Hugo Rifkind

Hugo Rifkind: Yes, I'm apathetic about politics. But isn't Russell Brand?

I won't be lectured by lazy sods who don't like what they see but want somebody else to do the work

9 November 2013

9:00 AM

9 November 2013

9:00 AM

Since I was a child, pretty much everybody I have ever met has asked me if I want to be a politician. The answer has always been no. Once, at university, I dimly remember giving this answer with so much vigour and conviction that I was escorted from the room, and the guy I’d given it to — an almost perfect stranger — came back to find me the next day, to apologise for asking in the first place. Even these days, the phrase ‘follow in your father’s footsteps’ drifting across the table at a dinner party can cause my wife to shoot me a warning look. My point here being, it’s never been ‘maybe’.

Eventually, I suppose, the question will switch to the past tense, and people will ask whether I never wanted to be a politician, and I will feel old. But not, I think, regretful. The question irritates me for a bunch of reasons, but chief among them is the presumption it makes about my politics. Because what they expect, of course, is not only that I might want to be an MP, but also that I’d necessarily want to be a Conservative one.

This is annoying on a personal level — especially these days, when my general un-Conservativeness is hardly something I keep bottled up — but also, at the risk of sounding pompous, on a philosophical level, too. I’m similarly annoyed when those on the left start shouting about their familial credentials — parents on picket lines, grandparents founding members of institutionally angry working men’s organisations in Doncaster, etc — because I simply don’t grasp what difference it ought to make. Bluntly, if your politics are not the outcome of your own independent thought process, I don’t particularly see why they should be of any interest to me. This isn’t football, you know.

Of course, for all that, politics often is hereditary, at least in terms of compulsion. Much has been written, lately, about the tribe of New Labour princelings — Euan Blair, Will Straw, Emily Benn and the slightly older David Prescott — all of whom seem to be on the verge of parliamentary careers. Generally, this is labelled as nepotism, which is lazy and not terribly fair. It took another Labour brat — Dan Hodges, the son of Glenda Jackson, now a Telegraph columnist — to point out that, New Old Labour being what it is, having an Old New Labour surname is probably more of a hindrance than a help. But for some, politics is the only world.


Not for me, though, and I’d be lying if I pretended this was only because no party seems like a natural fit. People shape their parties, after all, and sometimes dramatically. But for me — and there’s simply no nicer way of saying this — I can’t be arsed. The process of politics does not appeal, and the results are not something I crave enough to want to endure it. This is not how I want to spend my precious time. So here I sit, content instead just to bitch about those who feel differently.

The thing is, this is my problem. It’s not politics’ problem. There is a system, and if I cared enough — if I had humility enough to do thankless things and pretend to care about them, and send leaflets, and knock on doors, and make endless small talk, and not mind terribly when people stabbed me in the back, and almost certainly do a fair bit of stabbing myself — then, if I was lucky and if I was good enough, I could contribute towards changing that system. Be the change, as I think Mahatma Gandhi said. Drive the moneychangers from the temple, like that other bloke. But I don’t. And so I don’t.

Mea culpa. This is apathy. This is the subtext when people like Russell Brand — and this week even Jeremy Paxman himself — moan on about a political system blind to the needs of ‘ordinary’ people. It’s a worldview that hinges on a concept of ‘us’ and ‘them’, but makes no effort whatsoever to become ‘them’ and do things any differently. I will take a lecture on the distant political class from somebody who has tried to penetrate that class and failed, and I will be told ‘they’re all the same’ by somebody who has not only done that, but then tried to be different, and crashed back to earth as a result. Not, though, from people who simply don’t like what they see, and want somebody else to do all the work. I mean, honestly. Lazy sods.

Power play

To a studio on Chancery Lane, the other day, to debate the Forbes Power List with another British journalist and a very peculiar and angry Russian man. This was for the Voice of Russia, which is basically the Kremlin’s answer to the BBC World Service. What has happened, you see, is that Forbes, which publishes a list of the most powerful people in the world each year, has stuck Varnished Vlad at the top, instead of Barack Obama.

My contention was that this was actually a good thing for western democracy and the world. Well-functioning countries, was my point, are not led by powerful individuals. Rather, they function with systems of checks and balances in which individual power is limited. Naked, chest-thumping power, I argued, was the preserve of tyrants.

To be honest, I was mainly trying to irritate the Russian guy. As I spoke, though, I had the strange sensation of realising I was entirely right. Doesn’t happen often.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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Show comments
  • Plato

    Wonderful stuff re lazy moaning. Loved it.

  • ChrisTavareIsMyIdol

    I’d leave a comment but it won’t change anything and I doubt you’ll read it, so I’ll leave it to others to say how much I enjoyed the article

  • Will

    What people like your very privileged self Mr Rifkind fail to grasp is all that Russell Brand is saying is the current neo-liberal, free-market democracy has failed the vast majority of people who live under it and that an alternative must be found. The notion that he should have some detailed manifesto as an alternative is as absurd as stating that if the car I were travelling in broke down I should be a qualified mechanic to state that it isn’t working. 2008 was the end of free-market capitalism, people saw the game was fixed – Bail-outs, hand-outs, a warped form of socialism but only for the elite. A huge private debt racked up by the banks and the lumbered on the poor in welfare cuts, whilst the elite stashed their cash ofshore or failed to pay corporation tax. As the son of an MP and Oxbridge graduate I would say you are part of the establishment and therefore part of the problem – you are an appeaser of the current unjust status-quo. If not stand up and say so, call for change!
    We live in a country where 0.6 percent of Brits who own 69 percent of the land. Parliamentary democracy is just a sham that just elects a different bunch of technocrats every few years. Its not a democracy but an oligarchy. People across the world are waking up…

    • Hugo Rifkind

      An alternative should be found by whom?

      • Will

        Come Hugo – renounce all that wealth and privilege your were raised up on, reach out to the other 99% of the population, lets all work together for the greater good and for the majority of people. A father who is a Tory, an Oxbridge education and nice little job in journalism, you shouldn’t be judged on all that rather on who you are now and what you believe in…so what do you believe in? You could use your incredibly privileged position to help make that change.
        So what do you say ?

      • Emma Waites

        you expect one person to have all the answers? and then you expect one man to be able to point you in the direction of said person when there is no one person that can fix this problem, e the public are living with this problem so we the people have to first let it be undeniably known to the powers that be, that we feel this way and then and only then can the process start of a group of people finding a way to change all the things that are wrong. i dont believe your wealth should be a determination of how sincere a your opinion/belief is so i dont agree with being asked to give it all up to prove your position etc. but you yourself have stated that you dont want to try and participate in finding the solutions yet you expect others that dislike the current system should already have all the solutiions or know some one who does.. if it was that simple we wouldnt be in the mess we are now would we.

      • Beth Swain

        Surely by anyone and everyone who cares? If those in charge do nothing and someone starts a debate to raise awareness of the problems and the issues, and what might be done to improve things, surely that’s no bad thing?

    • CocklecarrotJ

      “0.6 percent of Brits who own 69 percent of the land”

      I say that statistic is dodgy

    • La Fold

      If it was a true free market then the banks would not have recieved any bail outs, as they shouldnt have.
      Russel Brand is at best silly, at worst sinister, just like the rest of the eejits who showed up at parliament square wearing the mask of a man who was a Theocractic terrorist and wanted to return the country to an Absolutist monarchy. TAKE THAT SOCIETY!!

      • Will

        Exactly – It isn’t even a true free market – we should have let them go to the wall. Which is exactly what would happen to any small business…but hey too big to fail!
        As for terrorists I suppose they come in all shapes and sizes – some are quasi-religionist-fascists who blow up innocent people and themselves, others wear suits and have graveyard smiles and get others with tomahawks and drones to do their dirty work

    • Ad Skip

      Couldn’t agree more. Well said.

    • Pembroke

      “…the current neo-liberal, free-market democracy has failed the vast majority of people who live under it and that an alternative must be found”

      > That is hyperbolic nonsense. The vast majority of Brits live lives that are infinitely more comfortable than those who lived 100 years ago – like Kings and Queens in comparison. Under the current system that is a mash/mash Capitalism with heavy state intervention, huge numbers of people are living comfortable lives where they at least have accommodation, clothing, food and access to a wide and all-encompasisng social safety net including free education and health care made possible by the transfer of huge sums from the relatively more wealthy along with grotesque profligate government borrowing. Sure many, if not most, want more, but they are not ‘failed’ lives by any means.

      • Will

        I really don’t see how comparing living conditions with 100 years ago actually has any relevance with the current issues the vast majority of the worlds population face today.

        “Like Kings and Queens in comparison”…mmm…maybe…with 100 years ago…except not in comparison with actual Kings and Queens of today hey…

        I suppose this comes down to if you believe in a ‘trickle down’ economy, a ‘ruling class,’ powerful elite or according to the Huffington Post 1 percent of the worlds population holding 46 percent of the worlds wealth.

        I would also think the 2008 £850 Billion British bank bail out represented the most abject failure one could possibly imagine.

        • Pembroke

          The material wealth, gadgetry, education and Healthcare treatments are vastly better than what our great grandparents had available. That’s the relevance. That is not evidence of any system ‘failure’. But sure, things could be better.

          Brand should compare what health treatments, food choices, labour-saving machinery and education opportunities were available to his grandparents to understand what huge developments have occurred under this system.

          People with access to computers in the dark corners of India can log into Capitalist Apple’s iTunes and download first-class university-level courses for free – and I mean not subsidised by taxpayers’ money. That doesn’t look like failure.

          Brand won’t participate in the manner of electing a government and this is supposed to be a sign of his integrity? Puhlease. He too easily slates current politicians, but doesn’t stand himself – to set an example. What does he want, leadership power without having to convince people to vote for him? Now that would be convenient!

  • Will

    Do we not have enough great minds, towering academics, poets and philosophers we can bring together to find a more just and viable alternative? Or do we carry on with a powerful tiny elite feasting at the table as the rest feed on the crumbs?
    Surely as humanity on this rock speeding through space with finite resources being plundered by these corporate elites we cannot continue like this?
    The first tiny step is to stand up and say this. Russell Brand has done this. Who else is prepared too?

    • Dan Reed

      Not me. Sorry. Busy.

      • Will

        Come on Dan – carpe diem! (You can record Cash In the Attic and watch it later)

    • Ad Skip

      All those without much to lose.. ironically these are the true patriots. I think I speak for many who were raised on ‘British values’ only to see them dumped in favour of ‘i’m alright Jack’ cronyism. A broad anti-greed/corruption policy would be one of the first benefits of a new system.

  • Ezme Green

    Yet another Brand-bashing article. Hmm…it seems that there are quite a few ”journalists” who are getting way more eyes sweeping their articles than usual BECAUSE of Mr Brand and the things he has said. Write a clumsy piece slagging him off and you are guaranteed more hits….Lazy and stupid. RB said what has needed to be said…Either add to it or give an alternative….just criticising and/or going on about yourself is so boring,conceited and lame…

  • Ian Green

    Brand could be our Snowball ………………….. get him viral every opportunity …………………… his wordsmithery and charisma are second to none ……………… Don’t vote, civil disobedience …………………… we have a chance folks ……………….. he knows he isn’t king of the world ……….. Cameron doesn’t (expect for his paymasters) ……………… neo-liberalism has failed (or succeeded in it’s purpose) ………….. time to abstain………………….. and move forward.

  • Beth Swain

    PS Incidentally, you might have put up a decent, recent photo of Mr Brand.

  • Andy

    “Neo-liberalist capitalism has failed”. That’s a pretty easy throw away comment that I see a lot these days. I am still trying to figure out what it means though.

    • Felix100

      It means that a great many people realise that there’s more to life than money.

      • Pembroke

        But Money buys food, clotting and shelter. And taxes on money earned pays for welfare, state pensions and public services.

        • Felix100

          Hi Pembroke – yes – in an ideal world, but that story doesn’t seem to be working any more – for many people in the West, and has never really done that for people in the third world. And somehow there is less and less money available for public services to the point where they are becoming nonexistent.

          Maybe we just need to look more carefully at our relationship to money, how healthy that relationship is, and whether we could do things differently.

          • Pembroke

            The story works for a great many people, and a welfare net is in place to catch those less fortunate. The welfare spend is £112b for 2014 in the UK. That is a significant amount of money. The State Pensions will cost £144b in 2014. At the point the State pension was initiated many years ago, your average person died before the age eligible to claim. Now the typical person lives for upwards of 15 years after their first claim. Sure it’s nice to be nice, but it’s eventually ruinous to live beyond your means – which is what the UK has been doing for many years.

            I agree that innovative ideas are needed to leverage the new technologies to make sustainably better futures. Look how Twitter and FB facilitated revolution in the MENA countries. Fuel costs are significant, if we can harness the sun, make some significant breakthroughs in battery technology, that would help a great deal in bringing living costs down.

            The current presentation of Democracy has many annoyances. But what’s the alternative? Using technology to allow everyone to vote on every bill? Perhaps. But in my circle of middle class acquaintances, very few can be bothered to research both sides of a policy issue. As such many would be voting blindly – or for whimsical reasons. On a number of policy issues I too would probably be making an ill-informed vote.

            This is why representative democracy, where candidates have to compete for votes by demonstrating certain levels of intelligence and ability is a good process. However, precious few people know who is involved in representing them at various levels of government. Most people vote for a Party rather than on the basis of the qualifications of the local Party representative. Is that a shortcoming of the system, or the populace that uses the system?

            And perhaps a form of Proportional Representation is better, but we know that won’t solve political problems as it is prone to it’s own particular problems.

            What solves most problems is wealth. Once wealth exists it can be taxed and thereafter redistributed in some fair and sustainable manner. But tax levels must be at levels that sustains and promotes wealth creation rather than inhibits it.

            Therefore, before income redistribution, a government’s primary duty, after protecting its community and securing the borders, is establishing policies that are conducive to private wealth creation, for ALL public spending is made available through redistributing wealth created in the private sector via taxation. And if the private sector is to be vilified and avoided, then you have an economy where only the public sector exists. See Soviet Russia on how well that worked.

  • Babs Capone

    Seriously! Was this article written by an Oswald Mosely impersonator! What a load of pure rot. This guy speaks to his audience as if they are the stable hands working on his estate and about as educated as one of the 9 geneome elite that make up the political system he’s defending. On international and domestic politics – RIFKINDS is a JOKE. Grow up!

  • Son of Hayek

    Noblesse oblige Hugo!

  • Shaka

    Just talking about him makes him the winner of the argument like everything else since 1945!

  • Bring Back Free Speech

    Politics isn’t about a game to be played. It is about convictions and values. If you are apathetic about what is happening to Britain, and not interested in doing anything about it then you must be silently supporting it, complicit in it.

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