The Mancunion

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Why Russell Brand has been good for British politics

Lauren Wills explores the effect that the outspoken comedian and political commentator Russell Brand has had on the UK political sphere


Russell Brand encourages us to talk about things that matter.

I must admit, I cringed a little when Russell Brand appeared on BBC Question Time talking about politics. It didn’t seem right and I thought (and still think, to an extent) that what he had to say lacked substance with regard to democracy and voting. However, politics is something that young people on the whole don’t want to engage with, and the idea prevails that political discussion is best left to more intelligent people who know what they’re talking about. Russell Brand is changing these static ideologies about participation in politics, and in my opinion, this can only be a good thing.

In fact, I sometimes worry about our generation, when it seems we’re more interested in Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance than what’s really going on in the world that’s truly affecting people’s lives.

At first I was disappointed when Brand came along selling his new ‘Revolution’ and encouraged people to abstain from voting. I still disagree with him and actually think that using one’s vote is integral to a functioning democracy. Thus I immediately jumped on the Brand-hating bandwagon, though what I was really doing was tuning out because honestly, I didn’t want to take political advice from a comedian.

There may have been a worry his political emergence would create a “Russell Brand wore army pants and flip-flops, so I wore army pants and flip-flops” situation whereby the entire 18 – 30s population would be hiding away when it comes to the general election later this year. Realistically, this is not the case. It’s just refreshing to hear from someone who’s a bit different.

I think many of us have a bad attitude towards Russell Brand because he doesn’t fit the mould of what your typical individual in an influential position should look like. It’s been drummed into us for years, subconsciously if nothing else, that judges, ministers and Members of Parliament have to be smart, white, middle class and male with not a blip on their records. It’s got to the point where we don’t want to learn from or trust anyone who doesn’t fit this stereotype with important societal issues.

I know Russell Brand isn’t exactly “one of us” in terms of wealth, but I do think he has a greater understanding of the needs of people in the UK than many people in Parliament.

Lord Fink’s statement last week serves as the perfect example. He commented that he took “vanilla tax avoidance” measures and that “everyone avoids tax at some level”. What he failed to see was that most of us don’t have the desire or opportunity to avoid paying tax, partially because HMRC are like a dog with a bone when it comes to collecting every last penny with the general public. This bizarre statement showed just how out of touch with the real world those in power can be. No, we don’t all avoid paying tax and no, we don’t all have the opportunity to do so even if we did want to.

With this in mind, I quite like it now when Brand sits there amongst politicians with his unbrushed, bird’s nest hair and sleeve of tattoos. He is incredibly respectful of other people’s opinions in interviews and is clearly well-informed on a wide range of subjects. In particular, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, he showed a sensitivity which not many people did on asking questions about religion and how personal actions can affect and marginalise others. He also raised issues about both terrorism and the causes of terrorism. He discussed acts of the government in general on his video blog and how we should question and be free to criticise their decisions.

He often talks about subjects that we leave to the experts. Young people especially are disengaged with world affairs and politics, with celebrity gossip being more interesting (and perhaps more ‘cool’ to talk about.) However, I hope Brand encourages young people that we are moving on from days where everyone in power has to look and talk in a certain way, and that we can all participate in democracy through political discussion.

I think the fear was that people would blindly follow his opinions because he had a large long-standing fan-base he could influence, but in reality I think it’s opened up a more general debate about the government and world affairs, especially amongst young people.

Celebrities stand in a unique position of influence in society. They especially affect the way young people live in a number of ways; their appearance, manners, fashion-sense, music preferences and general interests. Brand has started to use his influence to engage people in healthy discussion and debate which in my opinion can only be a positive thing.

  • Guest

    Russell Brand will bring justice home to the Westminster mobsters and hypocrites, your days are numbered, run if you can…

  • Adam

    The problem with Russell Brand is that he makes a lot of assumptions and will often makes a statement without any evidence. Obviously a lot of time he will reference a newspaper article, but that in itself is not ‘evidence’. I also watch his ‘trews’ show on YouTube and found that he likes to highlight one form of evidence over the other (meaning that he will say one thing, back it with evidence but at the same time disregarding and ignoring any and all evidence that points in the other direction that is opposite to his own position). He has done this on several occasions, especially on serious issues that he has a strongly held view on – like the renewal of trident.
    It’s good that he speaks his mind, but we should be extremely wary of characters like him and take a lot of the things he says with a pinch of salt.

    • Lauren

      Hi Adam
      Of course, I agree – I’m not advocating that people blindly follow his opinions – just highlighting the positivity of someone so (previously) popular in a sphere other than politics making a decision to open up political debate, which has the effect of encouraging his fans to talk about such matters.
      Thank you for sharing your opinion

  • Albert

    Before Russell Brand decided he wanted to be the Messiah it was well known to everyone that he was a chatty television clown. So now this (former?) womanizer, notorious libertine, wants to use the chatting and charming skills he learned on television to woo the masses. Does he consider himself some kind of prodigy, wanting to play first the part of the fool and then the part of king of the people? Is part of being a democrat believing that anyone and everyone is fit to rule? Because I presume that statesmanship isn’t an easy art to acquire, and that the virtues required for this art do not mix well with the vices that attended Brand’s former professions of pimp and clown.

    You’ll tell me that Brand doesn’t aspire to any political office. So then to what exactly does he aspire? The answer is obvious: demagogue, rabble-rouser. His Messiah impression is off. If you read the Gospels carefully you’ll notice that when ever the crowd gathers Christ is scrupulous to exit the scene, except for the one time that he takes pity on them and feeds them via the miraculous in order to save them from starvation – every other time he is careful to address himself to an audience which is fit for hearing him (I suppose he was not much of a democrat).

    So what does Ms. Wills mean when she says that it is good thing for young people (I’m one) to be involved in politics? I can’t think of many ways in which young people are used in politics by demagogues such as Brand. One of the ways is as a weapon: a group of conspirators bent upon taking power away from their superiors hire a demagogue (sometimes the demagogue is a useful idiot and does their job for them – for free) to get the masses on the side of the conspirators, so that they, the conspirators, have the power necessary to seize control of the state. Another way demagogues are used is as tools of those who are already in power, used to make the masses more compliant to a change in policy which those in power fear would cause a popular reaction.

    This is a matter of history. Every time a man said that he was fighting and dying on behalf of the people it at last turned out that he was only fighting and dying, whether he knew so or not, on behalf of some party or other. The only man who ever spoke something of this kind whose word could be found trustworthy after his death was Jesus Christ, who this TV buffoon has the gall to blasphemously compare himself to. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

    • Lauren

      Hi Albert. Thank you for sharing your opinion. The point of this article was to convey that whether we agree with Brand or not on political issues (as I said, I don’t agree with everything he says,) anyone that uses their influence to encourage people to discuss pressing societal topics can only be positive for me. When I look at the issues that a lot of young people discuss today as of paramount importance, I see that an interest in world affairs is lacking. Thus when a figure who’s sustained a large fan base over a period of time decides to open up political debate, what young people talk about has begun to change- whether that be agreement or disagreement with Brand’s personal opinions. What we think of him as a person with specific opinions isn’t particularly relevant in my view.