Russell Brand is re-branding Politics for the better

Russell Brand might be full of crap, but he’s stopped people snoring at the mention of politics, argues JOE GOODMAN.

CUSU elite fame joe goodman politics russell brand Union

Russell Brand went quiet for a bit after Sachsgate. I think the official line was something to do with ‘breaking America’, but I couldn’t help but feel he was taking refuge, lying low until the storm passed and his fellow countrymen would take him back. He took the time to collect himself, personally and spiritually, before he threw himself back into the spotlight with a guest editorial of New Statesman and a confrontation with Paxman. Like a medieval king, he returned with renewed fervour, inciting the people to take arms against a system he perceived as stagnant, exploitative and dysfunctional.

I reckon what must have happened while he was getting all spiritual in Hollywood amounted to a consolidation of his disillusionment with fame. It’s a theme Russell’s talked about a lot, not least at the Union on Monday: fame is vapid, based on the unobtainable ideal of celebrity, a never-ending quest for an empty goal. To put it in his own words, ‘it’s not that good’.

But one thing fame does give you is a platform, and you can do what you want with it. So why not try to change the world?

Alternatively, use that platform to model impractically low-cut tops

And he certainly does have a platform. Say what you like about Brand, but he sure knows how to get attention. Fortunately, the days are now fewer when the front page of every tabloid is shouting about his sexual antics or campaigning for his resignation. Nowadays, he’s getting attention for better reasons: his ideas, not his character. His Paxman interview set off a social media storm when it aired last year, and his editorial for the New Statesman led to record-breaking web traffic in October. Why? Partly because it’s Russell Brand, but also because he’s opened up a discussion that’s been a very long time coming. He’s pointed out the obvious – that politics shouldn’t just be about them, it’s about us.

It sounds obvious, but it’s really not. The word ‘politics’ has come to mean something it shouldn’t; in particular, a certain type of person. Maybe it’s an Oxbridge education, maybe it’s a degree in politics, maybe it’s having gone to boarding school. It’s certainly a reality that this demographic, and not normal people, predominates in Parliament.

Whilst that’s not the fault of any one person, it’s unhealthy. Politics should be about us – for us – and we shouldn’t allow it to be the privilege of elites. But it takes a certain type of person to feel at home in that sort of environment. All those posh people making posh jokes while being booed and cheered: to any outsider it’s all a bit stuck up its own pompous arse. And what about all those stupid rituals and traditions? I mean, do you really think slamming a door in someone’s face, or ‘dragging the speaker’ is in any way helping to sort out the country? As far as I can see, all it does is help to make politics less accessible to normal people.

And it’s not just in Parliament. I, like Brand, used to find myself zoning out when someone started talking about ‘politics’, and it wasn’t just because I have the attention span of a gnat on speed. There’s an esoteric manner and language that perpetuates the idea of ‘politics’ as the preserve of an exclusive elite. There’s a sort of feeling that it’s not for us, it’s for people who know what they’re doing.

What would Mill say? Look how disappointed he is in you

But this isn’t what politics should be. Politics is about all of us, it’s for all of us, and as such we should be engaging with it, as people not politicians. And that’s why Russell is so great. He’s shown us that you don’t have to be a politician to be political.

You can say what you like about his particular strain of politics: digital democracy, spiritual oneness, the revolution. Some of it might be bullshit and some of it decent political theory. And yes, maybe he doesn’t provide a working alternative to the current system. But for me, none of that really matters because ultimately Russell Brand has achieved something much more important: he’s got people talking about politics. And whatever your inclination, that’s a good thing.