn by the heavily tattooed, racist, fascist thug from the England Defence League or the British National Party will not reach him. I am not in that position, I am the one who will get his head kicked in because a member of parliament or councillor with racist views has been elected in my borough or ward. Even if they do not succeed in passing the laws they and their supporters want, they can create a very hostile environment for people like me. Yet, that would be, methinks, the last thing on Brand’s mind.

I do not disagree with Russell when he writes or talks about the disenfranchisement of young people in Britain today. I agree with him that the current political climate generates apathy. But apathy is breeding ground, not just for unpopular politicians, but for the ones with the nasty, hardcore right-wing views. I would like to believe that Russell hates them as much as I do.

Like many before him, Brand does not offer any solutions. Or he does, but they are of the wishy-washy, woolly type you find amongst adherents to the Socialist Workers’ Party, a body about which the less I write, the better for everybody. The way forward for him is a two-pronged one: spirituality leads one end, whilst politics (I thought he despised it!) leads the other. I must confess I lost faith in him a little when he explained how he had arrived at this spiritual Damascene conversion. To cut the story short, it involved a trip to a slum in Kenya, another trip weeks later to a fashion show in Paris and a guilty conscience. The political solution he mentioned before? Conspicuous by its absence.

Unlike his detractors, I like Russell Brand’s style. In fact, I still miss his weekly football column in The Guardian. In his essay in The New Statesman, he articulated very well the frustrations many of us feel. He also did it in his interview with Paxman. It is true that there is a bit of the cheeky-monkey about him, but at least he does not organise concerts on behalf of a whole continent and “forgets” to include musicians from that continent (Bob Geldoff, I’m talking to you). But democracy needs more than yet another namby-pamby manifesto. What democracy needs is a shot in the arm. What Russell Brand is suggesting is a shot in the head.

© 2013

Next Post: “Let’s Talk...”, to be published on Wednesday 27th November at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. A well thought out commentary this morning. Even though politics and politicians are not that straightforward oftentimes, and even though democracy has its flaws, we do have to keep on our opinions...and working toward solutions. As I see it, there are no other viable options unless we abdicate our responsibility completely and allow others to dictate our lives, which can only end in bad place indeed.


  2. I believe that democracy is a system you create on a daily basis.... this was the key for me in here and i whole-heartedly agree... also i think we cannot leave it only to the politicians but each of us has to live it in the everyday...happy sunday from germany...smiles

  3. The politicians are mostly out for themselves, all about me me me but they pretend they do it for thee. But have to keep trying I guess

  4. here is the problem...its a scary thought to dismantle what has taken so long to work...and how to safeguard it against the same corruption that comes from those with money buying favor of the government...democracy is a myth...the us is not a is a representative government...we vote on the representatives put before us by a two party system that is a business...there is no choice beyond what is give by those in power and with is not of the people or for the good of the people...maybe it once was but that changed generations not only do we need solutions but ideas on how to safeguard it....

  5. Interesting. I have sat in yoga classes numerous times with Russel Brand, and I have to admit that he is repellent on some levels and incredibly mesmerizing on others. He always, always draws attention to himself, and whether that is purposeful or just testament to his natural magnetism is fascinating to me. At worst he is insufferable, at best annoying and provocative, always.

  6. Well said and astutely analyzed Cubano. I totally agree that privilege allows many like Brand to ignore the reality of people who don't benefit from those kind of privileges. Too many people died for the right to vote to take it lightly. The process is as flawed as the people who implement it. And good Scorpio jab to Sir Bob.

  7. Many thanks for your kind feedback.

    Elizabeth, that's some first-hand experience you have! :-)

    Pat, don't give up, mate.

    Claudia, the easy way out would be to export our collective responsibility to politicians. That's what they would like.

    Welcome to my humble cyber-house, Reka!

    ¡María, gracias por lo de joven! :-)

    Brian, totally agree with you. The two-party system has screwed up (pardon my French) the political system. Over here it used to be Labour and the Tories, but then, in the last election the Lib Dems managed to talk a lot of people into voting for them, especially the young generation. Then, they cosied up with the Tories to form the coalition and reneged on many of their pledges. No wonder people are cross.

    Fly Girl, to me Sir Bob is the epitome of what I call "benign colonialism".

    Have a great week.

    Greetings from London.

  8. Un tema interesante el de hoy ya que en la mayoría de los países nadie está contento con la política actual parece que los políticos se hayan puesto de acuerdo y que estén fallando lo esencial.
    A mi marido le cuenta mucho el plan político y siempre le digo pues que no te afecte mucho personalmente ya que poco puedes hacer a parte de dar tu buen voto que nunca se sabe si votas por el bueno.
    Un abrazo


  9. As usual your piece was interesting. I can only say that I notice myself becoming more political, although so far I haven't joined a party - I have never felt I am the sort of person who gets involved in politics at all, so I suppose this is a step forward - or away from the present lot.

    Yes, democracy is really the responsibility of everyone. This is how I think Blair did so much harm by riding roughshod over the clear will of the people over Iraq, and not for any reason that was for Britain's benefit. It's a terrible precedent that he has set - of being a prime minister who did not put his own country's interests first. For that reason I believe he's the most disastrous PM we have ever had, and has paved the way for acceptance of blatant self interest and greed in public life.


  10. As usual your piece was interesting. I can only say that I notice myself becoming more political, although so far I haven't joined a party - I have never felt I am the sort of person who gets involved in politics at all, so I suppose this is a step forward - or away from the present lot.

    Yes, democracy is really the responsibility of everyone. This is how I think Blair did so much harm by riding roughshod over the clear will of the people over Iraq, and not for any reason that was for Britain's benefit. It's a terrible precedent that he has set - of being a prime minister who did not put his own country's interests first. For that reason I believe he's the most disastrous PM we have ever had, and has paved the way for acceptance of blatant self interest and greed in public life.

  11. Voting is compulsory here - which I appreciate. It does, however reluctantly, force everyone to give some thought to what they hope for in the future. And some chance to redress wrongs.
    Our politicians make errors. Don't we all? Some of them are self motivated (by greed and a lust for power). And it is up to us to call them to account.
    Great post - thank you.

  12. There are times I feel more comfortable by lacking knowledge than by having knowledge.

    To be honest, I have heard of Russell Brand, but I was aware of him only as an English actor (one I never have seen perform) with a cable television show in America (which I never have watched). My assumption is that he falls within the "pop culture" genre, which has been easy for me to avoid since I departed from active journalism and try to remain in obscurity (for the most part) and to live like Peter Pan.

    As for you, CiL, I think you may have missed your calling. I am saying that with the assumption you can produce your point of view speaking from a podium as well as you can writing a column. I think too many politicians make a business out politics, rather than a philosophy. I think people must be persuaded to vote and to continually be demanding the best from their politicians, which takes strong, vocal leadership at the local level.

    I second the thoughts Brian Miller, and, seriously, I think the situation might change for the better if the representative bodies of the people were made up of a more diverse cross-section of professions. In short, for instance, more teachers and fewer lawyers.

    A great column, CiL.

  13. great points and its up to us all and I agree voting is so important

  14. Very well written! When it comes to politics, there are no easy solutions... But you're right in saying apathy is an enemy.

  15. So agree - women chained themselves to railing and had tubes forced down their throats so I could vote. I voted for Blair, marched against the war in Iraq - and yes, it's enough to make the most political of is disillusioned. But that doesn't mean we give up - we just carry on working to make the system work better.

    ps - I'm flying off to Cuba in January. I'll give it your love!

  16. At least you don't have a wannabe Socialist running your country so deep into the ground that people are talking about you in the past tense.

    Nice piece on the political scene in the UK.

  17. I must admit I know nothing about politics in the UK--and I had no idea Russell Brand was a writer, too! But the same problems are evident in the U.S. The two parties, Republican and Democrat, are so busy hurling insults at each other that nothing is being accomplished. It's easy to become cynical, which I am, but I keep voting. Democracy isn't perfect, but it will fall into total chaos if all of us give up on trying to improve it through nonviolent means.

  18. I take our right to vote very seriously, and think if someone fails to cast a ballot, they lose the right to complain about the results of the vote.

    Originally, people who represented us in government were civilian politicians: they'd serve one term... maybe two... and then go back to their former positions in the civilian world. Now, politicians are in a class by themselves... a very wealthy one... and politics is their long-term career. In my opinion, that really screws things up. Then they become more interested in money and power than they are in serving the higher good.

  19. Its seductive to youth to presume all the answers, to hog the spotlight,to dismiss in ignorance those actually struggling with the Herculean task of moving the rock that inch a day. Sadly Americans have long forgotten the distinction between self promoting entertainers like Rush, and genuine facts on the ground.


  20. Very thought provoking piece. I don't know anything about politics in the UK, but learned a lot here. I have read a little about Russell Brand and he seems to be an unusual character.
    I enjoyed the music video. The background music reminds me of binary tones. Very nice.

  21. I am in complete agreement with you. People are ridiculously apathetic; politicians are not all the same. That is a bit of an excuse for not paying attention to difference. I can't say that I really follow Russell Brand, but I found your post super interesting. Thanks. k.

  22. IMHO, freedom of choice rules. Opinions are OK. Discussion is fine. Imposition of own opinions through demeaning other's choices, don't. IMHO.

  23. Personally I find the whole subject of politics a minefield. There are so many grey areas...where individual policies suit some people, yet alienate or disgruntle others.
    I do have some sympathy for those 'in high places' who are trying to please all of the people all the time - a totally pointless exercise, of course.
    On the other hand...there are undoubtedly some politicians who are simply there for their own gain.
    I am finding it increasingly difficult to make the decision as to who I should vote for...they all seem to be unable to keep their pre-election promises these days.
    You have set me thinking...I feel a poem coming on...:)

  24. I think that despite the way politics bumps along, we do get somewhere, but on a far bigger timescale than voters or politicians expect. 1,000 years ago in the UK we were peasants, growing weeds to make soup to keep us alive through the winter. Now we have supermarkets, the NHS, central heating, paracetamol. We must be doing something right, slowly.

  25. I love this line: "I believe that democracy is a system you create on a daily basis." Well said! Russell Brand is a bit over the top but it's good for democracy to get the discourse going.

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