A response to Russell Brand: Five ways that voting does make a difference

Democracy is irrelevant and the impact of voting is negligible, according to Russell Brand.

Democracy is irrelevant and the impact of voting is negligible, according to Russell Brand. Much more important, he writes, is that there are ‘Men and women strong enough to defy the system and live according to higher laws.’

If this is all a bit Mussolini for you, then I have some good news: voting can and does change things and there is no need to rely on the power of ‘strong men and women’ and ‘higher laws’.

Here are just five reasons why voting is so important. I’m sure you can think of more.

1. It kept the far-right out

In 2004, the British National Party narrowly missed out on a seat in the London Assembly, losing by just a handful of votes. In 2008, the party also came close to winning council seats in Amber Valley where the party lost by just a single vote.

Considering the fact that Russell Brand has spent some time around the BNP for his documentary Nazi Boy, it’s strange that he doesn’t recognise how crucial voting has been in keeping the fascists out.

2. It made possible the creation of the National Health Service

Believe it or not, the Attlee government of 1945 to 1951 had to win an election in order to carry out its sweeping social reforms such as the creation of the NHS. At the risk of stating the obvious, Labour secured a 393 seats majority in the House of Commons because people actually went out and bothered to vote.

There was plenty of ‘revolution’ in Russia at the time of course if that was your thing, where millions of people were being murdered by Stalin and the Bolsheviks; but the welfare state was created by compromise and lots of boring meetings. Oh, and by voting.

3. It kept Labour in power between 1997 and 2010

It has become incredibly fashionable in recent years to sneer at the last Labour government. Like most forms of cynicism, however, this depends on a certain amount of detachment from the consequences of apathy. To put it bluntly, Russell Brand has a $2 million dollar mansion in the Hollywood Hills; it therefore makes very little difference to him whether there is a minimum wage or not or whether there are free prescriptions for people undergoing treatment for cancer.

This is not to say that wealthy people don’t often care about such things; but ultimately they do have the option of not caring, whereas poor people don’t. This is why celebrity cynicism should be taken with a pinch of white powder.

4. Young people get a raw deal from politics precisely because they don’t vote

Russell Brand has been commended by many for connecting with young people who get a raw deal from the political establishment. And I would agree, today’s young people do seem to have a hard time of it compared to older relatives. There is no longer any such thing as a job for life, a university education incurs massive debts, and for most young people buying a home is a pipe dream.

You can be sure, however, that the government and the opposition will court the so-called grey vote far more assiduously than young people as we approach the 2015 General Election. And the rational for doing so is simple: older people are far more likely to turn out to vote than younger people. Getting young people engaged in politics and voting would do far more to change this than encouraging them to become even more apathetic than they already are.

5. If you don’t believe in voting, what do you believe in?

While it may be enough on the celebrity circuit to rally against ‘the regime’ and lazily call for ‘revolution’, if you appear on programmes like Newsnight and in the pages of the Guardian you should expect to have to expand on what it is that you want.

Brand puts his faith in ‘Men and women strong enough to defy the system and live according to higher laws.’ But what ‘higher laws’? and who makes such ‘laws’? When he calls for ‘socialist equality’ what does he mean? Absolute equality secured by extreme force, or a reduction in inequality? If it’s the latter, then that is a view I share, which is why I will vote for a candidate at the next election who proposes that. If it’s the former, North Korea is supposed to be very nice at this time of year.

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88 Responses to “A response to Russell Brand: Five ways that voting does make a difference”

  1. uglyfatbloke

    Since we don’t have a democratic electoral; system voting does n’t make as much difference as it ought. It should not be possible to get a majority of seats unless a party gets a majority of votes. Under our system most seats are pretty safe and elections are decided by a relatively small number of swing constituencies.

  2. Rick Curtis

    They do that anyway, both to voters and non-voters alike. For the former it’s called patronising, the latter, alienating.

  3. blarg1987

    The problem we have is that the reason political parties arebroadly the same is for the following reason:

    All major parties have their core voters, these are people who will vote for them no matter what. The problem for these parties is what is classed as the swing voter, these are the people the boig political parties ned to win elections.

    Unfortunately the big political parties have policies that cater for the swing voter and so we end up with very simular policies from the major parties.

    What needs to happen and people need to appreciate is that there is a large demographic of people who can make a difference but fail to realise their potential, all they have to do is vote.

    This will destroy the swing voter system as you can’t please everybody and force the political parties to either go back to their core party principles, or adapt their policies to cater for thislarge increase in voting turnout.

    Even if people vote for parties that do not win, people will force policies to change. e.g. if the party that voted for keeping a hopital open came second in a local election, the goverment are likely to keep it open or face defeat in that area.

    We all need to do our bit and encourage every person to vote, challange negative views and only then can we make a better society.

    Look forward to people’s feedback 🙂

  4. james

    I’m voting and I’m voting left unity at the next election

  5. Alec

    Yes they can and do (Brand’s setting himself as a vanguardist to decide what’s right for the rest of us springs to mind), but passively accepting it only gives them licence to carry-on (Brand’s instructing people not to vote springs to mind).


  6. Noah Smith

    Hedonistic celebrity flirts with fascism. I think Russell’s going through his “Thin White Duke” stage.

  7. robertcp

    We might have had a Tory majority government if people had not voted tactically for the Lib Dems in Con-Lib marginals.

  8. robertcp

    So vote for someone else next time. That is how democracy works.

  9. robertcp

    Yes, Reeves’ comments were pretty awful. Vote for the Greens or someone on the left if you cannot face voting Labour.

  10. robertcp

    Yes, FPTP is an awful system but people voted to keep it in 2011.

  11. robertcp

    I agree. Ignore my earlier post!

  12. Bob Jamieson

    1. The Lib-Tory government comes very close to fascism…find the weakest groups in society and blame them for the failure of political systems. 2. The current government is in the process of the dissolution of the NHS. 3. The last Labour government was a pale pink version of Thatcherism, and it`s support for capitalism and consumerism led directly to the current economic situation. 4. Young people don`t vote precisely because they are given a raw deal by politics. 5. To break the current system by peaceful means is a difficult problem, but voting for the status quo is not the answer; but if the status quo is not broken the end results may not be peaceful…that is why we need to find another way. Right on Russell…and there are people trying- Anonymous, Occupy…just not getting media coverage…I wonder why? Crapitilism.

  13. tim

    i think it is a closer representation to the fact that whoever you vote for is irrellevant due to Govt’s constantly fighting wars for corporate profit, the illusion you are voting for a particular party when all they do is line their own pockets. The system has failed it is outdated and based on ideaology from 400 ish years ago. We are still slaves to the elite and when they throw a bone they call it democracy. the sooner this is replaced with equal representation full allowances of all to vote not just the electoral role scam will it be better

  14. simon

    what then of voting for a party based on its manifesto, which almost always invariably is a flying unicorn, a pipe dream and a pure fantasy concocted in order to garner votes, with no intention whatsoever of delivering?
    how many times has the old nugget ‘due to the damage left by the previous government’ been used?
    everytime suckers, everytime.
    you vote then you give legitimacy to robber barons, you dont vote and you give no legitimacy and they then have no right to be there, robbing

  15. johnfwoods

    Russell Brand started off poor and is now a multi-millionaire. Can you get him to tell us how he did it.

  16. Alex Webster

    The Iraq War means I can’t vote Labour. Sorry to be reductive, but there you are. I can’t vote Tory or Lib Dems either, so that leaves me with a choice. Either I forget that the Labour Government, many of whom are still MPs, was complicit in the death of between 625,000 and 1m Iraqi civilians, and vote for the lesser of three evils; or I don’t vote.

  17. Tim Holmes

    I vote myself, and strongly encourage others to do so. However:

    1. “Absolute equality” is not “enforced” in North Korea. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality

    2. You compare Brand to Mussolini, and condemn “sneering” at New Labour. But it was New Labour, not Brand, who committed the supreme international crime – aggression – for which Nazi war criminals were hanged at Nuremberg.

    3. Brand has repeatedly made clear he is advocating non-violent civil disobedience. So when you refer to Stalin, the Bolsheviks and North Korea, you egregiously misrepresent him.

    4. You yourself called for “men and women strong enough to defy the system and live according to higher laws” when you advocated the bombing of Syria. http://www.leftfootforward.org/2013/08/syria-politicians-should-act-as-leaders-not-try-to-be-lawyers/

    So if Brand’s “a bit Mussolini” when he demands a pacifist revolution in consciousness, what exactly are you, when you demand violence against other countries?

  18. Mr Spock

    tell that to the people in Brighton, they wont be voting Green again in a hurry.
    If you dont vote Labour, even if you’re not voting you’re voting Tory, every vote not cast for Labour keeps the Tories in.
    read this http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/02/labour-spending-worked-blair-brown-stealth

  19. Slithy

    I believe that we should adopt a system like Australia, where it is mandatory to vote & you will be fined if you don’t. You can always spoil your ballot paper if you don’t like any of the candidates. Too many people died getting you the vote for you to sit on your backside because you’re too lazy to get to the polling station. That being said, since John Smith died & that other person became leader, it has been a bit like the old joke, “no matter who you vote for, the government always get in”.

  20. Dominic Tristram

    The ‘people of Brighton’ have arguably the best MP in the Commons. Caroline Lucas has done more for the average person in this country, and the Left, than Labour has in the last 20 years.

    Where are Labour on renationalising rail? Making a Living Wage mandatory? Properly taxing the rich?

    No, anyone who cares about social justice needs to vote Green. Labour are just another Tory-lite bunch of neoliberals.

  21. Dominic Tristram

    And voting for a party that actually will make a difference – the Greens.

  22. Dominic Tristram

    A strong vote for a left-wing party will, even if it doesn’t result in victory, shift the other parties to the left, especially in that constituency. This is why some Tories stand on a very Right-wing rhetoric while others (such as where I live, which is very liberal) are more liberal.

    Tactical voting has got us to this sorry state. If everyone just voted for who they really wanted then we’d have a more left-leaning government right now.

  23. Dominic Tristram

    So what have the Greens done that meant they don’t get your vote? They want to improve funding for all of the things you mention.

    There is always an option. If you don’t vote the current lot will just win again.

  24. Dominic Tristram

    The Greens can get more MPs if everyone who wants to vote for them does so. Even if you live somewhere you don’t think they can win, a vote for them shows what you want. It’s always worth it.

  25. robertcp

    Maybe. All I am saying is that people should vote. I don’t care who they vote for! I will be voting Labour in 2015 as it happens.

  26. Asteri

    The fake outrage over Russell Brand could better be described as “rich, overly privileged, sexualy deviant celebrities, attack a rich, overly privileged, sexually deviant celebrity.’

    You do not have to like Brand ( I used to hate him, but I have since warmed to him) but what he says has obviously touched a nerve to such an extent that ‘progressives’ are provoked into rushing to defend a clearly decaying and feeble political system.

  27. Mr Spock

    you tell yourself that every time another person commits suicide after their disability benefits has been taken away, tell the hundreds of thousand of UK kids plunged back into poverty after the last labour government lifted them out of it, tell the many thousands of pensioners freezing because their winter fuel allowances have been cut tell the people who have lost their jobs, tell the people demonised by the Tories, tell them all that your opinion counts more than them.

  28. Mr Spock

    Tory MP/Liberal MP same thing, theyre in coalition so sorry that one doesnt work

  29. Mr Spock

    oh yeah, she was responsible for raising over 2 million from poverty between 1997 and 2010 wasnt she, she was responsible for the minimum wage, the ESA, the help pensioners have been getting with fuel payments, rebuilding the health and education systems after the last Tory Government wrecked them. Just what is it you think she has done other than say the right things? And why then will the Greens be wiped out on Brighton council? on properly taxing the rich, well Labour made the tax system a hell of a lot more complicated trying to plug the loopholes they use, they introduced the higher rate of Tax that the Tories just reduced, taxing the rich properly will always be about fighting a losing battle because they have the resources to find ways out of tax, but at least Labour did actually try rather than talk. and as for renationalisation, they always have said that those are aspirations that they have but cant afford because they had to spend the money on more important things like fixing the schools and the hospitals and dealing with poverty and social exclusion. But whats the point, I could prove the point a million times over and all Id get is lalala Im not listening from those who let the Tories in because they’d rather say all the right things and do nothing than make the tough choices and actually make a difference for the worst imapcted members of our society.

  30. Mr Spock

    You sound just like the Liberals did a few years ago voting green just lets the Tories in

  31. Dominic Tristram

    ‘Saying all the right things’ and doing them, such as introducing a bill to renationalise the railways. Labour could have supported it. Why didn’t they? Because they are all talk, while Greens are actually trying to do something.

    Labour, neocon warmongers. “Not quite as bad as the Tories” isn’t much of a boast, is it?

    If anyone is ‘letting the Tories in’ it’s Labour by really being almost the same.

  32. Dominic Tristram

    The best reason Labour can give for asking people not to vote for who they actually want is that it will let someone else in? I think that tells you all you need to know about your supposedly ‘left wing’ party.

  33. robertcp

    Voters that agree with you will vote accordingly in 2015, although I still think that a Lib Dem MP is better than a Tory MP. In an extreme case, I would vote for a Tory to keep out a fascist.

  34. jackanded

    You could presumably vote Green?

  35. Chommers

    What a load of guff. Brand means by not voting as a clear majority, we can render the current political system obsolete, and thus create a new one on more directly democratic principles. Mussolini? North Korea? Why perpetuate the myth the only alternative to the state capitalist paradigm is a centralised authoritarian nightmare? This kind of blinkered, patronising dross permeates the attitude that makes people pine for something more radical. People like what Brand is saying because he is delievering to a mass audience what they’ve been thinking a long time, but never gets air time because it’ll ruffle the feathers of the status quo- more to the point, it shows a real lack of imagination by those apologists of the current order. Like when Peter Hitchens descirbes an alternative to capitalism as “an alternative to weather”

  36. John P Randles


  37. clivegsd

    Sorry but I would not vote for a party that is founded on biased science and would tax people even more for their vanity projects.

  38. Dominic Tristram

    What ‘biased science’ is that, then? Are you one of those that think climate change is somehow not happening? Well, I have news for you – that’s *actual* science, my friend.

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