While I was way in Poland I bought the New Statesman to read on the plane. I like to buy magazines when I am travelling because I find them easier to dip into than a novel. The reason I chose the New Statesman was because it was trailed in the media because of Russell Brand’s involvement, his editorship on the edition on Revolution. I found it fascinating; loads of articles on the theme of change and revolt across culture. Naomi Klein’s piece on Science was great and mostly went over my head; Rupert Everett’s piece of being gay was superbly written; Gary Lineker’s on football was perfect.
The big thing that got the headlines was Brand’s central manifesto piece (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/10/russell-brand-on-revolution). In it he discusses lyrically about the state of world politics and weaves in the ideas of revolution. The idea that got the headlines and the back chat was his statement “I will never vote and I don’t think you should either”. When I read it, I mostly passed it off and mostly disagreed. In tomorrow’s New Statesman Robert Webb penned his response (http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/10/russell-choosing-vote-most-british-kind-revolution-there) which fantastically answers Brand’s thesis.
The piece that got me thinking even more was when he says:
“But I do think that when you end a piece about politics with the injunction “I will never vote and I don’t think you should either”, then you’re actively telling a lot of people that engagement with our democracy is a bad idea. That just gives politicians the green light to neglect the concerns of young people because they’ve been relieved of the responsibility of courting their vote. “
He is completely correct. I try my hardest sometimes not to be party political with students, it is not my place to sway them, but I will always be political. If students say they will not vote, I will challenge them. If Russell Brand is saying ‘don’t vote’ we lose that battle even more. Politicians ignore young people because they do not vote; if they continue to be ignored they cannot help shape their future. When I first read Brand’s piece I shrugged because of the absurdity of this posturing, having read Webb’s retort, I am upset: Brand is wrong. We must vote and encourage others who ask to consider it themselves.
The other issue that Webb highlights with Brand’s piece is the language (more in an implied manner than explicitly). He says:
“You’re a wonderful talker but on the page you sometimes let your style get ahead of what you actually think. In putting the words “aesthetically” and “disruption” in the same sentence, you come perilously close to saying that violence can be beautiful. Do keep an eye on that. Ambiguity around ambiguity is forgivable in an unpublished poet and expected of an arts student on the pull: for a professional comedian demoting himself to the role of “thinker”, with stadiums full of young people hanging on his every word, it won’t really do.”
I love the way he uses the phrase “do keep and eye on that”. But more than sounding teacherly, he is again right. As an English teacher, Webb’s pieces is so much better written than Brand’s. He is simple and measured where Brand seems like he has eaten a thesaurus and vomited it up on the page. There are terms, references and words in Brand’s piece I don’t fully understand and therein lies the problem. From Brand’s piece the less focused reader (regardless of age or intelligence) it is very easy to pull out the aforementioned sound-bite because it is otherwise so dense. Webb on the other hand is readable from any age. It gives me a lesson idea I am going to explore, compare the way Brand writes to the way Webb does. It will also be interesting to see who the class thinks wins the debate (I have my guess and I think Brand will need to go back to promoting his tour in other ways). Yet in the world of 140 characters, maybe Brand will get the headlines. I don’t see Webb getting the same exposure on Newsnight for his piece (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGxFJ5nL9gg) (but I also know he only wrote one piece and didn’t guess edit).
With young people, we have to be careful what we say. I do believe we need role models in politics that don’t wear grey suits and are called Ed or Dave but at the same time these people do have to be careful what they say.