Belfast Telegraph

Russell's brand of politics is more in touch with voters

By Janet Street-Porter

I'm not a fan of lists. Who cares what's the world's best bread bin or Britain's favourite bird? Nevertheless, lists have dominated popular culture for some time now, and generally tell us absolutely nothing worth knowing. What difference does it make to the life of a sparrow or a grouse if we give them this kind of dubious accolade? A visit from Bill Oddie or Kate Humble?

Still, list addiction shows no sign of abating. Prospect magazine (not on my bedtime reading list, I admit) has conducted its annual poll to find the world's greatest thinkers, and there has been widespread sniggering at the result, placing Russell Brand in fourth position, with 18% of the vote. Only 3,000 voters took part, but his ranking reveals that - in spite of his rambling, illogical and somewhat scattergun approach to the problems facing society - Russell Brand has touched a nerve.

This week, Brand was in the news again, putting his money where his mouth is, using the profits from his book, Revolution, to fund a café in an east London estate which will employ recovering drug addicts.

It's easy to sneer and knock Brand's musings, but too much emphasis is placed on being "constructive" in arguments. Look at the election debate last week. Did either leader really say anything of any import? I think not. It was all about style over substance.

No wonder, then, Brand - with his anti-voting, anti-capitalist agenda - connects with so many young people. He articulates their idealism and inconsistencies and I was just the same as a teenager.

The other important quality, which Brand possesses in spades, and which both Ed Miliband and David Cameron really struggle with, is utter sincerity.

On Thursday evening, Milibandroid was asked about the effect of the leadership contest with his brother. He managed to come up with the word "bruising". Cameron even stuck in a few "hard-working family" references when all else had failed.

To be brutal, neither man exhibits any kind of passion; both are the product of focus groups and back-room analysis. They spout the kind of anodyne drivel you get in charity campaigns like "End world poverty" as if there's any other intelligent option. When they say, "I love my country", I want to scream, "So bloody what?" Would any politician ever say the opposite?

Brand also has real-life experience as a former drug addict, and he never forgets others in that position. As a result of government cuts to councils, the London Borough of Redbridge has stopped funding a pioneering charity, 1NE in Woodford Green. It had a 70% success rate helping people addicted to drugs and alcohol, compared with expensive residential rehab centres where the success rate might be as low as 30 per cent.

Unlike the vast majority of charities working in this field, 1NE insists on total abstinence. This small unit, run by local people since 1987, will close next week unless it can raise £160,000 - and then it will have to charge patrons, many of whom are unemployed and destitute, from £5 to £50 a day.

Russell Brand and Iain Duncan Smith have both praised the work of the centre, which I know from experience because it saved the life of a close friend.

Russell Brand may be annoying, but because he speaks from the heart, he confirms our current political system is both moribund and out of touch with the electorate. Will more people vote as a result of last week's election programme? I very much doubt it.

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