Published on November 6, 2013 | by Holly Gilbert & Callum McCarthy


Paxman vs. Brand – did anyone actually win?

Russell Brand has called for an anti-capitalist ‘revolution’ [Image: Russell Brand]

For or Against:

The internet was in a frenzy last week in response to the controversial Paxman/Brand interview on Newsnight. The social media landscape was flooded with clips of Jeremy Paxman, a journalism heavyweight, challenging the political ideas of well-known comedian and wordsmith Russell Brand.

Within Brand’s calls for revolution, he raised this issue of society’s disillusion with politics, highlighting himself as a non-voter.

Does this devalue his political opinion, or should we listen to his passionate plea?

Seeing as writers from The Independent, The Guardian and pretty much the entire blogosphere all had their say, it only felt right for ALN‘s writers to weigh in on the debate.

In this week’s ‘For or Against’, we heard from both our online editor Callum McCarthy and features writer Holly Gilbert. Read their contrasting viewpoints below…

ALN features writer, Holly Gilbert:

Is Russell Brand going to lead us into a revolution?

If you aren’t an avid watcher of Newsnight you probably aren’t very well acquainted with the interviewing tour de force that is Jeremy Paxman; however if you are an avid YouTube fan or have a Facebook profile, odds are you have seen his political tryst with comedian turned actor Russell Brand.

Whether you love or hate him, it cannot be disputed that Brand is self-opinionated, arrogant, supremely intelligent and erudite. Brand’s craving for fame and the desire to be famous is not unusual in our modern culture – it is ‘deeply present and omnipresent in our country’ he told Paxman in a similar interview back in 2010.

But does merely being famous give him the right to call for political revolution?

For many, the fact that he admittedly knows little about politics allows for his every-man stance; his stance ousts economic disparity and detests the destroying of the planet. Such topics, he believes, are “very real” and they drive his passion for change.

He claims that as a society we “enjoy narrative”, and the face of politics has morphed into a projection of the lost grand ideas that religion used to embody for society.

His admission that he has never voted, he insists, comes from the indifference driven by impoverished class systems that have been imposed on the population by an underserving political system.

I would hazard a guess that a large number of the people struggling with austerity would agree with the fact that the current political system is apathetic to the basic social needs of the every-man.

When so many young people have never voted in their lives, I can understand why there is such indifference to the democratic system in Britain. I believe that voting is important despite the dross fed to us by politicians year after year.

This narrative and democratic political system has allowed us to become apathetic to the situation we find ourselves in today, where we have elitist political parties that are merely rich-boys clubs.

Although Brand’s belief in a utopian society run separately from democracy is a little pie-in-the-sky, he did nonetheless present some ideas and theories that will resonate with the British public. He admitted that he doesn’t have all the answers and does not hold the blueprint for an alternative political system.

Like most of us, he is probably a little overwhelmed by the size of the problem. But it is refreshing to see someone challenging the status quo, instead suggesting that radical change and genuine alternatives to the way democracy has shaped in our country are possible and a serious option.

Revolution is a very big and serious word. In no way do I think that the underclasses of this country are going to take to the streets in a French Revolution-style barricade of protest against our political system.

However, I do believe it is important to have people who are very much in the public eye to use their celebrity status to voice their opinions in the way Brand did. No matter how misinformed or facetious, the point is it was heard; it was seen, and it provoked debate.

That is modern democracy.


ALN online editor, Callum McCarthy:

The revolution will not be televised on Newsnight

I don’t dislike Russell Brand. In his own words, he’s here “just to draw attention to a few ideas”. Far worse crimes have been committed.

His plucky performance on Newsnight – in which he ‘defeated’ the BBC suit-and-tie with a fairly tasteless comment about a dead ancestor – brought clouds of cyber-angst to rest over the heads of the establishment. The muted voices of the apathetic majority could finally be heard as one, grumbling at a slightly bemused Jeremy Paxman.

Never mind that Paxman himself has made a career out of grumbling at slightly bemused right-wing politicians, this was a pretty big deal for society, especially social media. Finally, someone was sticking it to ‘the man’ on the BBC.

Within 24 hours of the event it seemed every social network you could name was up for a good old-fashioned battle against the establishment. But as the retweets and shares began to stack up, the streets remained empty and quiet. Still, it was becoming clear: we had a revolution on our hands.

Young people were mobilising their keyboards under the banner of socialist egalitarianism. For one beautiful moment it seemed the ever-widening chasm between the elected and the electorate would finally begin to cave under the weight of awareness.

The sheeple were ‘waking up’.

“Damn straight,” said the nation’s youth, dusting off their Che Guevara merchandise. “We aren’t puttin’ up with this capitalist garbage no more.”

And nor should we. Decimated public services, high unemployment rates and privatised student debt are just a few reasons for young people to fear for their futures.

But what does it say about our generation that, despite these issues being laid out for us by any media outlet worth its salt, it took Russell Brand ranting on Newsnight for anyone to even consider some form of action?

Not that anyone did act, mind you. I mean, do you even give that much of a toss about Brand vs. Paxman any more? We’re all still on board with a savage wealth redistribution programme, aren’t we?

I sure hope so. Because now that Brand has drawn our attention to these ideas, it’s our responsibility to pick up where he left off. And therein lies the problem.

Brand’s stint as guest editor of the New Statesman is now over. His work, however “trivial” it may have been, is done. If, as Brand says, voting can no longer provide our generation with an adequate solution to society’s ills, it seems that continued mass-protest could be our only option to make something happen.

Barring the ill-fated student uprising of 2010 and the glorified smash-a-thon that was the London riots, our generation is as passive as they come. When the call for change rang out we responded by attempting to tweet our way to a left-wing utopia, one ham-fisted hashtag at a time.

As Paxman pointed out on the night, I’m probably not helping by writing this, either. “You’re not going to solve world problems with facetiousness,” he said.

“We’re not going to solve them with the current system,” said Brand. “At least facetiousness is funny.”

“Sometimes,” came the reply.

There’s nothing funny about political apathy in an age of right-wing austerity. But there’s a good laugh in a keyboard revolution that couldn’t even see out the week.


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