Russell Brand- A Revolution?

Russell Brand has seemingly changed professions in recent weeks. From comedian to thinker. Russell Brand’s book ‘Revolution’ has been published, and has rattled the status quo. Russell Brand’s appearances on Newsnight and the Radio 4 have generated a considerable amount on news copy. Whether or not you agree with Russell Brand, or feel that his book has the answers. It certainly raises some interesting points that link to the democracy topic in Unit 1.

Russell Brand’s central point is that politicians are disengaged from the wants and needs of ordinary people in the UK, particularly the young. This is born out by the voting figures for young people. In 2010 only 44% of 18-24 year olds voted, while only 55% of 25-34 year olds went to the polls. These groups account for 20% of the population (some 9 million people) Brand would suggest that these people don’t vote because they don’t have anyone to vote for. While this might be the case the undercurrent that not voting is somehow a solution is less convincing.

Pensioners account for 16.6% of the population, in 2010 76% of over 65s went to the polls. According to a recent poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft pensioners overwhelmingly voted Conservative. If you examine coalition policy you will see that their loyalty and participation has been rewarded. George Osborne has proposed £12bn in welfare cuts. However not a penny of these cuts will come from the £83.4bn the government spends per annum on pensions. Pensions account for over half of the £ welfare bill. In contrast the £5.3bn currently spent by the government on Job Seekers Allowance (a benefit overwhelmingly utilised by 16- 24 year olds) is going to be cut, with 18-21 year olds (without children) only being able to claim the benefit for a maximum of 6 months. It is clear if you look at these statistics that it pays to vote. The wants and needs of younger members of society can be ignored by political parties because they are not electorally useful, because they don’t vote. 18-34 year olds are more progressive than older members of society and more open to change, Lord Ashcroft’s poll revealed that 28% of 18- 24 year olds and 14% of 25-34 year olds would vote Green. If 18-34 year olds had voted at the same rate as pensioners in 2010 it is unlikely David Cameron would be PM. However, the reluctance to vote amongst younger age groups does not mean that they don’t participate. It is these groups that dominate the political activism of social media and constitute the largest numbers of participants in protests.

On Radio 4’s ‘Start the Week’ programme Russell Brand was interviewed alongside the founder of the 38 degrees petition website. Petitions have been a recognised form of democratic participation since the Middle Ages, however the advent of the internet has revolutionised the ease and speed at which petitions can be gathered and delivered to those in power. As well as being a means of participation, petitions can also be a tactic of pressure group activity.

38 degrees has come under criticism, for being issue driven and encouraging the fragmentation of British politics, working against the notion of interest aggregation promoted by the oligarchy of parties. It has also been criticised by MPs who complain that 38 degree e- mail bombs, clog up their inboxes and generate vast amounts of work for staff.  However, 38 degrees will claim the credit for significant policy changes such as the u- turn on the sale of forests by the coalition in 2011.

Finally this week saw the second reading of the Recall Bill in Parliament. The Bill currently states that an MP can be subjected to recall if 20% of his or her electorate desire it. However this mechanism can only be triggered if the MP has been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to 12 months or more in prison or they have been suspended for 21 days or more from the House of Commons. It is estimated that 90% of MPs oppose recall in any terms. However, many believe that an effective mechanism of recall would improve accountability of MPs and restore partial sovereignty to the people in the interval between general elections.



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