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Russell Brand & the Swiss Referendum


I wrote a post about Russell Brand’s second Paxman interview a few weeks ago, and made the elementary bloggers mistake of not reading other bloggers responses to it. I had done my own research and was quite happy with what I thought was a tame article.

Low and behold the naive incredulity on my face when friends drew my attention to some other responses to Brand’s call to revolution - which tore it apart. They all started off on the same footing “let’s be generous and take Brand’s idea seriously - oh wait, look, it’s fraught with problems - it’s incredibly vague, full of fantastic words and ultimately meaningless”. Paxman himself wasn’t sure of Brand’s call to “not bother voting” - the single concrete action the entertainer recommended his followers in both his interview and his editorial for the *New Statesman*.

I was disappointed with the general negative reaction to the fanciful Mr. Brand, because I thought - and still do - he was genuinely trying to make a positive change. Contemporary politics suck after all. It was all too easy to pick him apart with analytical rigor, if only because Brand isn’t a politician nor is he an academic - and insists on being variously funny, witty, smart and outrageous. You can’t expect to convince the skeptical in that manner.

Enough with the disappointment though. One columnist in the Standard came up with something worthwhile: Mr Brand should go to Switzerland (the article was named something of the sort, but I’ve failed to find it online). The Swiss were, at the time, voting on a referendum spurred by a petition to limit executive’s pay to no more than 12 times the lowest wage in their institution. The columnist argued that, contra-Brand’s view, voting can indeed achieve something.

In the event, the Swiss votes against won by 65.3% to 34.7% in favour. But that’s not the point. What Brand (and anyone wanting to make a positive change) should recognize is the process democratic states have put in place to enable its citizens to have a collective voice and actually do something with it. The UK’s e-petitions offer just that (get 100,000 signatures, get the motion into parliament). Indeed, someone’s even gone and started a petition emulating the Swiss in its call to cap executive pay at 12:1.

Perhaps the fact that it currently has a mere six signatures has to do with its lack of visibility. As a Oxford researcher has suggested - these e-petitions work best when there is a big initial uptake - 3,000 or so signatures in the first ten hours. Brand, who thinks that governments “shouldn’t create massive economic disparity” and is outraged that “the Tories are taking the EU to court because they’re trying to curtail bankers’ bonuses” may well have the ability to create that uptake should he want to. Guest-editing the New Statesman was a golden opportunity to do something of the like.

That he didn’t doesn’t mean he’s an idiot. He’s just a novice. Nothing is to say that he won’t grow wiser. If one has positive change in mind, to shun Brand’s very first step into politics is as apathetic as not voting. Sure, poking-fun is rewarding and serves its purpose. But Oh how easy it is to do! As clumsy as it is, Brand’s foray into politics displays a lot more concern for serious matters than those who lambasted his words. Either grow up and lend a hand or stay idle with your conceited belief of holding the higher ground.

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