It’s the second week of Russell Brand’s Politics Month. After his guest editorship of the New Statesman last week, the Huffington Post ran an interview with him the other day, under the only faintly emetic slogan “Brand New Politics“. And he’s popped up again on the front page of today’s Grauniad, for God’s sake.
Oh and apparently he was outside Buckingham Palace last night for an Anonymous protest, wearing one of those stupid bloody Guy Fawkes masks. It should be noted that it was an anonymous protest but, as Hugo Rifkind points out, he took his mask off so people would know who he was.
I want to be very careful about this. In his Guardian piece, he says that the various columnists and establishment stooges who criticised him did so because they are comfortable with the world as it is, and that they dismissed him for his silly hair and his needless long words, rather than addressing his ideas. I admit: I am comfortable. I’m a white, middle-class, well-educated, married straight man with a good job. Society works pretty well for me. And it is easy to mock his hair and words.
So let’s talk about his ideas. He reasonably accurately identifies some problems facing Britain and the world: inequality, environmental degradation, poverty, corporate greed, tax avoidance by the rich. And, he says, we can’t address these problems in the system we’re in, because politics is set up for benefit of the powerful, not the people: “The lazily duplicitous servants of The City expect us to gratefully participate in what amounts to little more than a political hokey cokey where every four years we get to choose what colour tie the liar who leads us wears.” We shouldn’t vote (“the impact of voting is negligible and it is our responsibility to be more active if we want real change”). Instead we should support direct-action groups like UK Uncut, Occupy, Anonymous and The People’s Assembly.
I’d disagree with his suggestion that mainstream politics doesn’t address the problems he’s talking about. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader and by any definition a mainstream politician, has been talking about almost nothing but the cost of living – a problem of poverty and inequality – for weeks. All three parties are engaged in a bitter argument over whether and how to repurpose our economy for the sake of the environment. It’s the same with tax and corporate greed. These answers coming back in these debates might not be the ones Brand wants, but the debates are being had.
But it’s his suggestion that, if you don’t like the policies of the parties who got voted in, we should all get on the streets and call for change, which is fantastically stupid. In 2010 I lived in Brixton, so I voted in the Lambeth constituency. Here were my voting options. I’ve ringed in red a few suggestions for “parties which might agree more with Russell Brand about how best to deal with inequality, corporate greed, environmental degradation and so on” (and ringed in blue a few other non-mainstream parties for other people disappointed by the LibLabCon or whatever we’re calling the main ones these days):
Are the Workers Revolutionary Party a bunch of corporate stooges? Are the Greens strip-mining raptors? Are the Anticapitalists, uh, capitalists? Of course they’re bloody not. If you’re against the carve-up of modern politics between the two-and-a-half main parties, then vote for one of the millions upon millions of other parties. And get other people to do it as well. By all means protest with your Occupies and your Anonymouses. But as you say yourself, your ideas aren’t new. Other people have had them. And they have set up political parties for which you can vote.
As I’ve said before, though, most people don’t. Most people vote for the three main parties, or they don’t vote. This is because most people don’t care all that much about politics. And the reason they don’t care all that much about politics is because their lives aren’t perfect but they’re largely OK. You get huge turnouts and sudden jumps in votes for minor extremist parties in countries where politics has gone horribly wrong, places like (as Harry Mount points out) Greece.
Luckily, very few people are likely to heed Brand’s call for revolution. An OECD report conveniently released yesterday suggests that Britain is actually generally happier than it was before the financial crash, and that (strangely) trust in government has gone up. We’re OK, as a rule, we’re not a bubbling pot of rage. I am entirely happy with people not being that bothered about politics, if they’re not that bothered.
But those of you who are bothered, the Russell Brands and Occupy Wherevers of the world, don’t pretend that the political system doesn’t offer anything for you. It does. It offers lots and lots of things. The trouble is, most people don’t want it. Almost every time someone says “mainstream politics isn’t giving the people what they want”, what they actually mean is “mainstream politics isn’t giving me what I want, so we need a different system which does”. And the sound of rattles being hurled was heard throughout the land.