Russell Brand on voting | Halloween festivities

Russell Brand is guest editor for The New Statesmen and he’s written a surprisingly good essay about, what exactly is hard to say, but I would say it’s a sort of Russell Brand philosophy of everything. You can read it here – Russell Brand on revolution. It is very long but well worth reading. Here’s the BBC interview with him that goes with it:

Russell Brand has never voted. This is not because he’s apathetic, according to him, but because he feels disenchanted by the choices available. I feel the same way. I always vote, but this is only because I don’t want the suffragettes turning in their graves. They did, after all, fight very hard in order that I can vote today. Somehow I feel that my inability to decide who to vote for is akin to the dilemma of deciding what to wear each day and that is seriously disparaging of the vision the suffragettes fought for.

But is not voting at all any worse than voting for someone different each time because this is what I do. I have never voted for the same party in two consecutive elections. What does this say about me? Some people might say that I am fickle and they are probably right to a certain degree but I also think I just feel disenchanted with every politician I have voted for.

I have said before that I am not of any political persuasion and this is true. Russell quotes someone in his essay, “The right seeks converts and the left seeks traitors.” He also describes the left as not fun and way too serious. They preach from a pedestal of moral superiority which is vomit-inducing at best. But the right is so self-serving and uncompassionate and rather lax on environmental issues. So what’s a person to do?

I guess one solution is to cast a donkey vote. This is a deliberate stuff-up of your vote so that it ends up being invalidated and not counted. But the best solution would be if we could just have someone decent to vote for. Or, as Russell Brand might put it, first and foremost I just want someone fucking decent to vote for. Is that really too much to ask?


On other matters, I am a bad mother. It was a special dress-up Halloween day at school today and I forgot to organise a costume for Daniel. There were tears at the gate and, “why didn’t you get me a costume” accusations. Every other child was dressed up. All of the teachers were dressed up.

It wasn’t so much that I forgot but that I didn’t realise how much of a big deal the Halloween festivities were going to be. I reluctantly carved teeth and eyes into a pumpkin and we filled up bags of lollies and took them in earlier in the week but the costume bit I just glossed over because we don’t have any costumes here. Halloween is also not something we have ever celebrated. Why do people want to go knocking on the doors of strangers asking for lollies? Do I sound like a party-pooper?

I did not want to leave my child mortified and crying at school, so I dashed off to the charity shop and managed to find a pretty terrific furry hat with a 3D skull with wings coming out the sides. I also got him a skeleton wand and a creepy-looking spider. Then it was back to school with purchases where I saw that I was not the only one racing in late with costumes. Phew! With dressed-up and now happy child, disaster has been averted.


  1. Halloween is quite nice if you live in a neighbourhood where people generally know each other and there are a lot of youngish kids. When I was little we lived in a village, and it was fun to get dressed up, show off the costume to the neighbours and get a few sweets. Now I’m older I like it when kids come round as long as they make a bit of an effort with the costumes, and try to always have something to offer them by way of edibles, but I make it obvious they’re welcome by having spooky decorations in the window. I do understand why some people don’t like the tradition, but it makes me feel part of the community.

    1. Yes, I can see that it’s something fun and helps to generate a nice community in the neighbourhood. I have never lived anywhere where it was celebrated so that it probably why I find it strange. We will be in France for Halloween next week so I am curious to see what the French do.

  2. A two-party system is unfortunately not much different from a one-party system. An enormous part of the population is not represented in parliament that way. And if a lobby can guarantee that the other party will do the same, there is no risk in accepting their bribes and laws, because the electorate then has no way to punish them for it.

    The UK may be in a good position at the moment. If the conservatives could be wiped out at the next election, they would have an incentive to introduce a representative democracy to at least survive as a smaller party.

    1. In New Zealand we have a system called MMP (mixed-member proportional) which is supposed to reflect more accurately the population. I think Germany has the same system? I’m not really familiar with how it works but there do seem to be more options on voting day. Although more options is not necessarily a good thing, especially when you can’t make up your mind 🙂

      1. In Germany half of the seats are determined by winning a district. And the other half is used to make the parliament representative again. Unfortunately Germany has a 5% barrier. A party that gets less than 5% of the votes does not get into parliament. The last election we had two parties with 4.7 and 4.8% of the votes. Those votes and those opinions are then no longer represented in the parliament and less visible in the public discourse. This barrier makes is hard to get a new party into parliament and therewith limits competition for the existing parties, who can therefore ignore public opinion much easier.

        In The Netherlands, were I was born, we have a pure representative system. Thus a bit more than half a seat can be sufficient to be represented, because if you are lucky it is rounded up.

      2. Yes, I do think the German system is the same or similar to the one in NZ. The same 5% rule applies in NZ but someone can also be voted in if they win a seat. So they either need 5% of the vote or they need to win one seat.

  3. I didn’t know who Russell Brand was/is. But no matter. I would vote for him!!! 🙂

    As for the Halloween at school. I was a teacher many years ago but still remember the horror. One year it was decided that the kids could come in costume for the big day. But it was to also be a regular school day. The lessons continued. It was fun for about the first 15 minutes of the day. Then the whining began. And it wasn’t only the teachers whining. Face paint and masks don’t exactly help you do your sums. There was a change in Halloween policy the next year. 🙂

    1. I would vote for Russell too, mixedupmeme!

      Yes, I can imagine halloween costumes at school being quite a distraction. I think they had mostly fun activities for the children today as it’s the start of the school holidays now.

  4. I have a problem with Halloween too, which seems to be an excuse to purchase imported
    trashy stuff to make kids go door to door and expect something for nothing. We’ve spent years teaching them about stranger danger so they now get mixed messages. Interesting what power peer pressure generates! I will be a grouch and have a ‘No Tricks or Treats’ on my door. So far haven’t had it kicked n.

    1. You raise a good point, Lorraine. Accepting lollies from strangers is something we tell our children *not* to do. It does seem inconsistent to then say it’s ok for Halloween. If you are just knocking on the doors of people you know though, I’m sure it’s fine.

      We never had any trick or treaters when we lived in Christchurch. It’s not really something that is celebrated in NZ or Australia.

  5. Victor,

    The 5% minimum has a serious democratic purpose. Australian Senate elections have no such minimum requirement. As a consequence, after the 2013 election, the Senate now includes 17 assorted cross-bench senators (out of a total of 76). The Australian Greens account for 9 of these and form a recognisable party that polled 8.46% of the votes. None of the other 8 achieved a 5% vote.

    They represent a ragbag of interests, including 3 members of a Queensland coal mining billionaire who was ejected from the governing Liberal-National party and seems bent on revenge, a representative of a kangaroo poo-chucking party, one from a fundamentalist Christian party and another from a schismatic Labor offshoot associated with the Roman Catholic church etc.

    It is all very well to say that if a 5% bar stopped these micro-parties from getting into parliament their voices would be negligible, but as cross-bench minorities with no common policies, their power is now totally out of proportion to their popular support. The government will require support of at least six cross-benchers to get any legislation passed.

    So the effect is not just to give tiny political parties a voice. It is to hand them control of government.

    Insofar as the Greens and the government are pretty much at opposite ends of the spectrum on a number of issues, including asylum-seekers, climate change, coal seam gas drilling and management of the economy, the government can be held to ransom by the other micro-parties to fund their pet schemes at the expense of everyone else.

    There is a long tradition of such senate hostage-taking in Australia. One of the most effective operators was Brian Harradine, a Tasmanian senator, who held the balance of power for a number of years, always greatly to the advantage of his State’s constitutents.

    Now, with the unprecedented number of cross-benchers this time, people are getting really fed up, and there is strong talk of amending electoral legislation to bring in a 5% threshold or something similar.

    Kenneth Arrow proved with his Impossibility Theorem that, except in the most trivial case, no electoral system is always fair. But each is unfair in its own way. When the populace gets sick of one, it is time to try another.

    1. I agree that our Senate electoral system needs reform as it is too open to manipulation. I doubt though that Tony Abbott will want to do anything as it appears the new senators are mostly conservative so why would he go out on a limb getting them offside with reforms for which the goal was to deny them a similar chance in six years time?
      I believe there was an “app” available to voters to decide the Senate preference order in line with a particular voter’s views. Did anyone use it?

    2. I’m still shocked that Clive Palmer won a seat in the senate. What kind of person would vote for him? My only guess is that people felt so disillusioned on the day by bad mainstream choices that they gave their vote to one of the crazy ones thinking that nothing would come of it.

      1. It was last minute advertising by Palmer that put him ahead. He spent a fortune on it. The votes that were cast before this such as postal votes came in in favour of the LNP candidate. The power of advertising, and money!

    3. Mike, yes some small parties are weird in my view as well. The people who voted for them likely found them less weird. The greens will find the libertarian parties weird and the libertarians the green parties. That is a diversity of ideas, interests and world views, we have to live with. The existence of this diversity is the reason we have democracy.

      Yes. there is no ideal electoral system and the parties will never display the full diversity of opinions in the population. In the end you can just vote for the least worst or best fitting party. Changing the system very generation will not make it better.

      It are the big parties in power which seem to think that it is better to collaborate with the smaller ones as with another larger party. If they do so they like to pass on the responsibility to the smaller parties, but it is their choice and in doing so they create an atmosphere where they may one day get rid of the small parties and have less competition.

      If I only had one of the two big parties to chose from, I might become a Russel Brand, simply from being unable to chose which of the two evils is less. That would be a pity because democracy is very valuable.

      1. What was interesting about the latest Oz Senate elections was the fact that the minor parties finally worked out that by exchanging preferences among themselves, and by keeping their preferences away from the two major parties, one of them would get elected in each state. They couldn’t anticipate which one but nevertheless they knew they had a good chance of getting a quota (14.3%).Otherwise, they had no chance. Antony Green, that wonderful election analyst, provides the most insightful overview of our Senate voting system in his blog.

  6. Enjoyed the Russell Brand article and share many of the sentiments expressed there. My main worry about politics in Australia (and, it seems, in lots of Western democracies) is that it takes a hell of a lot of money to get into power. This translates to too many vested interests supporting our two main political parties. Policy therefore is usually whatever the supporters want. This is a worry at the moment with the present government’s support base comprising the mining industry and Rupert Murdoch. Whatever party’s in power, let’s have evidence-based policy-making and give vested interests and ideologies the heave-ho. The problems the world is facing at the moment are too serious to allow for election-cycle, short-term thinking.
    As for Halloween, I’ve never had kids at my door but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal generally in Australia. It’s gradually catching on.
    Good for you, Rachel, for getting something for Daniel in the end. Not fun to be the odd one out when you’re a kid.

    1. Definitely agree with your sentiments regarding evidence-based policy. This is one of the reasons I am a little skeptical of having someone with strong religious views in power because I think they would find it hard to separate religious beliefs from decisions of policy.

      1. I think someone with religious beliefs is perfectly able to recognise that others don’t hold their beliefs and make decisions in a ‘democratic’ way. I find it interestting that Tony Abbott has been a climate change denier saying it’s crap (just a few years ago) and being dissatisfied with the apparent lack of evidence when, on the other hand, he believes in God. Where’s the proof for the existence of God? Less than the proof that we are contributing in a significant way to climate change.

      2. But Rachel, Kevin Rudd also had strong religious views…..or at least when it came to the TV cameras. That didn’t seem to bother you then. And don’t expect an atheist in power anytime soon in the U.S.A.
        It all depends on the individual surely?

      3. Yes, it does depend on the individual of course. The reason I write about Tony Abbott is because he’s such a colourful character who has a tendency to say dumb things.

      4. I should clarify that, while I suggested religious politicians doesn’t necessarily try to shape policy according to their beliefs, I have strong doubts about Abbott, as do a great many people. He is a religious zealot. I sometimes wonder if Cardinal Pell is his unofficial principal adviser. A huge worry, given Pell’s record in the Catholic church’s child abuse saga. Not encouraging.

      5. Yes, agree. I didn’t even know Kevin Rudd had strong religious views which suggests to me that he kept them out of politics. It’s not clear that Tony Abbott keeps his religious views separate from decision on policy.

    2. I do not like the term “evidence-based policy-making” very much. Science is about evidence and cannot add apples and oranges.

      Policy is about balancing interests, avoiding violence, and comparing apples and oranges.

      They are two fully different worlds.

      It would be nice if all (large) parties would accept the basic findings about climate change, but that would not prescribe a certain policy. Whether you go for market-based carbon taxes or for socialist planning direct action schemes is a political choice. Science (economists) would likely be able to compute that the carbon tax is more efficient and that it is less intrusive and bureaucratic, which I personally see as important, but there are other considerations. The direct action scheme is for example more suited to give money to the rich. Some people may find that important.

      1. Victor,

        It is true that accepting the evidence for something does not necessarily pre-determine a set of policies for acting on that evidence. But by using the words “evidence-based” I am distinguishing from decisions that are made on the basis of faith or other more arbitrary factors. Evidence-based leadership as opposed to faith-based leadership is the distinction I am trying to make.

        I read a good book some years ago about George W Bush. It was called The President of Good and Evil and is written by a philosopher who critically analyses his leadership decisions. Bush had a bit of an obsession with the idea of good and evil and in 319 separate speeches (30% of the total), he used the word “evil” as a noun 914 times. His faith was a factor in his objection to things like stem cell research in which he wanted to preserve the idea of the sanctity of human life. But at the same time he was in favour of the death penalty. It was a real eye-opener for me and made me realise that the decisions our politicians make for us need to be based on evidence, yes, but also on sound logic and reasoning. Tony Abbott says climate science is “crap” and I don’t think this demonstrates sound reasoning on his part.

  7. I haven’t read the Brand interview yet as I’ve been mostly in public places today. I will also study Mike Ms comments later at home. Let me just say I am happy I can vote and that I live in a democracy, however imperfect that system may be. When I watch the hundreds of boat refugees on TV coming from wretched countries who have no say, I cherish our system and will do my duty by continuing to have an interest in politics.

    1. Curious why you say the article is one-dimensional etc. That Abbott is still anti-abortion, anti-morning after pill, anti-stem cell research and anti-gay marriage is a fact—not someone’s opinion. These views are informed by his religious beliefs. Thanks for the link to Waheed Ali’s article. I subscribe to The Monthly and so have already read it. I’m a great fan of WA.

      1. If that’s your opinion, then I’m happy for you to stick with those views of Abbott, Bron.
        As a conservative, I’m also happy for that Tory-hater Brand to tell socialist voters not to vote.
        Finally, I have often wished the ECP and abortion on demand had been available to my generation. I’m certain I’d have been better off too. But at least they are here to stay for today’s women. Abbott is too pragmatic to change this whatever his personal views may be.

  8. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, democracy is the worst form of government – apart from all the others.

    In countries where there is no vote, dictatorship governments can rule for decades and decades with no opportunity for the people to get rid of them. Instead of the ballot, the peoples’ only chance is to resort to the bullet, at huge personal risk, with no guarantee of success, and mostly with the greatest chance that they will fail and be mercilessly crushed. How much those people envy our right to fire a government with the simple, easy use of a vote.

    Russell Brand advises us all not to vote. But he and others who don’t vote are lazily riding on the backs of those who fought hard for our right to vote, and to have a say in who governs us and the lives we will lead.

    Here we have a better life than most others on the planet because, and only because, of our right to vote. Without the power to choose or discard our governments, we would not have any of the freedoms and the better lives we have won through the ballot box.

    Read my blog in response to Russell Brand, ‘Can’t vote or don’t vote?’

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