I’m tempted to blog on the many people who are suddenly concerned for the welfare of Sinn Féin and that it should have a good leader, but I think instead I’ll write about Russell Brand. I remember not too long ago, my students had the laugh of their lives when I overheard them talking about Russell Brand and confused him with the chubby little astrologer Russell Grant. I also remember with some pleasure a woman who, on air, told me I was “a very, very rude and stupid man!” , as though the two go together like bacon and eggs or Peter Robinson and Clontibret. You can be rude without being stupid and you can be stupid without being rude. Russell Brand is sometimes very rude but is far from stupid. Jeremy Paxman got it totally wrong when he told him “You are a very trivial man”.
Brand has drawn my attention because he has an article in yesterday’s Guardian where he defends his dismissal of British politics in the Paxman interview. “As long as the priorities of those in government remain the interests of big business, rather than the people they were elected to serve, the impact of voting is negligible and it is our responsibility to be more active if we want real change.”
As he says himself, there’s nothing original about that. We all know that if Labour or the Conservatives are in power in Britain, it won’t change the established way of doing things: the rich will stay rich, the poor poor, and wars will be fought in the interests of keeping things that way. The same goes for the US: did you really notice huge differences during Bush’s and Obama’s tenure? For example, did the proportion of Afro-Americans in prison or poverty change under Obama? And of course the suggestion that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail might someday merge makes perfect sense. It’s nearly one hundred years since they had a serious difference.
And here in the north? Well, there is one clear demarcation line and that’s the constitutional question. Sinn Féin (north and south) would argue that it’s also concerned with social justice and equality but its achievements in that field aren’t exactly revolutionary. There may be all sorts of reasons why they’re not, but they’re undeniably not.
Brand’s suggested strategy is to not vote, so with-holding consent and bringing about The Revolution. I think that’s probably naive and simplistic. But he is right in that we’re fools if we believe that marking a ballot paper every four or five years is what democracy is about. It took a funny man to push that notion into the British public consciousness. We should be grateful if he’s done the same for us.