One of the themes of the criticism of Russell Brand for his revolutionary talk and dismissal of the point of voting is that he is spurning a right that his and our forebears struggled for. When he turns his back on the corrupt political system, this line of thinking goes, he dishonours those, like the Chartists and the suffragettes, who “fought and died” to win subsequent generations the ability to choose their political leaders.
This was the basis of an attack on Brand by a fellow comedian Robert Webb, famous from Peep Show. He accuses Brand of tossing away “the hard-won liberties of his brothers and sisters because he’s bored”. Webb, like many other critics, also accuses Brand – wrongly – of advocating violent revolution.
We tried that again and again, and we know that it ends in death camps, gulags, repression and murder. In brief, and I say this with the greatest respect, please read some fucking Orwell.
The problem with Webb’s own approach is pretty obvious the moment one pauses to think about what he is saying. Previous generations didn’t fight and die simply for the vote; they fought and died to be properly represented. They would be the first today to appreciate that the vote they fought and died for has become increasingly debased.
The political and economic elites realised that in a world of shrinking resources, the popular vote was actually a threat to the maintenance of their privileges. But rather than take us, the people, on directly by revoking the vote, they simply captured the centres of power so that our vote became increasingly meaningless. Our choice is between parties that, whatever their promises, produce largely the same outcomes once in power.
That is why in Britain the Lib Dem party, which for so long promised a new kind of grassroots politics if it ever managed to surmount the first past the post electoral system and win power, has ended up becoming a clone of the monied Conservative Party it sits in coalition with. The more disturbing truth is that it would have done so too if it had actually won absolute power rather than had to share it. Just like Tony Blair had to turn the Labour party into a replica of the Conservatives to win the backing of the corporations, the precondition now for winning media support. Just like Obama is little different, and in some ways worse, than George Bush. And so on.
How have we been kept docile till now, as our right to real representation have been stolen from us? Through the veil of illusions cast by the corporate media. That’s right “corporate”: the media owned by the same people who took political power from us.
So how should a modern Chartist or sufragette participate in politics? Take Webb’s advice and keep voting – and legitimising – parties that represent elites who are just going to keep accreting wealth and destroying the planet in the process? Or take Brand’s advice and expose this political theatre for the charade it is, by rejecting our degraded vote and engaging in real politics, which is grassroots, organised and understands that political structures need to be overhauled to represent us again – and the interests of our grandchildren?
There is a fine piece reminding us of what real politics looks like on Rob Ray’s blog. He’s on a picket line at the moment. He – not Webb – is doing the hard work of fighting for his and others’ rights.
For a really superb piece of writing on the same subject – apart from the headline, which does no justice to the quality of what follows it – I wholeheartedly recommend this blog from Cunning Hired Knaves