We hear a lot in political arenas (such as Question Time) about voter apathy and that voter turnout is low. The main reason that is cited is the expenses scandal of 2009; it became popular public opinion that politicians were using our money to buy duck houses, pornography and just about anything else extraordinary we can think of, in short, we felt cheated. I would argue however the greatest revelations that arose from the expenses scandal were not these ludicrous outlier purchases but rather the media storm that followed. It portrayed the expenses scandal as a cause of corruption as opposed to a symptom of a much smaller (but still relatively important issue): that our MPs are not paid enough. Additionally, Stephen Fry pretty much hits the nail on the head here
This is not the issue though, and it is not what I will argue. Here, I’ll mainly be, admittedly belatedly and only partially, addressing Russell Brand’s interview on Newsnight, for I think his outburst was irresponsibly arrogant of him to suggest that to instigate (he argues radical) political change then we ought not to vote. I won’t go for the all too easy and all too popular jab at Brand’s character. I couldn’t care less about his wealth, but he does raise some interesting points.
His central tenant is that abstaining from voting will lead to political change. [Well, he does also suggest revolution, but a large scale revolution can change anything.] This is false, Abstaining from voting will not lead to change, instead, it only helps promulgate already stagnating political landscape. In practicality, if you decide not to vote then my vote effectively has twice the power. Say there were ten people who could vote and four of them abstained, a candidate would only need four votes (or three if there were more than two candidates) to get power. As the late great David Foster Wallace said ” there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”
In fact I do sympathise with some Brand’s political views, I’ll admit a part of me gave a little red cheer when said that “profit is a filthy word”. What I want, say, is redistribution of wealth but the methodology I advocate is diametrically opposed to Russell Brand.
All over the world people fight and die for their right to represented, they fight for democracy. And for those of us lucky enough to be born into one, to not exercise that right because you “can’t be bothered” is little arrogant and disrespectful. For all you ladies out there the suffragettes put their lives on the line (and some even paid for it) to make sure that you could vote which is very recent history and only a few generations back.
Furthermore, complaining that “politicians are all the same” only shows ones inability and laziness to do even the most basic research, though, it is true that the beliefs of the main political parties are drifting centrally, Labour and Conservative are still distinctly left and right.
Okay, maybe I was a little hasty. I can understand someone not taking an active consistent approach to politics and perhaps I’m just an optimist, but I refuse to believe that anybody is disinterested in politics as a whole, sometimes it’s just a case of finding the right issue that they care about. We need to shake the idea that politics is some outside, pervading force that threatens to infect our very lives. No, politics is part of everything; you cannot make a public statement and claim that it is apolitical.
Take immigration for example, the current hot topic in parliament. Everybody seems to have an opinion on it, I for one, welcome immigration openly and will vote for a party that shares my belief. Disagree? That’s fine and it’s your prerogative, but if a party gets elected that does the opposite to what you want, then you really have no right to complain. At the root of immigration though, it is less (no matter what Conservatives and UKIP tell you) an issue of dissolving cultural heritage and economic downfall (both of which are complete non sequiturs, especially the latter). Immigration is more an indication that the overall financial system (implemented by George Osbourne) is failing. Complaining that immigrants put a strain on our NHS is misleading because it suggests that without them the NHS is perfectly fine, in fact what that statement suggest to me is that the NHS does not receive enough funding. I could go on and on.
Edited at 21:21 on 30/01/2014: added web links