Last nights BBC Question Time was, in all honestly, a bore. For all it’s hype about seeing two men ideological opposed to each other sitting directly across the table and staring each other down, it ended with a sort of damp squib.
Brand is not a politician, these debates do not suit his style because he is a preacher of morality, not a speaker of political issues. The debate was really “won” by Camilla Cavendish, who was probably the only reasonable person in the room by the end. Brand later released a statement that was typical of both his grassroots activism and his desire to see a better world (and I don’t doubt that he does) in that it appealed to peoples humanity and ended on an attack on Farage for creating fear amongst the populace. What was perhaps most telling about this statement in relation to the debate as a whole was the end of the second to last paragraph.
“The Britain of the future will be born of alliances between ordinary, self-governing people, organised locally, communicating globally. Built on principles that are found in traditions like Christianity; community, altruism, kindness, love”
It is statements like these that should immediately ring alarm bells, not because they’re based in some kind of utopian vision of humanity (Brand is commonly guilty of this anyway) but because he could not get this idea across during a debate on concrete issues because of his decision to “politely sit on his hands”. When presented with questions concerning how people in power should govern, which policies they should implement or reject, Brand is like a idealistic left wing student. Tuition fees, food banks and wealth inequality are where his strengths lie (and they are important issues that he is right to raise), but when presented with an issue as fundamental as education policy a response of “I don’t know much about it” and trying to throw the question into the issue on tuition isn’t good enough. In the world of collectivized government he wants to create, how are children educated then? If the Britain of the future is to be built on the things he has listed above, he needs to give concrete reasons as to why. It’s all very well appealing to our humanity and altruism, but many of the altruists are voting UKIP as well in a desire to leave a European Union that they feel even further disconnected from than the parliament in Westminster. Convincing them that there is an alternative would have been a better line of answering. He doesn’t appear to support any one party, preferring to be wholly anti-establishment, but there will always be an establishment of some kind, and if there is the revolution he desires he will be the one people look to to form a new establishment. So far he has done little to convince that it isn’t just all philosophy, that once push comes to shove, he has very little to offer beyond clever words and joining student protests. Those are good things to have, but a bringer of change they do not make.
An answer he gave that also irked me was to a gentlemen, who it was later confirmed was a UKIP MEP’s brother, was that when asked if he was a campaigner he replied that he was a comedian. That shows something of a lack of respect for an enormous number of people who do hold him in high regard as a campaigner, particularly on drug reform, but also shows a lack of international knowledge on the power of such a position. The Five Star Movement in Italy was founded by a comedian, was anti-establishment and anti-corruption and declared “populist” by many of its detractors, in a similar manner to Brand or indeed even Farage (though to call Farage anti-establishment in any way is ridiculous. A case for him being a unintentional comedian possibly). It received a massive share of the vote, way above even pollster predictions, in the Italian elections, destablising the power structure of parliament and leading to fundamental change in policy in Italy after the Berlisconi years. Brand appeared to be using his status as a comedian to detract from his campaigning, as though the issues he is fighting for are not related to his job. That was fine in the 2000’s perhaps, but the growth of social media and the power of sites like Twitter and Facebook has fundamentally changed how you can enter into the political sphere as a celebrity. You will be held to account on the issues you campaign on, you will be challenged on the ideas you espouse and if you answer back, as Brand does to his credit, to your detractors you become the retweetable voice of those who do not have your reach. The point about Malala having so few followers in comparison to Brand shows how ignorant he is of this fact. Part of why political apathy, particularly amongst the young, is becoming such an issue is that those who are considered voices of good don’t have a political platform, and that leaves the rest with all the space they need to maneuver round most problems in government. When those that do have the reach of Brand refuse to stand in parliament out of fear is it any wonder we have the level of apathy that we do?
Which leads to the second problem the UKIP MEP’s brother attacked Brand for; why wasn’t he standing for parliament himself? Brands response was “I fear I’d become one of them” which is contradictory to his previously very idealistic statements. If we are to build a Britain that is actually better, we do not need people who are scared of political office. The people who do change politics, for better or worse, weren’t scared of being a leader in the political environment of their time (Thatcher and Blair fundamentally changed their parties to move out of what they perceived as political stagnation for example) and if Brand really is going to be held up as a voice of those most crippled by the ridiculous policies of the current government (I’m a Conservative and think George Osbourne is completely crippling this country, just for the record) he needs to step up the plate and not hide behind easily repeatable idealistic statements. We all want a world built on peace, love and understanding. But we’re also well aware that the world is a matter of gamesmanship, of gambling against others who would rather subvert it, and Brand must be aware of this.
Immigration issues are created primarily by a combination of poor policy choices by current and previous governments with regards to social housing and by fear perpetrated by the media. Benefit claimants are similar, in that they are wrongly demonised. Brand is right to regularly point out that these are a distraction from other issues, but he resorts to a common tactic of attacking the wealthy for not paying tax, something that is both a common misconception (as a percentage of tax receipts, the amount the wealthy is paying is increasing and our reliance on them for social welfare is immense) and also becoming rapidly old hat. The modern global world requires a global tax policy, but because there are so many countries that would not support one, our government included, there will never be one. America is also ideologically opposed to taxation these days. Thus you fundamentally cannot prevent companies and individuals from avoiding tax receipts if they have the accountants, lawyers and resources to do so. You can try, but you’ll always end up having a loophole somewhere for them to exploit. This is pessimistic, certainly, and does not help the issue of political apathy, but what we don’t need is the wealthy that do pay tax feeling victimized because of the actions of what are in reality a select few powerful individuals who abuse the system. Throwing the money lenders out of the temples might look morally good but if they start lending in another temple it changes very little and just makes the temple poorer. That happened in France, resulting in the current farcical situation where their president had to backtrack on the one policy that got him power because everyone who could have paid it threatened to leave. Thus he looked weak, and has never recovered since. It’s also happening right now in Japan, an increase in Sales Tax of 3% is crippling the country after relatively good periods of growth, purely because of hysteria over price increases. The world does not work in the black and white morality of the Bible.
Politics does not need utopian idealists at the moment, however good their intentions may be. Brand is not a bad person, I do not believe he is some sort of self-centered hypocrite as The Sun might claim, but he is treading a very fine line between mad anarchist and idealistic humanist at the moment. He infuriates me not because he is “wrong”, he infuriates me because he refuses to start stating concrete ideas that can work within a political system, or at least start supporting parties that are. The Greens offer a far more reasonable alternative to UKIP, offer a referendum on Europe and have been shown time and time again to be in line with the desires of the British people. What they do not have is a successful voice. Caroline Lucas is a fantastic parliamentarian who fights for her beliefs and backs them up with policies to match, but the leader of the party Natalie Bennett is an unknown to large swathes of the population. They do not have the resources to stand members in every constituency, because they do not have the backing of unions, the rich or established politicians. That is changing, but it needs to change faster if things are going to go in the right direction in 2015. It is all well and good to claim “That the people have the wisdom, not politicians, that the old paradigm is broken and will not be repaired” when you’re outside the political scene. But as soon as he was on that stage it must have occurred to him that plenty of people disagree with him about Parliamentary politics. It is far from dead for most, it is close to dead to the left wing, whose voice in it is all but spent, but they have to take some blame for that. Left Unity is a start, but it’s still fighting against the ideologies that are now entrenched, but if Brand remains the biggest voice in opposition to current government or Labour policy (which lets face it, he is at the moment) any attempt to switch policies back to a more reasonable centralism or even socialism will fail.