Fed up with politics, Russell Brand suggests we stop voting.
In the margins of Parliament Week, I log on to YouTube to see how the Newsnight clip of Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman is doing?
The clip, where he decries politicians as disreputably self-serving, has been viewed 621,000 times in 18 days. That’s big for politics!
Since then, the debate has gathered momentum. Jeremy Paxman agreed that ‘people are sick of the tawdry pretence of politics’, though he differed with Brand on the issue of voting. BBC Radio’s PM programme picked up the gauntlet and started a protracted series of features on the state of our democracy.
That original interview took the momentum of a forest fire started by a firework many have waited to see lit. He touched a nerve…
Here at the Citizenship Foundation we have been thinking about how to productively support the voices of the more discontented in our democracy. Not because we believe in mere grumpiness, but because there’s a counterproductive silence by many who should be becoming social leaders at the moment. Brand’s version is that we are being asked to invest in politicians that many find non-credible. But few discontents have got the resolve to take to the streets and seek alternatives. It’s like the system has beaten the people.
But is it an effective form of protest to not vote for any of them?
That seems a bit like going on hunger strike to show the greedy a thing or two. As if they would then stop eating.
His solution involved a mass uprising of kind humanity. A new consciousness would then nudge out the greedy as the system changed.
I’ve concluded that the bigger problem we have these days is that most ideologies alongside most politics look like a spent force to young people. In an idealistic phase of their lives they have nowhere with sufficient credibility to tempt them to invest their life’s energy. Idealistic, but not ideological. Certainly not to the point of retreating from the flatscreen to join the global powerplay.
Why has it become intolerable to see politicians appearing that they are in it for themselves? (Themselves, or their kind).
Was it not ever thus?
Labour for the workers, Conservatives for the middle and upper classes, Liberals for the intellectuals. These are factions that must have some grounding in popular experience otherwise they would not have gathered such cohorts in support. Politics is after all how we balance self-interest with public interest.
Those old categories are fading fast. The wide middle is where you get votes that help take the reins of power. Russell Brand’s mass uprising of kind humanity sounds like a fab option to the magnolia shades of post-ideological politics. Perhaps his stance illustrates one thing: that politics based on arousing fears of the other party has lost credibility with idealists even though it still holds sway with the over 60s. Younger people watch politicians carving out their niche to get the votes, and see them making the system look shady.
Imagine then that Russell Brand became a politician. His slogan would be ‘vote for me, vote for nothing in particular but global consciousness in general’ (he may find a catchier version). This may have more democratic value than ‘stop voting for those who stand for something’. At least then we would have the option to choose nothing: decisively.
We may then have the welcome sight of young people marching on Westminster with placards demanding the return of that long lost, hard fought ‘something’. The messy ideological battle that cost our forefathers their lives and enabled our luxuries. Including the luxury of not caring about politics.