Russell Brand has never shirked controversy.
Now, having gone head-to-head with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC’s Newsnight show, he’s really put the cat amongst the establishment pigeons.
Interviewed by Paxman, he had the temerity to suggest that “democracy is irrelevant” and to inform him that he never votes. In a follow-up piece in The Guardian, he said: “The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change”.
Lambasting the entire establishment – politicians, bankers, big business, the police and the church – for its disengagement from real life, he believes that all of us can “contribute ideas as to how to change the world”.
As an example, he cites his friend’s teenage son who, in a school essay, said he prefers the idea of spoiling ballot papers rather than not voting, because it shows the politicians that “we do care”, that we think the political system has no meaning or relevance to our everyday lives.
Suzanne Moore, writing again in The Guardian, backs Brand for his approach to what she describes as “a nexus of politicians, media and police” that currently dominates political debate in the UK, and for stimulating that debate.
She also points out that “it took a comic to do this”, going on to say that comedians often function as “our public intellectuals, wise and witty speakers of truth”.
Brand may be a comedian, but there’s nothing jokey or stupid about his basic stance.
He may very well have called for the impossible: a utopian ideal in which everyone’s voice can be heard.
But his point about the closed society of the establishment is well made.
The question is: How can we encourage ourselves to take more interest in politics; to give ourselves a chance of making the difference Brand endorses?
How can we break down the walls of the establishment citadel so that its occupants can see the world beyond their limited horizons?
Make us vote
One solution would be to make voting compulsory.
But what if we don’t want to vote for any of the parties on offer?
I don’t believe the teenager’s spoiled ballot paper is the answer.
Spoiled ballot papers don’t amount to anything. So far as the establishment is concerned, they’re just rubbish. Not worth the paper they’re printed on and certainly not worth counting.
Which is why, for years now, I’ve held that – not only should voting be compulsory – we should be given a slot on the ballot paper where we can put an X against NO CONFIDENCE.
Faced with a recognisable percentage of the population who have NO CONFIDENCE in any of the political parties or independent candidates, rather than a vague idea of the people’s disaffection based how many spoiled their ballot papers, the establishment would have to pay attention.
If nothing else, they would have a clear idea of how many of us they’ve alienated.
They think they know now, and that we can be disregarded, but the facts would take some refuting.
Anarchy or empowerment
The present system of voluntary voting and spoiled papers leads only to a deluded level of amateur anarchy.
Compulsory voting, and a guaranteed opportunity for expressing a resounding thumbs-down to the whole system, would lead to a greater engagement in politics in general, and – as Brand has suggested – an increased feeling that we could do something that might, just might change the world.