Published online here.
An open letter to Russell Brand urging constructive action on democracy
Some well-meaning suggestions for the self-appointed new spokesman for Britian's underserved
I don’t wish to add to the vocal criticism you have received about the views you expressed in your interview with Jeremy Paxman. Instead I'd like to focus on the positive and so I respectfully offer some well-meaning suggestions on how you could use your position as someone with influence, particularly over younger people, to enhance our democratic system.
1) Form a political party / stand for Parliament or as a councillor.
You seem disillusioned with the current political parties, so utilise the long fought for freedom you enjoy to set up a political party and choose its core values (as long as they do not incite hatred or violence). Stand for election at any level either as a candidate of your new party or as an independent. If your ideas gain traction, you will then exert political influence. My party, the Labour Party, was established because the parties of the late 19th century failed to represent ordinary working people. It is now one of the major parties. As UKIP shows, new parties can rise up and change the political weather.
2) Suggest ways in which our democratic system could be improved.
Our system is deficient in many ways and it is incumbent on people who believe things can be better to suggest improvements. Some favour proportional representation; I have advocated that the House of Lords be comprised of 50% Citizen Senators selected by lot as per jury selection. For progress to occur, people of good conscience must move beyond criticising the status quo to setting out a credible alternative.
3) Donate money to charities which seek to engage people in the democratic process, such as Bite the Ballot and the Electoral Reform Society and volunteer your time to reach out to those who don’t vote, especially young people.
Sadly, many in our society, especially younger voters, do not engage with politics. Most are not apathetic about politics, but too many feel disengaged from a political process which they reject as irrelevant to their lives. You could do much to reverse this trend by supporting, both financially and practically, the important work organisations do to engage particularly young people in the political process and educate them about politics.
4) Shadow an MP for a week.
Little is more relevant to our lives than politics and the decisions politicians make. Far from being an out-of-touch elite, MPs sit at the apex of a system which impacts on all of us. You should find out what they do before writing them off. Having worked for several MPs, I know of fewer people who are better plugged in to the concerns of ordinary people, through holding regular surgeries, spending every weekend in their constituencies meeting community groups, responding to hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls each week and fighting hard for constituents locally and nationally. They don’t go into politics for the money and bar a tiny minority, are completely devoted to improving their constituents' lives and making Britain a better place. If you shadowed an MP and reported what you experienced, this would go some way to improving the public's understanding of MPs’ work.
5) Visit a country without universal suffrage, or where democracy is relatively new and report about the attitude of people there to democracy.
In many places in the world people do not enjoy the freedoms we do, being unable to organise themselves into parties, stand for election, or remove a government through peaceful means. They long for and sometimes die for the democratic rights and institutions that so many people in Britain are rejecting or ignoring. It would be illuminating for you to visit these places and report back on your views having considered just what it means to live in the absence of any semblance of democracy.
I respect you for what you do in your various roles as comedian (you are one of the funniest), campaigner (particularly on drugs issues), television presenter (particularly when you charmingly expose bigoted people) and commentator. You have energy, intelligence and a passion for improving society and the human condition. You could channel this to inspire people to take constructive action, not destructive criticism. If you were to do one, or more, of the suggestions above, not only would you silence your increasingly hostile critics, but more importantly, you would help this cause and show younger people in particular that one of the most important tenets of living in a democracy is taking responsibility for using the freedom and democratic structures we enjoy to change society for the better. Freedom that is taken for granted withers and dies.
I chair Pragmatic Radicalism, an organisation run by Labour members in our spare time which holds events using our innovative Top of the Policies format, encouraging ordinary people to pitch policy ideas in 60 seconds, usually chaired by shadow ministers, all in the informal, friendly environment of a pub. We'd be delighted if you'd chair an event on 'Improving British democracy'. Perhaps the Top Policies could be reported in The Independent?
With best wishes,
Chair, Pragmatic Radicalism