By which I obviously don’t mean ‘abstinence’ in the dull, Christian, Johnny-sinned-when-he-touched-himself way but in the political sense of abstaining from a popular vote.
Elections here in the UK are looming ever larger on the horizon and, this time round, with the colourful, folksy bigotry of UKIP and big haired, drug frazzled, sexually harassing excitement of Russell Brand it’s more a carnival than ever before. Already people are drawing up the battle lines, usually in a confused zig-zag array like a spider on LSD and berating those who aren’t on their side for being feckless, greedy, mad, bad or outright stupid. For some of them it even seems to really matter which is perhaps the most worrying aspect of it all from my deeply cynical point of view. Not to say that politics doesn’t matter of course, it really, really does but the clown antics which have been set front and centre so far aren’t really politics in any substantive sense.
UKIP is a joke party riding high on a wave of media gluttony for a sell-able story. This one being that of a smug looking arsehole from a private school and with a background in The City being some sort of maverick political outlaw. Nigel Farage (rhymes with ‘garage’) is about as convincing in the role as the cast of the Three Amigos were as they donned their sombreros and rode out into the desert. Embarrassing really as in Greece Syriza threaten to bring down the wrath of the global financial elite upon the nation’s head and Neo-Nazis in the Ukraine snuggle warmly into the bosom of government. Here we have a man who seems to mostly promote himself on the fact that he drinks in pubs – just like you or I, truly a voice of the people. And he doesn’t like the EU of course, preferring instead the free market and the benign profitability of US style privatisation (except when he doesn’t, like when people call him out on it). As far as political revolt goes it’s not exactly the sort of stuff to bring the establishment to it’s knees.
But that doesn’t matter really, because both he and his generally hollow party are always happy to give a controversial sound bite and gurn eagerly for the cameras, more than enough to merit their media saturation no doubt. In fact just about the only ones who don’t enjoy this particular carny side show are the Greens. Who, from what I’ve seen, seem genuinely nonplussed that their years of steady campaigning and growth seem to have been eclipsed by a rabble who, until very very recently, legitimately had less of a presence than they did. As ever though no one listens to the whining of Hippies.
On the other side of the coin there’s mighty mighty Russell ‘Che Guevara’ Brand, scion of the Leftist revolution and destroyer of the fatted bourgeoisies. Or that millionaire TV personality who took lots of drugs and had lots of sex, as you may also know him. And it’s his line that you shouldn’t vote because it only encourages them. Which, as far as it goes, I kind of agree with. Endorsing parties who all defend the virtues of slashing austerity measures, being bitches to the City and generally doing anything they can within that to cling to power doesn’t strike me as a particularly useful thing to do. And if withdrawing party membership, removing Union funding or generating an ever lower voter turnout shows up their general lack of support amongst the general populace then I’m all for it. Especially while some really good groups are operating outside of the party system (like the E15 housing protest movement in London, NHS protestors, or even the Scottish ‘Yes’ movement at a stretch) whose actions a: work towards actual change and b: highlight the viability of alternatives legitimately outside of the mainstream. Whether you’re for against parliamentary politics the chance to strike some fear into the hearts of it’s inhabitants by doing things they don’t expect from people (like not voting as they should, or organising amongst themselves) can only be a good thing.
That said though, why is Russell Brand the face of it all? I’m not sure even he in his most egotistical moments actually intended to be. But as with Farage (remember, it rhymes with ‘garage’) there’s a sell-able story in that there brand recognition (brand/Brand, gettit?) and that always makes for better stories and better TV than the long running and usually very dull reality of things.
Whichever way you look there’s talk of a resurgence of interest in politics, of newly committed divisions within the mainstream and of how it’s all great fodder for Question Time. And that’s what you need to be keep an eye on because if, as quite a few people seem to, you genuinely want change then you need to remember that the formally sanctioned voices offering it are almost never the ones to actually give it. The talking heads, sound bite generators and tabloid casuals aren’t indicative of grand political shifts even if they personally aspire to be – and I don’t much doubt the sincerity of either Garage or Brand in their beliefs. It’s the mundane, daily, endless, grinding gears of social campaigning, political organisation and action that brings about real quantum shifts in the system we inhabit. Joyless as that may often be the rest is just inflatable ducks floating down the river of society – bright, obvious and nothing at all to do with where the water ends up.
So whatever your inclinations are, whether and whoever you intend to vote for just make sure you don’t believe the hype.
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