Russell Brand has thrown down a gauntlet. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YR4CseY9pk He has forcefully stated what we all know, that the cosy Parliamentary political process works to protect the interests of the land-and-wealth-holding 1% that is manifestly uninterested in the well-being of the 99%. He also states that the majority of that 99% have lost both interest and confidence in the political process; witness the falling turn-outs in elections, that reached shockingly low levels of less that 20% in the Police Commissioner elections last year.
In advocating revolution he was giving voice to the sense of disempowerment felt among people he knew – he clearly keeps contact with his roots despite his recent acquisition of fame and wealth. He is expressing anger with the political establishment, an anger that not only he feels, but many feel as they turn away from the electoral political process and try to find some other vehicle to bring their existence and their plight to the attention to those who have power.
It is clear to us all that this Parliament is not that vehicle – and that is a tragedy. Over generations brave, selfless and far sighted people have wrested power, clause by clause, from the Barons who claimed their legitimacy from the rights of conquest. That attitude, the absolute right to hold and exercise power without question or challenge, still underpins the British Establishment. Every concession is grudgingly given. They will never rest until each is taken back and we return to the condition of serfdom. Austerity is a step in this direction, taking back our economic gain. Next will come disenfranchisement.
Brand’s initial, repeated call on people not to vote would play into the very hands he identifies as the robber’s. Not voting hurts no one but ourselves. The power structure couldn’t care less. If no one voted, they would claim power by default; they see it as theirs as of right. If people don’t bother to vote, there will be less need for them to spend their stolen money on propaganda, after all, their own faithful followers can always be relied on to turn out. Tories are more likely to vote than any other persuasion. Why bother to go to the hassle of formally disenfranchising the people if they do it to themselves? Once again we are divided against ourselves, working against our own interests and playing into the hands of our rulers and masters.
A call to revolution does have a certain heroic ring, ‘man the barricades’ – storm the citadels of power, smash a few busts of the great and pompous – then what? Historically revolution has failed to deliver a better order and the price is sickeningly high. The world is in a mess and the last thing we need is the diversion of revolution. As Brand rightly points out the planet is in danger, government is broken, and people are suffering. Parliament either doesn’t care or is powerless to act in the interest of the majority – things have to change.
But revolution? No! We just haven’t time. Revolution would set the clock back, we would have to invent new structures, go in for endless arguments, assassinations, plot and counter-plot, the wealth might change hands, but it would stay in a few hands and those hands would stay on the tiller. Remember the outcome of the Russian Revolution; new rulers, same privileges, the people still shivering out on the street, disenfranchised.
Democracy is broken and it is up to us, the Greens, to mend it. There is no one else to do it. We can do this through engagement, by making demands of Parliament, by holding Parliamentarians to account, by knowing what they are up to, by letting them know that we know what they are up to, by being aware of where the power in this country lies and by not being taken in by the propaganda machine that is the media and press. And we need a clear programme. Political protest, even revolution, without a manifesto achieves nothing. That is why Occupy fizzled out. It asked many pertinent questions but it came up with no answers. It did not develop a programme of action.
We have had two generations of protest; protest against the bomb, against war, against hunger and poverty, against cruelty, against unjust taxation, against austerity. Protest is like a safety valve, it allows people to let off steam, it lets them feel that they are doing something, it allows spokesmen for the power structure to make pious statements about listening and sharing concerns, it sends us home thinking we have taken action and nothing changes. Why? Because at the next election the ballot boxes tell a different story. People vote for the business as usual parties as they are bidden to do by the propaganda machine, and a new conservative party is installed. Those who don’t vote are dismissed as apathetic, not interested, not bothered, so no need to take account of their opinions because they have expressed no opinion.
Protest without a clear manifesto that lays out the action that we are demanding, is going to achieve nothing. We still have the bomb, we are still at war, and there is still poverty and cruelty, now joined by hunger. OK, we might have defeated the poll tax – but think why. The Tories were about to lose an election, public opinion was swinging against them, which galvanised action; they scrapped the poll tax and made us pay by raising taxes. The protests died away, they won the next election, and it was back to business as usual. The focus of protest was too narrow, there was no other programme.
We cannot argue with Russell Brand’s analysis. We are drenched in analysis, the airwaves are full of it but what we need desperately is solutions. And Brand’s initial solution will not work. It will not put us in any better position, why should it?
What really stirs in his splendid tussle with Paxman (no less) and call for revolution, is that there is a solution, a very clear Green manifesto that focuses on our collective needs, that maps out a clear way forward that will increase our general well being, that will rein in the abusive power of the new aristocrats of wealth, that will address both our social and global ecological crisis. It is the Green Manifesto for a Sustainable Society.
Of course Brand might find it awkward to endorse the Greens. He is part of a business, the Brand ‘brand’. He has to keep his million followers in mind. His advisers might tell him that if he endorses the Greens he will lose followers and become less interesting to the media that helps him make his money.
He knows that we are here, and perhaps, he is throwing down a challenge to us – to take a leaf out of his book, be totally up front, have the confidence of strong belief, don’t be afraid of telling it as it is, or of upsetting people or of being controversial.
We are too deferential, too concerned about the detail, about trying to balance the books about having answers to every question. Our purpose is still to shout about the big issues. There is hunger on our streets, our climate is changing, we are running out of the essentials for life and the rich are robbing our children of their future. We are too concerned with winning the intellectual argument and are failing to make emotional contact with those who should be supporting us.
So we note that towards the end of his interview with Paxo, he did declare: “I say when there is a genuine alternative, a genuine option, then vote for that. But until then, pffft, don’t bother. Why pretend? Why be complicit in this ridiculous illusion?”
Our answer is, top marks Russell. We Greens are not pretending, we are a genuine option. We Greens are not complicit. We have grown up from a party of eco-warriors to a party in which social fairness goes hand in hand with saving the biosphere.
We Greens won’t get power as in an instant majority. But we do believe in the best power of all, the power of persuasion, and are quite good at it.
Russell, be radical again with yourself, and declare you’ll vote Green in 2014 and 2015. That will give you and us the power of persuasion.
Derbyshire Green Party