This week Russell Brand blew up the internet with a call to revolution that threatens to create a new generation of political rubes. Brand admits he is an "oxymoron, with the emphasis on moron", which, if he wasn't a celebrity, would have made his views disappear quickly into obscurity.
The reactions toward Brand's call for a spiritual and economic revolt in the New Statesman and in interview with the BBC's Jeremy Paxman have varied from stern vilification to high praise. Brand has neatly positioned himself as the modern face of political disenfranchisement and contemptuous youthful cynicism. All I heard was self-pitying drivel; in particular, Brand's apathy towards the act of voting:
“I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance … As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for. I feel it is a far more potent political act to completely renounce the current paradigm than to participate in even the most trivial and tokenistic manner, by obediently X-ing a little box.”
Who can blame the disenchanted Australians who will respond to this message? We’ve all been audience to the Greek tragedy of the ALP over the last six years, only to see this followed by what is likely to be our most reactionary prime minister yet. But what many of Brand’s Australian followers fail to realise is just how powerful the average voter is.
This year I ran as a candidate for the Federal Seat of Melbourne for the Sex Party. I hit a brick wall of apathy during the election campaign. Comments such as “Why should I waste my vote on a minor party?” or “I live in a safe seat, so my vote doesn’t count!” dominated the conversations I had with the public.
But there is no such thing as a wasted vote in Australia. When you vote, you signal to the major parties where your policy priorities lie. If you are dissatisfied with the majors, voting for a minor party who more accurately represents your views, affects the policies of the majors — even if the minor party doesn’t win in that election.
Fringe issues are transported directly into the mainstream in this way. Homosexual rights is a case in point. Thirty years ago it was a radical idea, and today you can’t be the leader of the Tory Party in England without endorsing it.
Such change needn’t be so drawn out. The Sex Party's Fiona Patten in 2009 was the only political candidate calling for a royal commission into child sex abuse. Despite not winning her seat in the Senate, support for her party was enough to induce the government to change its position on this. An R18+ games rating and the internet filter censorship debacle were similarly influenced by Patten.
Australian voters also change the Australian political landscape via funding. If a candidate garners more than 4 per cent of the primary vote, they receive $2.49 for every vote from the Australian Electoral Commission. Big whoop, you say? That’s real money.
Funding ended up going primarily to the major parties because your average Australian thinks the election is only a two horse race. Why are the Liberal and Labor parties so powerful? Because they respectively received $23.1 and $20 million of your political support in September, on top of whatever backing already from unions and big business.
The Greens also earned themselves $5.3 million, which will see them play a larger role in 2016. Was the Greens' biggest victory in 2010, when Adam Bandt became the first Green MP in the lower house? The case could be made for 2004 and 2007 instead, when the party ran and lost, but earned political capital that shifted their policies into the mainstream, and government funding to return to the next election stronger and more powerful. All of this was achieved by what Brand would call a "trivial" and "tokenistic" act at the ballot box.
Every voter I spoke to was shocked to understand the influence of their vote over both the short and long term. That's why Brand’s philosophy is so ironic. He acknowledges that “apathy is in fact a transmission problem, [and that]when we are given the correct information in an engaging fashion, we will stir,” and yet his self-pitying, cynical view is precisely what creates the inertia the major parties rely on to keep a stranglehold on power.
Brand is wilfully ignorant, rather than just incidentally ignorant, and I don’t want to risk an infection of this sort affecting Australians.
Social change happens in increments and is and vigorously contested by reactionaries at every step. It happens from a clear knowledge of and participation in the democratic process. Brand admitted as much in the interview with Paxman, which was a better message for Australians:
“Within the existing paradigm the change is not dramatic enough, not radical enough. So you can well understand public disturbances and public dissatisfaction when there are not genuine changes and genuine alternatives being offered. I say that when there is a genuine alternative, a genuine option, vote for that.”
In Australia, minor parties exist that embody the kind of dramatic and radical alternatives of which Brand speaks, to voice protest and discontent with the political status quo. The Australian voter is sufficiently powerful to make the change they desire on the political landscape. Don’t let the majors, nor Russell Brand, convince you otherwise.
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