Last week I put a piece on YouTube, condensing Russell Brand's 2014 into just under three minutes:
It was tricky to do, because I have much sympathy for what Brand says he wants to achieve. I agree with much of what he says. I hate the 'first past the post' electoral system in the UK, and the way it results in so few people's votes ever counting for anything (although I'll come onto that later). I hate the establishment. I hate the fact that George Osborne's father-in-law is a lobbyist for major fracking investors. I hate it all.
But some people, on watching my video, concluded that I was One Of Them. And that I was a supporter of Farage. Which, let me be quite clear here, I categorically am not.
There's an apocryphal story that back in the days of good jazz, Bill Harris, a trombonist in Woody Herman's band, was the most annoyingly, unfailingly positive person around. He wouldn't say a bad word about anybody. Finally, in exasperation, his fellow band members turned to him and said 'Ok, what about Hitler? What do you have to say about him?'
He paused for a fraction of a second and said 'He was the best in his field'.
And that is the problem. When it comes to radical politics in this country, Farage is the best in his field. Which is frightening, and dangerous. Brand says 'reject the system - don't vote'. Farage says 'reject the system - vote for me'. And people are doing so. Because it's a clear proposition. Farage is working within the existing infrastructure, and giving people a means of expressing themselves. Brand, for all his rhetoric, isn't telling me (or anyone else) how we should effect change. Yes, we should organise locally, at the grassroots level, and build up and outwards from there. We should also be going to the gym more. And washing up our recycling really thoroughly. I'm awful at that. I'm trying to do better.
I consider myself reasonably politically-aware, but I don't know how to organise locally. I find it hard to even make eye contact with people when I go to the shops. To be honest, in South East London, where I spent most of my life, doing so could be fatal.
The best I can do, politically, is sign online petitions, try to live ethically and with minimal environmental impact, and, lastly... to vote. Dragging my haggard carcass to a church hall and making a cross (ironic, that) once every five years, realistically, is about as pro-active as I am going to get.
I certainly wouldn't dream of assuming that it's the same for everybody else. But I do see tired, overworked people, with loyalties divided between work and family and sleep, who can barely look up from the treadmill of their lives to do any Big-Picture Thinking. It's much easier to do that when you are rich enough to work when you want to work, and do the work you feel like doing. Not that I am naming any names here. And I think it's expecting a lot to tell the masses to start a revolution. It's sort of like uncaging a load of battery hens and saying 'Go! Fly! Be free!' while they blink in the daylight, attempt to stand up and wonder where the feeding belt went. Plus, chickens are largely flightless anyway.
Anyway. Vegan-agenda-pushing analogies aside, what I am saying is that putting all your money on revolution is a big, big, massive, reckless gamble. I would love to see revolution. I will happily campaign for it. Truly. But I think it would be prudent to vote, too, juuuuust in case it doesn't quite go according to plan.
(There is a side issue here, as to how we would win even if the revolution *did* happen. Often, the power vacuum created by revolutions doesn't get filled by 'peaceful, loving' people like what Russell likes. Often, they're thuggish bastards. Look at the sliding scale of outcomes in the Arab Spring. Historically, better results have come from those movements with a clear vision of what the new democratic infrastructure should be).
The chances of revolution happening, and, importantly, then delivering the result we would wish for, are tiny. Whether or not we have revolution, we will still need infrastructure. Who will empty the bins? Who will clean the hospitals? Who will tarmac the roads? (Personally, I would very much like to see it done by ex-bankers). The last thing I want to do is kill the momentum of people's desire to make change happen. And I don't want to sound old and cynical. I want us, as a society, to harness the energy and idealism of the young, and the young-thinking.
This is where Farage has been canny, and where Brand falls down. Farage has spent 20-plus years hauling UKIP out of the mud, and shaping it into something that people are finding attractive. That process, like much of the work your average MP does, is bloody boring. It involves listening to people talking about the drains in Hackney. It isn't sexy, or jolly, or fun. But it's important. Because the drains in Hackney do matter to some people.
I respect Russell Brand for going out and talking to some people - firemen in East London, and the residents of the New Era Estate. And I applaud their efforts, hugely. What they have done has been fantastic.
These victories, though, will not diminish the injustices now being perpetrated by corporations on a global scale. Slavery has now been localised. Why ship people halfway across the world to a colony, when you can enslave them in their own villages, on their own land? How do we stop companies like Monsanto from annexing whole continents? Organising locally is not going to cut it. What we need is legislative power.
Fortunately, the infrastructure is there. It's all in place. Petitions, referendums, demonstrations and elections. On a local scale, I don't buy Starbucks any more (even though I miss their sodding frappuccinos EVERY DAMN DAY) and on a national scale, I'll go on demonstrations, and I'll vote.
I feel that Brand thinks that one glorious October, we will finally overthrow all tyranny and injustice everywhere and everything will be brilliant and we can all make love in a big field somewhere while John Denver sings to us. (I may have some of the details wrong there; it could be Chris de Burgh; there's really no knowing).
I know that's silly and reductive and dismissive. But, in the absence of a coherent plan, we are all forced to try to extrapolate What Would Happen Next. Brand has spent two years reading and writing on the subject of revolution, which is admirable, but he is looking to rid the world of evil at the speed of a magic bullet. I fear it will take longer than that. Much, much longer. About twenty years, in fact.
Which is not to say it can't be done. And Brand is starting from a much stronger position than Farage did. But, as well as doing all the fun stuff, the jolly book tours and the arsing about interviews, he'll need to set himself a long-term plan, and begin the long walk towards it. And that will mean working within the current setup, to an extent.
Honest, I don't want to rain on anyone's parade. I would love to see revolution come. But let's be belt-and-braces. Let's vote in the meantime. Why should you vote? To tell the people in power what you are for. Not what you're against. At this time, when it seems society has retreated into its respective corners in preparation for some big bout, it is, I think, time to abandon tactical voting. Vote with your heart. Whichever party most closely resembles your beliefs, vote for it. It isn't a wasted vote. Because the big parties will look at the policies that are attracting the votes. And they will change. Look at how all the major parties have started hastily chucking in stuff about immigration. Those UKIP votes, the ones that haven't elected any MPs - they have brought about real change in policy, whether the rest of us like it or not.
And if you're not sure who to vote for, I still recommend having a quick look at the impartial voteforpolicies.org if you haven't yet. It's a great way to find out which party most closely resembles your views. And then, I beg you... Vote for it in May. We can back both hare and tortoise approaches to the world's problems.
In the meantime, if you can't face watching the video, or you're on a bus or something, here's a transcript:
This year I've decided to git all poli'icoo and become a conduit for change, since I've got a girlfriend and can't shag about no more. I fink I'll go up Noosnight. I don't wanna look at graphs, Evan, I just spent the last two hours 69ing Owen Jones at a Guardian thing, and I'm so pumped full of adulation and adrenalin that I think I'm ruddy invincible mate and I'll start using every intimidation tactic in the book, such as over-familiari'y, mate, chum, fella, big man, I'm touching your leg 'cos I'm not scared of the gays, I think it's a really beau'iful fing, I own you, Evan, let's extend the Occupy movement to your personal bodyspace, let me just shake out my manly mane and expose my crotch a little bit more, I bloody AM Jesus, mate, I'm the King of the Trews. Fair point, Jesus and Che Guevara and Gandhi weren't multi-millionaires, chargin' the best part of a nundred squid to watch them plug their book up the Albert 'all, but what do you want me to do? Give the book away as a free download? I ain't got all the answers. I'm basically just soundin' off, mate, to milk applause, this ain't about solutions. We need to organise locally, like last Saturdy we went down 'ackney Poundstretcher and done a demonstration about Monsanto and I fink iss really got 'em on the run. Plus I got to stand in front of it and look like a man of the people. At least when I exploit the workin' classes for me own gain, I bother to put on eyeliner. What's that? Am I really represen'in' them when they don't stand a chance of understanding a word I'm saying? All I can say to that is oligarchy didactic ativism dodecahedron 'ungry 'ippos recidivisticalydocious. Oh, and 'dinkle' - I ain't lost me roots! Iss about takin' ownership of fings again. Like 'ow I took ownership when someone parodied me usin' the Park Life song - I did me own:
It's difficult to do a parody when you're trying to be too clever and find words that rhyme with... Park Life.
You end up sitting there staring at the words for so long you think it's acceptable to crowbar in phrases like... 'Daft Tripe'.
The trews is, about 18 months ago, economists started predictin' social breakdahn wivvin two years, or as soon as the old interest-winterest rates went up, and since massive ego plus too much time on me 'ands equals desperate need for self-aggrandisement, I fought I'd start predictin' a revolution, 'cos when you screw your eyes up a bit, revolution, ie attemptin' to overthrow the old order an' bring about radical social change does look a bit like ransacking your local JD Sports for trainers, dunnit? So as long as I keep on bangin on about this stuff for long enough, I'll be able to say 'I told you so' next time someone ram-raids a Currys. Time for a bit of the ol' self-deprecation, I'm just a poor boy, from a poor family, I ain't got all the answers, I don't seem to need 'em when I'm gettin' all this attention for just soundin' off about stuff, if I lent my support to the Green Party the way I did to the residents of the New Era Estate, I could bring about real social change, or if I was really committed to this stuff I could put my big money where my big mouth is and put in the grunt work like Nigel Farage did twenty years ago and slowly build up my own political movement. Ere's the fing: Some people might fink 'well, thass a bit 'arsh, this deconstruction of 'im is a bit like rolling up a big copy of the Sun an' smashin' 'im into the carpet, but the fact is that while I'm enjoyin' the spotlight, the ones with the power are quietly legislatin' people like me away into a gulag, and I'd like to see 'ow a few clips on YouTube are gonna stop that.