Russell Brand's ten minute, impassioned Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman, has 10 million YouTube views. Almost as many as voted for David Cameron, at the 2010 General Election (10,706,647), have been interested in watching that single interview, during which the cult comedian calls for people to abandon the current political system and stand together to demand a fairer, more empathic and intelligently run society, which will meet the needs of the majority of people in society, rather than serving a select elite.
Paxman however, has certain sympathies with Brand's view. While he believes people should vote in general elections, he recently confessed, "Russell Brand has never voted, because he finds the process irrelevant. I can understand that: the whole green-bench pantomime in Westminster looks a remote and self-important echo chamber. But it is all we have. In one recent election, I decided not to vote, because I thought the choice so unappetising."
Earlier in the year, Ken Loach's iconic film, "The Spirit of 45", also captured the public's imagination. The movie looked back at a time in British history, when cooperation, collaboration and compassion were essential components to rebuilding society, following the Second World War. Many now say we need to recapture those values and aspirations of a collective national spirit and identity, to work together, to solve the problems that our society faces today.
How can it be, that in a society where some people are earning hundreds of thousands of pounds each year, over 500,000 people have had to turn to hand-outs from food banks, to feed their families; many of those are working adults, hit hard by the coalition's cuts to jobs and services. This level of child poverty should not be happening in a rich country like Britain, it is surely a sign of government failure, and naturally, more and more people have become angry about the gaping inequality between rich and poor, which seems set to increase further, under the present administration.
Around 45 million people were eligible to vote at the last General Election, yet less than a quarter voted for David Cameron, and only 8,604,358 voted for Gordon Brown's New Labour. Following the expenses scandal, the banking crisis and the Lib Dems wholesale betrayal of their core voters, MPs are held in very low regard by the general public now, with many predicting an even poorer turnout come 2015, despite the unpopularity of the Coalition Government.
On the BBC's iconic political panel show, Question Time, invariably the guest whose answers chime most with the audience in the studio, and at home, is not a politician, but tends to be an actor or director, such as Ken Loach, Russell Brand or Brian Cox, or a writer such as Owen Jones or Mehdi Hasan. More often than not, the whole of the rest of the panel, is made up from people on the right of politics (the Labour MP tends to be a New Labour politician, seldom someone from the left) and they're more likely to get jeered than applauded; the introduction of Twitter comments, increases still further, the opportunity to criticise the politicians. It makes you wonder why they agree to go on the programme, because they sure aren't encouraging people to go out and vote for them!
The reality is, people just don't connect with politicians anymore; they don't respect them, they don't trust them and they won't vote for them, and this is especially true of younger voters, who do relate to Russell Brand's message, and this is a huge problem now, for politicians. Where is their mandate to rule over us, when the majority of people haven't voted for them, and look even less likely to vote in the future.
As our children's generation matures, they want another way, they demand another way. They don't idolise Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair; far from it, more likely they despise the architects of this unjust, greed-obsessed culture they find themselves living in, MPs who themselves benefitted from free higher education out of taxpayers wages, now inflict tuition fees of £9,000 per year on those same workers' kids, who have studied hard to get a place at university, and dreamt of a decent future, with a rewarding job. A classic case of I'm alright Jack, pull up the ladder.
Too many bright, working class teenagers are opting now, to go into jobs - often poor pay and conditions, minimum wage jobs - because they don't feel able to take on nearly £30,000 of tuition fees for a degree. How can this possibly be fair! People can see why the Conservatives, would welcome this, their numbers will surely dwindle as far-right, religious voters age and pass away. As society ultimately becomes more tolerant, more secular, clearly the Tories' days are numbered, so they might be just desperate to cling to power for as long as possible. But people can't understand why Labour ministers would also seek to discourage bright kids from poor backgrounds going into higher education, and that lack of difference between the main parties, and their failure to say, or do anything to protect and support those at the bottom, those families being hit so hard since 2010, is precisely why people have stopped voting. To many, there seems to be no point.
Enthusiasm for a big sea change, is much more likely to come from the world of drama, art and music, as Brand's interview reveals. We now need a collective drive forward, to engage and enlighten and involve the public, many of whom are probably desperate for a life free from anxiety and debt and despair.
We need films, plays, documentaries, TV dramas, novels, poems, songs, all addressing an urgent need for change, away from the exploitation of the poor, away from the destruction of the planet. Not another summer of love; how naive that turned out to be; simply getting stoned, taking your clothes off in a muddy field and dropping out of society, brings little benefit to the world, some say it made things worse. There was no plan, no strategy. Getting out of your head, just allows the oppressors to take an even tighter grip, and you're powerless to stop them!
What we need is a serious, intelligent, coordinated movement putting forward rational proposals for how we change society for our children, and their children. Much more emphasis on the human need for family and community, belonging to something. Education and science and the arts embraced for their own sake, for this is how we enrich society and give our lives meaning. Less expectation for the individual to cope alone with stresses, such as illness, loneliness and financial worry. Supporting the vulnerable and helping them to achieve a fulfilling existence, for when we cast out the needy, that impacts on the whole of society.
Encouraging tolerance and respect and allowing people to express themselves as individuals, building an inclusive society, and if that involves taking your clothes off in a muddy field, as long as you're not harming anyone else in the process, well, so be it!
Russell Brand has today, written a compelling follow-up piece to the Newsnight interview, for the Guardian. You can read it here...