It’s starting to get embarrassing, this agreeing with Russell Brand business.(Viewers in the colonies, catch up via the vidclip below of his 'Newsnight' interview and something he wrote in the Guardian afterwards.)
His comments are so blindingly obvious that any idiot could have come up with them. Which is in fact precisely what has happened, and he has said so himself in pretty much those words. It was cringeworthy, the way his debate with Paxman so closely mirrored those earnest political debates I’d have with my mates when I was nineteen. Yet simultaneously hilarious for being conducted by two grown adults on a current affairs programme, and getting the commentators aflutter like this was all bold new stuff which had never been said before.
Of course it’s concerning the way we’re so entrenched in celebrity culture that it takes a celebrity to say these things before anyone notices. Perhaps next we’ll have a weatherman commenting that freedom of choice can only come through the market system, then a Zoo model countering that capitalism inherently relies on the extraction of labour power from the productive classes.
But I’m almost tempted to argue “if that’s what it takes…” It exposes the game where, if Brand says it, he’s dismissed as a “champagne anarchist” who is inherently out of touch with the everyday world he’s describing. Whereas when some ordinary working person looked up from their red bills to say the same thing, they simply wouldn’t show up on ‘Newsnight’ in the first place. Your face is wrong or non-existent. Okay, given the choice, let’s pick ‘wrong’.
It veers, like it always seems to, onto the vote. What’s notable is that voting is so much like that other great totem, the free market, in both the way it’s supposed to work and the way it really does.
Look at the current furore over rising energy bills. Opening up the energy market to competition was supposed to ‘liberalise’ it, to create all these lean, client-hungry companies who’d compete against one another until the consumer got the best possible deal. But of course in reality it quickly fell to six large suppliers, who formed a de facto cartel to push up prices as much as they could - and rack up their profits to levels previously unimagined. Which has pushed an ever-increasing number of people into fuel poverty. While they have money to burn, their embezzling has caused levels of hardship up to and including death. Not surprisingly, people are not entirely happy.
In which case, a political party is supposed to reflect that strength of opinion. The demand is out there, so of course a provider will come along to fill it. Except of course none of that has happened. It’s the same stacked choice between the same small cartel of providers. While polls show most people want energy re-nationalised, the choice we actually get is between Labour’s “Marxist” option of a temporary price freeze (after which they can presumably just rack prices up again). Or the Tories’ master plan of making it easier for people to switch. (Between the same six suppliers who have the whole thing already sewn up and raise their prices in virtual unison. Like, duh!)
This doesn’t happen because politicians are inherently grasping little grubbers (even though many of them are), but because the power actually lies with… and I expect you can see the pun coming… the power companies. Power lies in ownership of money and property. It belongs to a class. It does not lie in any particular building, however charming a view of the Thames it might offer.
Yet, all of that said, I simply don’t get this fixation over voting. Ultimately, it seems a distraction. I don’t vote as a means to achieve social change, for the same reason I don’t dress up as a pirate when my bathroom needs cleaning. It’s got nothing to do with ‘pirate apathy’, I just don’t see any meaningful way where the one thing will lead to the other.
Which means it’s flat-out mistaken to replace a fixation for voting with a fixation for not voting. I don’t vote. There’s people I know, who I feel politically affiliated to, who do. But they don’t have any of those illusions about the process genuinely representing their interests. They just figure out they might as well, in case it somehow does some good. Or, perhaps more likely, mitigates some evil. The difference between me and them seems minor, and not particularly worth going into.
And not voting, in and of itself, is merely passive. It’s not an act of defiance, because it’s not an act of any kind. When voting levels fall (as they have done, pretty much consistently in recent decades), it may put the wind up politicians a little. But anyone who thinks it disrupts the embezzling antics of the power companies really needs to get out more. We don’t prop the system up by voting for it, nor even by buying its products, but by working for it. I am, to put it mildly, less convinced than Brand that “the revolution” is imminent, “totally going to happen” or whatever else he said. But the whole racket is over as soon as we recognise that, underneath the Orwellian rhetoric of “wealth creators”, these are people who need us while we don’t need them.
Then we won’t need popular entertainers to speak up for us any more.