Russell Brand's hostility towards the current political system has been widely criticized. And I agree that his New Statesman piece is narcissistic, unscientific and long-winded - although in this he is hardly distinguishable from most other dead-tree columnists.But neverthless, he has a point.
First, let's dispose of the silly accusation of apathy. Apathy towards politicians is not the same as apathy towards politics. I never eat at KFC or McDonalds. But it doesn't follow that I'm apathetic about food. It's just that KFC and McDonalds are unrepresentative of my idea of what good food should be. Similarly, the main political parties don't represent my idea of what good politics should be. I'm a social libertarian market socialist. Who can I vote for?
Mr Brand has a point - albeit perhaps a little exaggerated - in complaining that existing politics is "nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites." There are, at least, four reasons for this:
- Politicians have political power and want money. Big business has money and wants political power. Econ 101 says that trade will happen. We'll therefore get crony capitalism. This is exacerbated by the fact that capitalists' control over jobs gives it a powerful lever to extract favours from governments, as Ineos seems to have done.
- The main political parties share the ideology - yes it is an ideology - of business, that organizations should be controlled from the top-down and that inequalities of power are a good thing.
- Capitalism generates ideologies which help to sustain inequality, and our political parties accept these ideologies. In this sense, Russell's call for a "spiritual revolution" isn't wholly silly.
The question is: what to do about this? Mr Brand says that voting for the least-bad option "seems like a tacit act of compliance". He has a point. The most grudging vote can be interpreted as a mandate for policies we despise; this is why I was loath for vote for authoritarian boss-worshipping New Labour. Against this, Jamie Bartlett replies that "If you don't vote, then politicians are less likely to listen." But I'm not sure. If there's a big mass of potential voters to win, politicians will, eventually, have an incentive to appeal to them. Abstention is, surely, at least a reasonable option.
But there is something else we can do. We can use what platforms we have to articulate our dissatisfaction. In our anti-rational celebrity culture, Mr Brand has a bigger platform than most of us. Sure, in doing so he's open to accusations of hypocrisy. But this reflects the bind that leftists are in; if we're poor we're accused of the politics of envy but if we're rich we're accused of hypocrisy.
Of course, such articulations are, in themselves, just a drop in the ocean. Which brings us to another acute observation by Mr Brand: "The Agricultural Revolution took thousands of years, the Industrial Revolution took hundreds of years, the Technological Revolution took tens." If it happens at all, the transition to socialism could take as long. In his small way, Mr Brand has made a contribution to this transition.