Tag Archives: Russell Brand; Guy Fawkes; Voting; Robert Webb; Newsnight; Guardian

FireBrands, Fireworks and Revolution

Inspiration for a blogpost on November 5th in the UK is not hard to come by. The screams, whistles, bangs and flashing lights of fireworks are all around me as I sit and type this, as the country joins in the annual celebrations for Guy Fawkes night

In summary, Guy Fawkes was one of a group of Catholics who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 as part of a plan to assassinate King James I and establish a Catholic monarch on the English throne. The plot was thwarted as a result of an anonymous tip-off and Fawkes was arrested at the scene on November 5th while keeping watch over the gunpowder that had been stockpiled in an undercroft beneath the Parliament buildings. He was executed in January 1606. The foiling of the plot has been celebrated with bonfires, fireworks and the burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes throughout the UK ever since

Guy Fawkes night this year takes place against the backdrop of a debate on the relevance of parliamentary democracy in the UK which has been sparked (pun intended!) by recent public pronouncements from a highly unlikely source. Russell Brand is an actor, comedian and presenter whose previous appearances in the headlines have been for much less high-brow reasons. (I won’t list them here, but a Google search will quickly reveal more details). Following his acceptance of an invitation to guest edit an edition of the New Statesman (an English political periodical magazine) Brand appeared on the BBC’s Newsnight programme to answer questions about his appropriateness for the role. You can see the interview here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YR4CseY9pk

As part of the interview, he revealed that he no longer bothers to vote in UK general elections, and has now expanded on his reasons for not engaging in the current electoral system in an opinion piece for the Guardian newspaper (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/05/russell-brand-democratic-system-newsnight). Perhaps inevitably, a lot of the responses that have been prompted by the TV appearance and the subsequent coverage have taken the form of ad hominem attacks on Brand as a hypocrite, a champagne socialist, an idealist, and so on. Interestingly, there have been very few serious attempts to tackle the key issues that Brand raises, and which can be neatly summarised as  : “why bother to vote, it’s always the government that wins”. For Brand (and he’s by no means alone in the UK today), the political process has been so subverted by the demands and influence of international big business that it is no longer capable of representing the needs of ‘ordinary’ women and men living and working from day-to-day. Brand calls for a revolution, although it’s not really clear what he means by that. The implication is that groups such as Occupy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_movement), or the People’s Assembly (http://thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/) may generate sufficient momentum and traction to force mainstream political parties to rethink their approaches and seek to re-engage with the electorate in a more meaningful way than seems to be the case now. He may be right

The problem with Brand’s exhortation to young people in particular not to vote, though, has been neatly and succinctly defined in a response piece by another British comedian, Robert Webb (http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2013/oct/30/robert-webb-russell-brand-vote). If politicians believe that significant sections of the electorate are simply not going to engage in the political process, then there is no incentive at all for them to seek to win over those groups. Refusing to vote gives permission to politicians to exclude your interests, needs or preferences from the basket of things that they take into consideration in deciding how they will govern

One thing for certain is that – thanks to the intervention of Brand – political debate is suddenly sexy again in a way that it hasn’t been since the days of the Thatcher Government in the 1980s. Perhaps, in the end, that will be the most significant impact of Brand’s intervention : that politics becomes edgy and a little bit dangerous. That’s surely the best way to make us all activists again