Brand Vs Paxman: Can apathy change the democratic system?

Setting aside Russell Brand’s notorious eccentric persona, his interview with Jeremy Paxman that aired 23rd October on Newsnight, highlighted his perspective that the UK’s current democratic system ‘favours the elite’. Brand has indeed never voted nor is showing any signs of wanting to participate in the future. He firmly believes that “Government is not working” and there is great and evident need for change in how the UK’s “democracy” works.

“It is not that I am not voting out of apathy. I am not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations”

Despite his radical approach to the interview, he was able to articulate his strongly felt discontentment with the current system. Presenting elitism, not only by politicians, but suggesting that it is occurring within the Houses of Parliament itself. Brand says that it is “decorated for a certain type of people” that excludes part of the population and causes their disillusion. However farfetched this specific reason may be for a declining political participation, it is true that there is a current problem with the perception of politics. Brand’s view does not go unsupported as shown through the 2013 Audit of Political Engagement 10 which presents public satisfaction of the way MP’s are doing their job at a low of just 23% compared to the 29% in 2010.

In the 2010 General Election only 57% of voters in the bottom social class voted. Perhaps, Brand is proposing that the solution is a revolution to re-evaluate the system and that the reason for the low turn out runs far deeper into constituencies who feel the huge disparity between the rich and poor and encounter deficit when the money-making businesses find profit. Cameron, of course believes “profit is not a dirty word”. Is education of the poorer class the key to creating a higher possible turnout? Or is this low percentage a representation of their refusal to conform to a process that which they feel under-represented by? The comedian believes political apathy, the concept of indifference on the part of any citizen of any country with regards to their attitude towards political activities is a significant step forward for change.

Russell Brand has opened discussion on why changes should be made to the system yet there are many a question still unanswered. If there was no Government, who would obtain legitimate power? The “Admin bods”? Paxman queries Brand on how they would be chosen but saves Brand from the complexity by simply stating; “By being voted in”.

Brand’s overriding message for the public is to ”be more apathetic” but whether this is the solution or not, it is a clear amplification that there is the problem of how the public is becoming disenfranchised, disenchanted, disengaged and disinterested in the idea that politicians can change the world.

Therefore, with this apparent “Revolution” on the rise, should the Government be introducing the compulsory vote for the young? Will it enforce the idea of democracy by avoiding apathy or will it take away choice, which lies at the heart of a democratic process. For if this refusal to participate in general elections lingers for too long without the problem being addressed by those in power, potentionally this form of protest could destroy the existing recognition of democracy that which was fought for by many historic figures (Emily Wilding Davison, Henry VI).

Is this democratic process worth fighting against rather than changing through participation of the current system, or is there some truth in what Brand is implying – that a new governing body or party’s changes are not radical enough to meet the requirements of the underserved and henceforth people will not want to engage with a system that they believe is not in their best interest and simply is not representative of the total population.

“Jeremy, my darling” – does Mr Brand have a point?


Lucie Wolfman