Vote Brand

“If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it.”

“No matter who you vote for, the government gets in.”

These are age-old gags: clichés, even. And they pretty well summarise Russell Brand’s point, I think: there’s no point in voting if your vote doesn’t matter. Either this shower or that shower gets in, give or take a third-party drizzle. Initial excitement and hope gives way to reality. They all court Murdoch and the right-wing press (Leveson hasn’t changed the landscape significantly). They all kowtow to demands of big business ( “…or we’ll move our company elsewhere” — corporate blackmail, or what nobody ever seems to call “economic terrorism” for some reason, is endemic).

Brand’s decision not to vote is his choice. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but neither do I agree with mandatory voting. Many people make the same choice — turnout at elections is low, even for general elections — and the difference with Brand is that he has a voice. He articulates, compellingly, at length, on TV and in newspapers, the reasons he doesn’t vote, and thousands of people watching and reading nod in agreement. Various media types and entrenched politicians hold up distracting shiny things — no, he doesn’t offer any true solutions, yes, he’s a sexist, no, there is unlikely to be a full-on, tanks-out revolution — but the fact is: in the substance of his comments about politics, disregarding his choice of whether to vote or not, Brand is right.

Which makes him a dangerous subversive who must be stopped.

He’s an easy target: his history, his reputation, his appearance, his money, even his articulacy. The qualities that give him the platform to speak are used to attack him for speaking. Of course, the correct way to obtain a platform is to be a member of the establishment, or a hereditary politician. The platform daddy built is the platform of choice for all right-thinking persons.

Brand says: “The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change”. I’m sure it’s a view shared by many, and it’s a legitimate view. If he feels the only choices available in his constituency all lead to the same result, he has the right not to vote. I’m not entirely convinced by the critic’s standard response: “If he doesn’t vote then he has no right to complain”. The disenfranchised are still citizens, aren’t they? The views of sixteen and seventeen-year-olds — who can marry, go to war, drive, etc — still matter, don’t they? Members of the House of Lords can’t vote for MPs but they seem able to do some quite significant complaining. Just as I pay taxes that go to services I won’t use, for the good of society as a whole — child benefit, for example — I believe those affected by government, whether they vote or not, are entitled to voice their opinion.

The right-wing papers certainly make their opinions known, and they’re generally owned by foreigners like Murdoch, or patriotic Brits like Viscount Rothermere who reside in France for tax purposes and pay no tax in this country. They would seem to me to be more legitimate targets than Russell Brand.

But anyway: I can think of three easy ways to make voting represent power or change, in a way that might make Russell Brand and those others who currently withhold their vote change their minds. (Because that’s what we should be doing rather than criticising them for not voting for people they don’t want to vote for.)

1. Legitimacy threshold

If no candidate in an election receives the votes of more than 50% (or some other threshold of legitimacy) of the entire electorate — not the voters who turned out — then the election is invalid and rerun with new candidates.

Potentially expensive and never-ending, and the constituency is unrepresented in parliament while this happens. But it’ll concentrate the minds of the candidates on the issues in that constituency, over and above national issues.

2. None of the above

Add ‘None of the above’ to the ballot paper. If that pseudo-candidate wins, the election is invalid and rerun with new candidates (and ‘None of the above’ again).

A less extreme version of (1). This gives current non-voters a great incentive to vote if none of the candidates appeals.

3. Proportional representation

Yeah, well, the public were offered this option but turned it down thanks to a concerted campaign by the vested interests, the establishment — and a shambolic one by its supporters.

And what happened with option (3) is why we’ll never see options (1) or (2) enacted. Because if voting changed anything, they’d abolish it.

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