Last Wednesday (23rd October 2013) Jeremy Paxman interviewed Russell Brand regarding the latter’s role as guest editor of a special ‘Revolution’ issue of the New Statesman, an interview that has gone viral on YouTube. The interview was perhaps what might have been expected; Brand was entertaining and Paxo was patronising but what might not have been expected was that we could learn a lot about our contemporary society and politics. Indeed it is not very often that you hear talk of revolution on the BBC or hear Russell Brand describe himself as angry but the times they are a changin’ and this interview could highlight some of the reasons why.
Paxo opens with: ‘Who are you to edit a political magazine?’ a little bit patronizing but perhaps fair in that many people viewing were probably thinking the same thing. However this question establishes what could be seen as the society-reflecting roles Brand and Paxo play in this interview. Brand argues the perhaps weak (but relevant) argument from a young generation that the future is bleak for most and prosperous for the few. Paxo wheels out the same (but relevant) criticism of Brand’s ‘occupy’ argument and that is to demand engagement in democracy or at least present a ‘plan’ to tackle economic disparity, environmental issues and the needs of the majority.
To give Brand credit he made it clear he knows as much about politics as Boris Johnson, it is Jeremy Paxman’s interview technique that should come in for criticism. Despite Brand making quite a clear and fundamental argument that young people lack trust in politicians because of they feels their needs are not met Paxo says ‘If you can’t be arsed to vote why should we listen to your point of view?’ a question that, I believe, reinforces Brand’s argument. Paxo ignores the fundamental question here: ‘why do people not vote?’ and if he listened to what Brand is saying he would find that many people do not vote because of the perceived ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in the current political system, a democracy. A fail-safe system to Paxo and a system bringing ever more suffering to many for Brand, so scap democracy then? Is that what Brand is saying?
That’s what Paxo would have you believe: ‘You don’t like democracy’ and ‘You want a revolution!’. Yet again Paxo ignores what Brand is saying who mentions a filthy word in ‘Socialism’ and an even filthier word in ‘Responsibility’, are we will still buying the line that because of Stalin Socialism is undemocratic? Do responsible people partake in revolutions for the craic? The truth is probably that many people would answer yes to both questions thanks to people like Paxo never budging from the status quo. This interview is an example of a discourse that no-one wants to have: ‘Is capitalism serving the majority?’ and ‘Why are fewer and fewer people voting?’.
These questions may go unanswered for many reasons but Brand addresses an important one, which is the impression (bound with the fact of economic disparity) that those at the top of society wish to maintain the status quo. Indeed if you were benefitting immensely from something you would obviously want it to stay the same. This is the fundamental flaw in Paxo’s trumpeting of democracy, the power of a democracy should come from the people, political outcomes (in a democracy) should reflect the will of the majority (hence majority voting!).
The final point then would be Brand’s allusion to social responsibility. Whilst Brand himself may be accused of lacking in that area it is Paxo and the elites that could come in for the most criticism. The criticism is nicely alluded to by Brand when he suggests that it is not the ‘underclass’ that is apathetic rather it is the elites at the top of society and government. Indeed the economic disparity, environmental damage and needs of the people are there to be seen; youth unemployment, climate change and the increase of use in food banks. Perhaps those at the ‘top’ are doing something about it but the point is many can’t see how and haven’t done for a long time; the manifestos many voted for stay as a forgotten promise like abolishing tuition fees.
Our hopes and fears are primary emotions that are often difficult to articulate and sometimes we just want help because we don’t know what is best. Surely this is a key purpose of Paxo’s beloved democracy but people are asking for help more and more and are discovering that the democratic process isn’t producing that help. And so Brand’s refusal to vote will fall on many sympathetic ears regardless of his scholarly qualifications. Maybe this interview will not be taken seriously but the calls for help will keep coming and so who ‘wins’ in this democracy will continue to be questioned.