Politics is too often just the ‘flavour of the month’ in Britain
If you believe some message boards and social media groups a revolution started last week. This is a revolution that promises to redistribute wealth and challenge social hierarchies. It promises to oppose injustice and bring politicians to account. To illustrate quite how serious it is, a Facebook group set up in its honour has over 80,000 likes, so it’s obviously a serious movement. Oh, and Russell Brand is its leader.
When Paxman and Brand squared up on Newsnight last Wednesday few expected the interview that followed. Brand’s obvious eloquence and disdain for the political establishment in the face of Paxman’s originally eye-rolling and later inquisitive responses seemed to put into words a great deal about what many ordinary people feel about politics in the UK – politicians are all self-interested.
While I commend Brand’s TV presence and his at times sensible suggestions about people should strive to make society fairer – especially regarding huge disparities in wealth – his frustration and abandonment of democracy as an ideal is all too familiar among many people in Britain.
The 2010 election was unusual in the amount of interest it aroused from the population and as we know now resulted in a hung parliament which could well extend beyond 2015. This was the culmination of the effects on politics after the global financial disaster and the creation of a huge deficit which is a term which most people have got tired of hearing about.
However this still recorded a turnout of just 65%. In 2001, 59.4% of the population turned out to vote and in 2005 the number of people voting marginally improved to 61.4%.
Now, while I certainly don’t support the Australian system which makes it a legal requirement to vote – not voting in itself can be seen as a political act – it does mirror the problem we have in the UK where ordinary people only become interested in politics periodically and when it is fashionable to do so. I can’t believe that nearly 40% of the population choose not to vote because they are making a passive aggressive statement against the establishment. This is one of the root causes which make our politics elitist.
So this is where I disagree with Brand, being political isn’t about simply complaining and calling for change – it’s about enacting change and in the UK we have a tradition of engaging with a democratic process to do that, and what’s more it can be achieved despite widespread pessimism. Unfortunately, as a country we only engage with politics rarely and then that will only be to criticise and lambast before latching onto the next trend. This suits politicians as well as they are able to continue their jobs with less hassle and they should certainly do more to address this issue.
Of course, politicians should be challenged and criticised – the media plays a vital role in this as do the population. But the discontent expressed in Brand’s interview is indicative of the apathy regarding politics within our society – yes it’d be lovely to change the world, but only if someone else will do it for us.