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I agree with much of Russell Brand’s analysis of the problems of our society.  His critique of consumerism in particular has been more impactful than any other prominent social commentator has been capable of.

However, I believe it is important he reconsider his position on voting, and commits publicly to take part in the next General Election in May 2015.

This matters because Russell Brand has influence, and has a point.  But he risks influencing others in a way that undermines the change he wishes to see.  If he changes his mind, he could be part of achieving significant and necessary reform in British politics.  If he continues as he is, he will in practice undermine that change. 

For further commentary, see this great article by Nafeez Ahmed of the Institute for Policy Research & Development.

Dear Russell

Please reconsider your stance on voting and act positively for change by making a public commitment to taking part in the 2015 General Election.

Why?

First, I appeal to your sense of the importance of something other than consumerism.  Our most basic opportunity to participate in society beyond shopping is by voting.  So if we do not vote, all we are is consumers.  That seems to be the thing you hate most.  But by not voting, you are actually supporting the shift to unmitigated consumerism.

Second, think about what might happen if you remain committed to not voting.

Either everyone will ignore you, or people who think like you and are influenced by your analysis will also not vote.

In the first circumstance, your stance will clearly achieve nothing in changing society.  You seem to consider this equivalent to voting anyway, so I understand that this may not prove a persuasive argument to vote.

But consider the second.  At very most, this will reduce voter participation at the next General Election by a further 5% from where it is now – to something like 60%.  This will still be sufficient to be considered a validation of whatever government is elected.  It will not trigger revolution.

In fact, because those who think the same as you have been silent, it is highly likely that those who do vote will hold very different values, as this very smart campaign from the Ministry of Sound illustrated back in 1996.  You will accentuate their impact on our government, cementing the very authority you seek to undermine.

Now, finally, think about what you could do if you commit to taking part.

You could stand yourself as an independent.  Or you might find you agree with the policies of one of the smaller parties who are actively promoting reform and seem to share many of your values, like the Greens.  Or you could campaign for a ‘none of the above’ option on the election ballot, or even stand as a ‘none of the above’ candidate, as suggested by this petition.

All of these options are available to you at the next election.

If you and all those who agree with you fail to take part at all, no one will be able to tell exactly what you think.  There will be no official record of your stance.  At best, you will as a group be perceived, not as revolutionaries, but as lazy, uninvolved and disorganised.  More likely, you will be invisible.  It has happened before.

By contrast, if you stand, or campaign for and subsequently vote for a smaller party or a ‘none of the above’ option, and many people join you, you will have created a mass voice for genuine change.  You will have used the system to speak against itself.  You will be loud and active in pursuit of change.

Of course, you might discover your influence is not so great. Many would have us believe that is what you are scared of – that you are all mouth.

I want to believe you are a genuine agent of change. But to be that, you need to commit publicly to taking an active role. Otherwise, you need to get out of the way.

Yours in hope

Jon Alexander

One thought on “An open letter to Russell Brand

  1. Thanks for this Jon. Made me challenge my own reactions to the newsnight episode. I did agree with much of what he said, and found it refreshing to hear someone go after the system so openly.
    It does feel a bit childish not to vote, and it got me thinking that not voting and yet paying tax seems like a really weird thing to do. Sure it is an active choice not to vote, although it is not being registered that way in the system. The ideas you point out seem a bunch better way, ‘not to vote’.
    Left me thinking that it is sort of like eating food that you never ordered or knew what was in it. By not voting, you still have to pay tax, you are still participating in the system, you are actually making it easier for them to continue what they are doing if you just do not show up. The more courageous thing to do is to show up, it is to participate, to challenge.
    Fun times ahead, would love to believe we are on the edge of a revolution.

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