Russell Brand might seem like a sexy revolutionary worth getting behind, but he will only fail his fans

Politics needs to be cleaned up, not thrown into disarray by irresponsible populists

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Russell Brand was at the TUC march against low pay at the weekend; earlier he turned up in Newham, east London, to support some single mums who refused to leave their flats after the council decided to demolish the block, and he also stood with the firefighters union.

His Dave Spart-like Revolution is a bestseller. He launched said book in Wall Street, with the Occupy demonstrators behind him. He fills the Royal Albert Hall, has seven million Twitter followers, won several rounds in an interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight and is considered inspiring by many pundits.

Brand is charismatic, looks like Jesus, but, cannot deliver us from dejection, poverty, inequality, greed, corruption and hopelessness. Though all praise to him for having such faith in his own powers.

It is heartening to see him mobbed by teenagers and young people. They are looking for something. But do they want more than a selfie with Brand? And if they do seek guidance and leadership, Brand, I fear, will only fail them. To say as he has done; “I will never vote and I don’t think you should either,” is deeply irresponsible.

Millions of people in the world – including in Hong Kong, Afghanistan, Uganda, Thailand, Egypt and Syria – are prepared to die for the vote and this dabbler is contemptuous of that right. Incidentally, Isis and al-Qaeda share that contempt. As for revolutions – has Brand ever experienced one?

I remember the coup that brought Idi Amin into power – bodies on streets, fear that made you shiver in the tropical sun, the total erosion of trust. There are good revolutions – as in some eastern European countries – but they are rare and arise out of appalling oppression. We are not oppressed, though our democracy is in crisis. Fascism fills the space when people lose faith in good governance. So I agree that things can’t go on as they are.


Politicians know that, too, but can’t or won’t think about the deeper causes of this alienation or face up to the difficult truths. They think they can keep the economic model, the current secretive and squalid system, the vested interests and just learn to tweet and blog, make false promises, and the nation will drag on from election to election. That just leads to more cynicism and anarchy on the internet, more disillusionment in the population.

This week, Alan Milburn publishes his report on social mobility. He asks the state and businesses to wake up. Young people are “on the wrong side of the divide that is opening up,” disenfranchised and unable to imagine or go for better prospects. According to a new report by Credit Suisse, the UK is the only nation in the G7 where inequality has increased since the turn of the century.

This should make us sick with shame. But the Chancellor struts around claiming that ours is an exemplary, successful economy. What Milburn won’t say is that we have to change the model. This is now forcefully argued by the new band of radical economists such as the Frenchman Thomas Piketty, and Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches at Cambridge University.

Next, let us turn over our political institutions and rules. I attended a seminar on democratic renewal at St George’s House in Windsor Castle last week. We talked in depth about the challenges, and we discussed some solutions.

Vernon Bogdanor, the constitutional historian, described society today as “fluid”, unlike the past when people were politically tribal and loyal. Without constitutional reform and new arrangements, the electorate, especially the young, will further disengage.

I think an institutional overhaul, too, is long overdue. Parliament is not fit for purpose and must change.

Here are some ideas: all peers should have fixed-term, renewable contracts; political parties should be banned from appointing to the Lords any party-funders or cronies; taxes should fund the parties and the amount should be limited; constituents must have the right to recall and deselect MPs; once a month, members of the public should be able to apply to spend a day in the Lords on full expenses; politicians found guilty of misappropriating funds or misleading the public should be sacked, after a fair hearing; public inquiries should be obliged to finish within a reasonable time and publish full findings and lay members should be on the panels. The Chilcot Inquiry report is still kept from us. Such obfuscation is simply unacceptable in a mature democracy.

The jury service is a good example of serious civic engagement. It works because you have to do your duty when called. Compulsory voting would make people take democracy seriously. Too many Britons are simply bloody minded or too damned lazy to go vote, but moan endlessly. Those who are worst affected by government policies are least likely to vote Though I understand the disenchantment, they can’t just give up. And finally, a written constitution would help protect the rights of all, including minorities, and would ensure that populism is tempered and universal rights protected. Send in more ideas.

Politics needs to be cleaned up, not thrown into disarray by irresponsible populists or by cool, sexy, edgy dilettantes. While Brand’s acolytes await the revolution, the rest of us have work to do.