Monday 11 May 2015

What did we learn from Russell Brand's dalliance with mainstream party politics?

I'd like to begin this post by saying that I used to dislike Russell Brand rather intensely, but that he has gradually won me over into thinking that he's actually becoming a decent kind of bloke who wants to do the right things, but just isn't sure how to.

I warmed to him a bit when I noticed his early forays into talking about politics, power and other important issues because I thought it looked like he was trying to do some growing up, but the moment he fully won me over was when he sued the S*n for writing lies about his personal life, then gave his compensation to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign

Anyone who is going to expose Rupert Murdoch's minions as liars and then give their compensation money to the victims of one of the Murdoch Empire's most sickening hate campaigns can't be all bad can they?


I'm not going to say much about 
Russell Brand's rejectionist views (that were blasted into mainstream public conscience as a result of his notorious 'no point in voting' interview with Jeremy Paxman) because I wrote an article about it at the time (you can read that here if you want).

While I agree with Russell Brand's basic premise that voting is a very very small party of civic engagement, and that direct action is a much more powerful tool for achieving progressive social reform, I feel that his early efforts to engage people in alternative politics have been severely counter-productive. 

I'm not saying that everything he says is wrong, far from it, he raises numerable interesting points and his analysis is sometimes exceptional. It's just that he's let himself down really badly by presenting a confused message to his audience, and worse than that, allowing himself to become enticed by party politics in the excitement of a General Election.

The real absurdity of his switch from rejectionism to the blanket endorsement of a political party stems from the fact that when he began deciding that certain politicians within the system were actually worth a vote, the deadline to register to vote for them had long since passed.

I'm not sure whether Brand himself had actually bothered to register to vote (which would have been an odd thing for someone who had advocated not voting to do), but I'm sure that he did nothing to encourage his audience to register as the voter registration deadline approached. I'm also sure that many of his fans would have been rendered incapable of actually doing as he was urging them, even if they'd wanted to, because they hadn't bothered to register to vote.

Caroline Lucas

I can fully understand why Russell Brand decided to ease his rejectionist stance to in order to endorse Caroline Lucas as the candidate for Brighton Pavillion, because she is amazing.

Caroline Lucas has achieved far more as a lone Green Party MP in a hostile Westminster environment in just five years than most of the career politicians from the three establishment parties will achieve in their whole taxpayer funded lives on the green benches. She is a brilliant champion of progressive politics and an inspirational hard worker to boot. I can fully understand making an exception to support one lone, tirelessly hard working, radical MP in a parliament rammed full of indolent, expenses fiddling, self-serving careerists.

Nobody is going to quibble if an exception is made for such a remarkable politician. The problem though is that once you've started making exceptions to your rules, more exceptions can be found, and more exceptions can be demanded of you.

Ed Miliband 

It is easy to understand that once Russell Brand made it clear that his rejectionist stance was flexible, the pressure was on him to endorse other party politicians too.

The outrages inflicted by the Tory Party over the last five years are far too innumerable to detail but I'll provide a non-exhaustive list of links to illustrate the sheer scale of it (Secret Courts, discrimination against British families, the Gagging Law, privatising the profits and nationalising the losses, supporting the TTIP corporate power grab, the 'bungled' investigation into the Westminster paedophilia ringFracking conflicts of interest
The Liam Fox-Adam Werritty scandal, "Bedroom Tax", the ideological vandalism of the education system, wage repression, aspiration tax, sanctions league tables, Eric Pickles spending half a million quid on luxury limos, David Cameron's repeated lies, the NHS carve-up, stuffing the unelected House of Lords with Tory party donors, letting wealthy Tory party donors actually write legislation for them, David Cameron hiring a criminal like Andy Coulson as his adviser, the unlawful treatment of the mentally ill, the introduction of huge charges to bring unfair dismissal cases, the Tory war on justiceunlawful forced labour schemes, shocking abuses of parliamentary process, the Peter Cruddas scandal, countless multi-million pound DWP fuckups, and the demonstrable failure of austerity economics). It's no wonder that Russell Brand wanted to see the back of them, because who on earth wouldn't if they actually knew anything about all of that?

The lesser of two evils

The whole problem with backing the Labour Party, as most progressives already know, is that the party has only been offering a slightly watered down version of the same Thatcherite agenda as the Tories since the 1990s. There's no grand vision, no inspirational progressive agenda, just a strategically inept political platform of 
austerity-lite, which commits the cardinal error of accepting the premise of the opposing party (that the austerity con is even necessary in the first place) and thus allows them complete freedom to frame the spectrum of debate.

Not only is the Labour Party the lesser of two evils in reality when compared to the Tory Party, but by adopting austerity-lite as their policy platform they actually used 'but we're the lesser of two evils' as their 2015 election strategy!

How on earth the Labour Party leadership concluded that 
'but we're the lesser of two evils' would play better with the electorate than the presentation of a clearly explained and evidence based counter narrative is absolutely beyond me. If they are that extraordinarily inept at running an election campaign, what good could they possibly be at actually running the country?

All in all, I think that pretty much everyone can agree that people continually voting for 'the lesser of two evils' is what has allowed Labour and the Tories to hold a duopoly on power that has now lasted so long that both parties have become hopelessly complacent, riddled with self-serving career politicians and virtually impervious to public opinion.

A demonstration of exactly how not to do politics

In my view, deciding to engage with a mainstream political party just days before a General Election is a demonstration of exactly how not to engage in party politics.

Party politics isn't like a shop that you visit every five years in order to buy a product, only making your mind up about which of them to buy in the very moment before you make your purchase. Politics is all about engagement, not about picking a side at the last minute and hoping that it wins.

Perhaps things would have been very different if, instead of advising his followers to actively disengage from party politics, Russell Brand had advised his followers to join the Labour Party en masse in order to work from within to turn it into a more left-libertarian and more progressive party. Then perhaps he could have personally worked with their communication team to help them craft a progressive message of hope, rather than a dour and gut wrenchingly dispiriting platform of 
'lesser of two evils' austerity-lite.

Who knows if such an audacious plan would have defeated the Tory plan to fearmonger and bamboozle the English public into supporting them? However what we can be sure of is that a plan to flood the Labour Party with tens, or even hundreds of thousands of mainly young, mainly progressive new members would surely have produced a very different, and very much more engaging election campaign from the Labour camp than the pathetic, hopelessly uninspiring drivel that the two Eds served up.

The unprecedented SNP landslide victory in Scotland is a shining example that it is possible to achieve seismic political change with a mass membership political party full of politically motivated people uniting behind a clearly articulated message of hope.

Anyone who thinks that the Labour Party can't rise again from the ashes to become a progressive mass membership party it just wrong. If course it's totally fair to assert that you think it won't happen (in all likelihood you're right, and it won't), but you can't say that the idea is completely impossible, because if enough people want it to happen, and they elect the right leader to allow it to happen, then it will happen.

More harm than good

Russell Brand has a public image problem. Not only has he styled himself as a champion of the kind of liberal progressive politics that drives fear into the hearts of billionaire right-wing authoritarian propaganda barons like Rupert Murdoch (S*n, Times, Sky) and Jonathan Harmsworth (Daily Mail, Metro), he's royally pissed one of them off by suing him and then making a big point of giving his winnings away to some of the other victims of the guy's powerful propaganda empire.

For all his talent at manufacturing a public image that has made him wealthier than most could ever imagine for themselves, he's utterly failed to see how the negative portrayal of himself in the right-wing propaganda sheets is another completely different public persona that is detrimental to any political campaign with which it is aligned.

Let's put it this way. Pretty much everyone who cares deeply about alleviating the suffering of others and stamping out political corruption would have been voting against the Tories anyway. We didn't need Russell Brand to spell it out for us that the Tories have been doing lots of unacceptable things, we damn well knew it already.

Now let's think about the average consumer of right-wing propaganda sheets (people who actually pay for their own indoctrination under the impression that they are 'just buying a newspaper'). Think about the fact that tabloids are written in very simple English, with very simple arguments for very simple people to rote learn and then mindlessly regurgitate in lieu of actually doing the hard work of doing the research and finding things out for themselves.

Think about the kind of person so hopelessly gullible that they still believe in the austerity con. The kind of person who believes that Liam Byrne's ridiculous 'no money left' letter was a serious admission that the UK was 'bankrupt'
The kind of person who thinks that an unflattering picture of a politician eating a sandwich constitutes some kind of magically decisive debate winning counter argument! The kind of person who believes that they've got to vote Tory in order to save themselves from the 'nasty Scottish woman' their propaganda sheet has taught them to fear (even though the very same propaganda sheet was actively endorsing her on the front page of their Scottish edition).

Now think of how this kind of person is going to react when confronted with the 'news' that a person they have been programmed to hate is endorsing the very same political party that their beloved daily propaganda sheet is constantly slagging off. They're quite obviously going to think "fuck that guy, I'm not letting him tell me how to think or what to do".

The idiocy of it is that they're unwilling to listen to one guy because their daily propaganda sheet has ridiculed him, but they're incapable of thinking about the wider picture, and the fact that by voting the other way they're simply doing the bidding of the much more powerful and much more skillfully manipulative guy (be that Rupert Murdoch or Jonathan Harmsworth).

I don't have the evidence to back it up, but I'm fairly convinced that Brand's blanket endorsement of the Labour Party will have cost them multiple times the votes they gained by it, simply because of the "fuck that guy" effect in people too lacking in awareness to think also think "fuck that guy" about Rupert Murdoch and Jonathan Harmsworth every time they see the blatantly biased coverage their daily propaganda sheets are trying to infect their minds with.

Get engaged properly

For me, the lesson from all of this is quite simple. If you're going to engage with the party political system at all, you need to choose a party early and invest some effort in making sure that it is set up to deliver what you want. Just leaving it until the last minute and then picking the 'lesser of two evils' options is completely the wrong way of doing it at the best of times, but when you've built a public reputation as a rejectionist, it comes across as hopeless confusion at best, and deliberate insincerity at worst - both of which can be used by your ideological enemies to ridicule your endorsement and convince people in droves to vote the other way.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.

Austerity is a con
The terrifying scale of political illiteracy in the UK
Russell Brand: An idle revolutionary?
How George Osborne has created more debt than every Labour government in history combined
How austerity-lite ruined Labour's election chances
The Tory ideological mission
Austerity and economic illiteracy
Labour vs the Lib-Dems in the strategic ineptitude stakes

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