Russell Brand. Now there’s a name to divide opinion. Controversy is never very far away from his views and exploits.
It would seem that, amongst other activities, Mr Brand is currently advising young people that they should not vote in political elections. He seems to believe that this is an effective way of protesting against the establishment and bringing revolution to the British state.
But, hang on. Surely it is a fact that the only way that specific and long-term change can occur within the UK is through the time-honoured process of parliamentary elections – even though that process has no cast-iron guarantees (just ask the Scots!). The UK has not had a revolution; even the 17th century English Civil War was a joust between those who held the power in the land. It was a band aid on a gaping tear in the social and political fabric of English society.
The history of the British Isles, particularly that part called England, has been one of conflict between powerful people – hardly those, it seems, whom Russell Brand wishes to champion.
As popularly impressive as it may be, a problem with Russell Brand’s message is that he preaches against a process that is more likely than most to bring about the changes he would wish to see in this country. It is perhaps stating the obvious that it is young people, and not only those at university, who potentially hold a key position in the British voting system.
It is also prudent to consider that there would be a significant number of younger people within British society who are quite content with the existing state of things, those who have no thought of revolution in the sense suggested by Mr Brand. Like them, or not; agree with them, or not, these views also deserve to be heard and debated.
Russell’s brand is not to everybody’s liking. It seems to me that further diagnosis is required before acting on the prognosis favoured by Mr Brand.
(One aspect of this further diagnosis would be to consider that it is almost certain that it is the consistent voting practice and power of the aged citizens of our nation that ensures that successive governments rarely, if ever, do anything to arouse the ire of this section of the citizenry)
So, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, has called on the British government to ensure that there is an extension of food bank provision in the UK. This seems to be a call to treat symptoms rather than the disease.
The disease is that which is brought about by poverty and inequality amongst the citizens of the land. The disease is called powerlessness. Food banks are a symptom of this disease, whether or not the provision of food outlets is adequate for the times, the fact of their existence is an affront to every fair-minded person. Therefore, the Archbishop’s obviously genuine and sincere call for more investment in this provision, though well-meaning, also seems insufficient – if not misplaced.
Whilst I am well aware that there are individuals within the British church in general whose diagnosis accords with mine, the Archbishop’s plea for greater provision of food banks is another example, to change the metaphor, of putting a band aid on an wound that requires major surgery. There is an urgent need for a fundamental change in the political, economic and social governance of the UK. (Part of this change is a serious critique of the system of welfare provision and its delivery, the direction in which the Archbishop now seems to be moving).
What is required is a form of governance that puts people above profits and financial surpluses; a practice of government that puts integrity at the heart of the political process; a political process that ensures that all voices are heard and opinions have meaning; a social system that is more akin to a circle than a straight line.
Band aids of the kinds suggested by Justin Welby and Russell Brand are simply not the complete answer. It is only when governance in the UK serves the well-being of all the people who live in the land that power will return to the people. This is not a political slogan of some quasi-Marxist kind; it is the reality behind the ideals of the system of the democracy under which this nation is supposed to be governed.
The time for jousting with a few windmills is gone. It is time for their demolition.
Memories are instructive.
Several years before retiring as a schoolteacher, I took a group of Sixth Form students to a London conference on A Level Philosophy and Ethics. As we alighted from the train at Euston station, our group was attracted to a commotion on one of the inter-city line platforms. Being a naturally inquisitive group (philosophy and all that) we wandered across to the relevant platform to see what was going on.
At the centre of a number of media cameras and reporters stood Bob Geldof, enunciating his latest exploit as a pop entrepreneur and giving the privilege group of media people some insights into his private life. What else one might ask? One member of our group, obviously a Geldof admirer, wandered a little too close to the media circus – just at the moment his mobile phone inadvertently rang. He was promptly set on by the man himself. I do not remember the exact sequence of words uttered by an interrupted and clearly very angry Bob Geldof, but I do recall that the words themselves, although being most instructive, were not very choice and contained some words I would refrain from using in an article such as this.
In short, my student, a rather shy and retiring lad of 17, was thoroughly demoralised in receiving, in no uncertain terms, his marching orders. Clearly shaken, the student was somewhat dumbfounded at his treatment. Whether he remained a Bob Geldof fan is a moot point, but I feel sure that, following his experience, his focus on the day’s conference would have been less than philosophical as he contemplated Geldof’s ethics.
I recalled this happening as I recently watched the TV footage and listened to the media hype surrounding the latest reincarnation of Band Aid’s rendition of “Do They Know Its Christmas?”
The reader will recall that Band Aid is a charity supergroup featuring mainly British and Irish musicians and recording artists. It was founded in 1984 by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia. The main effort was releasing the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” on the Christmas market that year. The song was released in late November of 1984 and the single surpassed the hopes of the producers to become the Christmas number one on that release.
On 7 November, 2014, it was announced that a new version of the song would be recorded by artists under the name of “Band Aid 30”. The fund-raising focus this time is on the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Once again, Bob Geldof is organising and personally advertising the effort and he has been doing the rounds of the media studios – not always as a model of propriety, but, there again! Television appearances have been supported by multiple pages in the more popular newspapers and magazines.
Coverage of the latest version of the song has not been without criticism, not least for continuing its negative portrayal of the African continent. So too, the name of the song is less appealing and more controversial than it was thirty years ago (for instance, the patronising lyrics and westernised philosophy). Geldof has rejected criticism of Band Aid and its participants out of hand, telling one news channel the dissenting voices were “talking bollocks”. He has urged people to buy the recording “whether you like it or not” – so much for personal choice and the fact that there are other fund-raising campaigns underway on behalf of the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
Whether he is on radio, television or railway station platforms, it would seem that Bob Geldof needs to listen to himself as much as to the words of the song he champions.
Whilst an impressive amount of money has been raised through the Band Aid concerts – money that will be appreciated by those whom it aids – the name of the enterprise itself betrays its limitation. Band Aid!