TESS LOWERY discusses conflicting advice given to young people about voting.
Apparently, we live in a free society. And the whole point of a free society is that we understand that some people do not subscribe to our values. So with that in mind, why is it I feel like a goose on a French foie gras farm? On one hand, Russell Brand is shoving witty aphorisms and silky rhetoric down my throat; on the other, ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon is condescendingly muttering “anarchy is a mind-game for the middle classes” and looking menacingly into the camera, telling me: vote. What to do?
I agree with Brand that we should expect more, that we deserve more from our democratic system. But if young people don’t vote, as he’s encouraging us to, you know who will take full advantage: the privileged upper middle classes, whose input will make sure parties who protect their interests stay in. Or in other, better, David Foster Wallace words: “If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties”. These parties are acutely attentive to the fact that it is in their interest to keep the youth sceptical and disenchanted; it is their political agenda. It is your right to stay home and not vote, but you cannot ‘actively’ not vote. In fact, there is no such thing. As Wallace writes: “You either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”
If young people don’t vote, then bills that abuse, punish and drive them further into frankly unmanageable debt will be ushered into parliament by politicians. In short, if young people don’t vote, elections will continue to take place and parties will continue to be elected: life will go on. But if we don’t vote, are we betraying Emily Pankhurst? Martin Luther King? Are we betraying the many millions who died in a war to protect our freedom from the Nazi regime that would have had us goose-stepping to the beat of the Fuhrer’s fascist drum? Are we betraying the several billion people in the world who are not afforded the freedoms of a true democracy?
When faced with these questions though, I struggle to understand how I can be grateful for something I was never emotionally invested in. How can I betray a suffrage movement I never wanted to be a part of and that myself and countless others are disillusioned with? It’s like asking me to say thank you for crumbs. It doesn’t marry well with my ideology of the lifestyle I aspire to. I never asked for it and it isn’t a system that corresponds to what I believe in.
Nevertheless, the particularly dangerous aspect of Brand’s rant encouraging young people not to vote is that beneath his shiny rhetoric, there is very little to suggest he has an actual plan as to how to ‘start the revolution’, beyond a group of mates holding cardboard signs outside the Houses of Parliament. Instead, what Brand is actually doing is urging young people not to get involved in our political system, potentially changing nothing at all. But we have to, don’t we? We are all invested in the human race, and on some level, surely, we all need to participate where we can.
And anyway, is Brand right that there is no one to vote for? That all parties are full of the same glory-seeking, self-centred wankers? That, once in office, they all betray, lie and mislead? In any case, there is a vast array of parties covering all kinds of ideologies. But sadly, as it stands, people use their vote practically. For instance, the left wing are so terrified that the Tories might come into power that vast swathes of people resort to voting Labour, fearful that their vote would amount to nothing if they voted for a smaller party. But two-party politics is in decline. We cannot continue to see the only possibilities for change and ‘revolution’ in such digestible binary terms. It can no longer be a matter of Vote Labour or Vote Conservative, Vote or Don’t Vote. We can see it in the rise of UKIP, which is dragging the Conservatives further right. Maybe a pseudo-Anarchist or pseudo-communist party would drag Labour further left. I don’t know. But what I will say is this: if you don’t like the policies of anyone on the ballot paper, set up your own party. Nihilism won’t achieve anything.