Russell Brand, the actor, comedian, kicked-out BBC Radio 1 DJ, has never been one to do things by half. His ‘brand’ of comedy was always controversial, and extremely funny.
But when this established stand-up comedian was asked, in 2013, to guest-edit the political left-of-centre magazine The New Statesman, it was not a few eyebrows that were raised.
What, after all, could a self-declared joker add to the political debate of the day? Quite a lot it seems.
His spot at editing the magazine generated reams of commentary. It also gave us one of the most entertaining TV interviews ever. On the BBC current affairs flagship programme Newsnight.
In one corner was the doyen of the hard-hitting, sarcastic quip, on the other was Jeremy Paxman.
You can enjoy the whole interview here
This was a fight between two very different generations. The older ’wiser’ father figure, and the intemperate ‘yoof’, the slow but surely (if not surly) philosopher, and the ‘I want it now’ jumping Jack.
The crux of the interview was that here was Brand editing a political magazine when he couldn’t even be bothered to vote.
Here’s a snippet:
Russell Brand, who are you to edit a political magazine? Is it true you don’t even vote?
Yeah no, I don’t vote.
Well, how do you have any authority to talk about politics?
Well, I don’t get my authority from this preexisting paradigm, which is quite narrow and only serves a few people. I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity. Alternate means alternative political systems.
Well, I’ve not invented it yet, Jeremy! Here’s the thing it shouldn’t do: It shouldn’t destroy the planet, shouldn’t create massive economic disparity, shouldn’t ignore the needs of the People. The burden of proof is on the people with the power.
How do you imagine the people get power?
Well, I imagine there are hierarchical systems that’ve been preserved for generations--
You get power by being voted in. You can’t even be arsed to vote!
That’s quite a narrow prescriptive parameter--
In a democracy that’s how it works.
I don’t think it’s working very well, Jeremy, given that the planet is being destroyed, given there’s economic disparity of a huge degree. What you’re saying is, there’s no alternative. Brilliant.
I’m saying that if you can’t be arsed to vote, why should we be arsed to listen to your political point of view?
You don’t have to listen to my political point of view. But it’s not that I’m not voting out of apathy; I’m not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations now, and has now reached fever pitch where we have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass that are not being represented by that political system. So voting for it is tacit complicity with that system, and that’s not something I’m offering up.
And I can imagine at this point many readers would be nodding emphatically in agreement. They would say that this whole democracy thing is a stitch-up. And even Paxman, in a later interview, gave credit where credit is due and confessed that he too at one point did not vote because he felt that the system had collapsed.
And I have a feeling that in Malta there are many who are reaching a very similar conclusion.
However, the Maltese scenario is different to the British one. Very different.
The British electoral system is a first-past-the-post party system. In other words, the party with the most votes in each district wins that seat. In effect, this means that the close to two-thirds of the votes distributed among the losing parties are discounted. It also means that you have to choose between the person you would like to represent you, or the party with the best policies - and those are not necessarily the same thing.
The Maltese system is, fortunately, more nuanced. Indeed technically you do not vote for the party but for your representative.
This gives the electorate a lot more power - and that power should not be discounted.
As we (quite rightly) continue to vent about this and that other wrong policy/action/position by this or that other party and lament the status quo, let's just remember that there is a way out.
As the parties field their candidates in the various districts, our job will be to assess them on their individual merits and their policies. Look at their past record, find out their true state of mind, ask them the questions that are relevant to you.
It’s an open secret that during election times people of, let us say, dubious principles have gone to candidates brandishing votes and asking for favours in return for their votes.
Perhaps it is time for the disheartened, the disenfranchised, to go with their votes and ask for the principles they believe in to be upheld.
Instead of not voting, is it not about time that people of goodwill brandish more power for principles?