We were a little taken aback this week to see that Russell Brand came 4th in Prospect Magazine’s list of top world thinkers.
The revelation took some getting over, and quite a bit of anaesthetic, so today’s missive is several days late. We apologize.
We began our research by investigating this list of thinkers a little further. Perhaps we would find ourselves on it. After all, we’ve written two books for which we did a great deal of thinking. But our name was not there.
In first place, stands Thomas Piketty, hero of the Guardian. In second, the coolest dude in finance (present company excepted) libertarian Marxist, Yanis Varoufakis, hero of the Guardian. In third, green-energy-blah-blah Naomi Klein, heroin of the Guardian. You get the point.
After Brand, in 5th, we have left-wing, economic wind-up merchant, Paul Krugman.
Where are the anarchists?
The problem we have with the Pikettys, the Kleins, the Brands and the Krugmans is that, despite their talk of change or reform, they are all calling for more government of one kind or another.
Regulate this, clamp down on that, subsidize this, tax that. There is nothing new or radical about ‘more government’. No matter what form ‘more government’ takes, it just leads to the same old stuff that is so frustrating everybody.
The more government, you have the more inequality (Piketty). The more government you have, the more unpayable debt (Varoufakis). The more government you have, the more environmental waste and the more corporatism (Klein). The more government you have, the more bollocks (Brand). The more government you have, the more booms, busts and wealth concentration, rather than distribution (Krugman).
We are of the mind that government, no matter what creed, is the problem.
‘So what is this Prospect magazine anyway?’, we wondered. We had never heard of it.
We delved deeper and looked it up, at which point we realized they commissioned an article from us last year and then dicked us around massively.
So … to Russell Brand
We admire Russell Brand – the amazing gift for self-promotion, the fearlessness, bravura and lack of inhibition, the knack of articulating the zeitgeist. We are, I suppose, a little jealous of Russell Brand – the fame, the wealth, the hedonism (We have always quite fancied Kate Moss).
We admire his showmanship, though we do not find his comedy particularly funny. It does not make us laugh in the way that Lee Mack, Tim Vine, Mickey Flanagan or Al Murray do.
And, unlike most ‘thinkers’, he is not someone we would rush to have over to dinner, as we suspect there is something of the sociopath to the man. As a rule, we try to keep sociopaths out of the house.
We did once meet him (at a workshop for budding sitcom writers) and a couple of years ago we tried to meet him again.
Shortly after the Paxman interview, when the new activist Brand was incarnated, we could see that his star was on the rise. We could also see that his ‘thinking’ was not properly shaped. We wanted to influence it. We hoped we could draw him away from dark side of deluded Guardian-readerism to the Elysian Fields of classical liberal/anarchist thinking.
We stood by the stage door at the Hammersmith Apollo and we waited, hoping for the chance to put in his hands a copy of our book.
It was not to be. A gentleman of considerably larger stature than our own advised us to move on. He did not buy our line that we were a friend of Russell’s from the comedy circuit days. He had our number.
And so we moved on.
But here’s where Russell Brand is right.
But here’s a thing. We agree with him on the voting issue. We feel you shouldn’t do it.
Our electoral system of so-called representative democracy is neither democratic nor representative.
It entrenches the power of the two major parties. A third of the vote is usually enough to gain them a stranglehold over legislation and the executive. Even the post-war Labour government of 1945, with 48% of the vote, did not have a majority. It took two world wars to break the Liberal-Conservative duopoly. What will it take to break this one?
Smaller parties with popular support that is widely spread go unrepresented, while those with concentrated support gain disproportionate influence.
UKIP could easily win more than 15% of the vote, perhaps half as many votes as Labour or Tory, but just a handful of seats to the major parties’ 300. The SNP could win 46 Westminster seats – 78% of Scotland’s 59 constituencies – with just 43% of the Scottish vote, or 3.7% of the entire British vote. The government and policy of an entire nation could be dictated by a party, which doesn’t even want to be part of that nation, and has less than 4% of the vote. ‘What a lot of bollocks,’ as Russell would say.
Meanwhile, the centralization of policy and candidate selection has diminished the local influence that existed to keep power in check. Increasingly irrelevant, party membership has fallen. Even the influence of the cabinet seems to be waning. Civil servants have been superseded by ‘political advisers’. In all this corporate power (both private and public) has grown stealthily, moulding legislation in its favour. Yet when there is a banking, corporate or public service disaster, nobody is held accountable. And so this gap grows between the governing and the governed.
The problem with democracy as it now works is that the party which offers the most enticing goodies wins. That just leads to more government, when what we need is less. No party that promises to ‘do less’ – whether it’s anarchic or classically liberal in its outlook – can possibly ever win. The incentives are all wrong. And if Prospect’s magazine’s top five thinkers get their way, none of this will change.
Your vote will not change anything. They tell you it will, but it never does. It just gets you more of the same. And, worse, it effectively endorses a system which is broken.
In that regard Russell Brand is right.