Ever since Miliband was snapped outside Russell Brand’s home, there has been much furore at the sight of the Leader of the Opposition holding an audience with the man who says “don’t vote”.
It is likely that Miliband’s visit intended to help is chances of persuading more young people to engage with the Election, but it was a gamble for a number of reasons. Not least of all, Brand has positioned himself as an anti-establishment crusader who would rather encourage abstinence than engagement with the current political system; I wonder how many of Brand’s YouTube subscribers are even registered to vote.
In an attempt to win new voters, Miliband may inadvertently tarnish the image he’s been trying to create of a measured, fiscally responsible leader, by being seen sitting cosily with a man who seems to represent a contradictory approach.
Yes, it’s certainly cringe-worthy to watch Miliband ‘Blairishly’ dropping his “T”s. And it’s opened the floor for Cameron to lump the Opposition Leader and Brand together as “jokes”.
But this is missing the point. Whatever you think of Russell Brand, he’s far from a joke. He’s the embodiment of a serious problem in British politics, and in dismissing Brand, Cameron is putting on the blinkers.
There are hundreds of thousands of disaffected, disillusioned young people who feel ignored by politicians. Many of them care passionately about political issues, but don’t feel that the political system is the best route for change. Of course, not all sign up to Russell Brand’s world-view, but he does seem to have the ear of many of them.
In the focus groups we ran with young people during our research for Tune In, Turn Out, we discovered overwhelmingly positive attitudes towards Russell Brand’s politics, with the exception of his views on voting. They felt he was targeting the right issues, and most agreed that Britain would be a better, more equal place if he were Prime Minister.
In the most recent Hansard Audit of Political Engagement, just 16 per cent of 18-24 year olds said they would be certain to vote in an election. That is a shocking state of affairs for any democracy, and a statistic that should inspire political leaders addressing youth disaffection head-on.
While this late-night meeting may ultimately amount to nothing more than a storm in a teacup, the rationale behind it is less easily disregarded. After all, if Ed could convince Britain’s most prominent abstainer – and democracy’s biggest sceptic – to vote, he may just carry a few more along with him.