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Well, the internet is abuzz regarding Russell Brand’s recent interview with heavyweight journo Jeremy Paxman (link here).
Let me begin by saying that I love Russell Brand. I think his comedy is hilarious, his spin-off movie Get Him to the Greek is one of my favourite films, I love how he combines a comically expansive vocabulary with a crude attitude, I love how he’s from a very similar part of the country to myself.
I also love some of his political views - the man speaks a lot of sense on drug policy reform (as a former addict and friend of many other addicts and former addicts including Amy Winehouse), on penal reform and, to a certain extent, on wealth redistribution.
But I do not love the views he put forth in his interview with Paxo. In particular, when he says that young people shouldn’t vote, I felt a shiver down my spine. I’m a 21-year-old trying desperately to get all my friends and family to vote, regardless of who they vote for. The UK has some of the lowest voting turnouts in western Europe - how anybody could see that as anything than a national scandal is beyond me. If Russell Brand really thinks that convincing a handful of impressionable young people not to vote will lead to some kind of revolution - he’s mad. Young people already don’t vote much, and consequentially, we see Governments that don’t care all that much what young people think of them. Compare this to elderly people, who do tend to vote pretty consistently - and Government after Government is absolutely petrified of pissing off the ‘grey vote’, eg by cutting pensions.
Russell Brand - intelligent, thoughtful, hilarious, but wrong.
Secondly, his assertions that nothing productive comes out of the current political establishment is hugely patronising and dismissive of people (such as, I’d like to think, myself) who put a lot of time and effort into using the existing political system to make the world a better place. Many of the things that Russell Brand believes in, politically, the Liberal Democrats believe in. While I’m not quite saying that he should go and join the Lib Dems, I don’t doubt that a certain laziness on his behalf has prevented him from examining everything that is going on in the political world. Seriously, a lot of people work very, very hard to improve things and every now and then, they succeed. It’s hardly fair to them to completely ignore them and wave off the whole system as rotten.
Yes, our current political system is outdated and needs a lot of work - but not voting isn’t the answer. A vague call for a revolution isn’t the answer. Increased awareness, passion and participation is the answer. So Russ, thank you for talking about politics and making young people listen. But don’t ever tell them not to care, because that’s the problem, not the solution.
Recently, in several unconnected incidents, I’ve heard people discussing what it means to be English. Footballer Jack Wilshere has upset more than a few people by declaring that only English players should play for England. That sentence sounds like perfect sense at first, but the context that he used it in was in the case of a British (English) citizen who moved to this country as an adult.
In the eyes of the law, Britishness and Englishness are something that any human can attain. Not everybody sees it that way, though. Some people claim that you have to be born in this country to be English. That’s bonkers, at best. My brother was born on a family trip to the United States. Is anyone really going to try to tell me that makes him less English?
I have some sympathy with Wilshere’s position (not a lot). In the footballing world, where the clear majority of Premiership players are not English, there’s a certain home-grown charm and pride in your national team (even if they are a bit rubbish). Seeing a team full of players that were all different nationalities six years ago might well feel like it was diluting the principle of the national contest. But ultimately, it’s not about where you live or where you’re born. I could go live in any country in the world and I’d remain British and English, even if I became a citizen of that nation. Englishness (along with Scottishness, Irishness and Welshness) is more of a culture than a nationality. You expect the players in the England team to feel a certain way about their country, to want to win for more than money and personal glory. But you can’t measure feeling, there are no units of patriotism and any attempts to quantify nationality have been a litte… Let’s call it Norman Tebbit-ish.
Go home, Jack
One thing I know for sure though, is that foreign-born British people are no less British by definition than any other. Mo Farah is a man the whole country can take pride in - he could have stayed in or gone back to Somalia if he’d wanted to, but he didn’t. He wanted to live in Britain, to represent Britain at the very highest levels. If you ask me, that makes him very British - he’s not British by birth, he’s British by choice. Is there anything more patriotic?