On George Osborne, voting, and why Russell Brand is wrong

This post was written by Owen on December 5, 2013
Posted Under: Democracy,The Welfare State

Another day, another round of government policies to be denounced. Today, of course, we had Osborne’s Autumn Statement, with the much-trailed plan to raise the State Pension age to 70 for young workers, and a cap on overall welfare spending (excluding pensions and Jobseekers’ Allowance).

The justification for the former, of course, is that this is just an inevitable consequence of average life expectancy increasing. This will, I’m sure, come as great comfort to the young men of Manchester, who will on average already have been dead for a little over three months by the time they’re actually eligible to get their pension (going on life expectancy for 1993-95, the period when today’s young workers were born). As for the latter, Osborne’s apparent rationale is simply that, despite the wonderful economic recovery he claims to have brought about, and despite Cameron’s recent admission that austerity is a political means to an end and not an economic necessity, we  just can’t afford it.

With all that said though, I don’t particularly want to get bogged down in the details of precisely why these policies are unfair or not. What’s more interesting is to consider why it was these policies were chosen – even if you take it as a given that as a heartless Tory Osborne’s going to cut spending on something, why pick a rise in the State Pension age for current young workers rather than say, a cut in the State Pension for those claiming it at the moment? There are any number of reasons of course, but one of them can be summed up very simply: Russell Brand.

I don’t solely mean Brand himself, of course. It would be more accurate to say that I mean stuff like this:

I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites. Billy Connolly said: “Don’t vote, it encourages them,” and, “The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever being one.”
I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance; I know, I know my grandparents fought in two world wars (and one World Cup) so that I’d have the right to vote. Well, they were conned. 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.

This point of view didn’t begin with Russell Brand – as he says, plenty of people share his opinion. But – if we take people’s decision to vote or not as an indicator of the totality of their political disenchantment – it’s not actually the majority view. Turnout at the last General Election was 65%, or just under two-thirds. It’s almost certainly accurate to say that a majority of people are jaded by mainstream politics and cynical about politicians, but most people apparently aren’t far enough gone to abandon voting altogether. In fact, if you look at the statistics, there’s only one group (of those analysed) for whom the voter turnout was under 50%: 18-24 year olds.

That, in a nutshell, is why young people are getting screwed. 76% of pensioners voted in 2010, compared to 44% of young adults; whose interests is the government more likely to look after, do you think? And as a follow-up, is encouraging this disengagement likely to lead to things getting better for young people, or worse? Not exactly the trickiest one to call, is it?

That’s not to say that all political issues can be reduced to simplistic questions of intergenerational unfairness – I’m not saying the left’s response to the Autumn Statement should be “why not go after the pensioners for a change?” But if there’s no chance of you voting them out of office, the government doesn’t care about you. It’s that simple. This isn’t to take the ludicrous Robert Webb-type view by which voting is apparently the beginning and end of civic engagement in society – obviously demonstrations, strikes, occupations and the like can all make an important difference as well, and there’ll be times and places when getting involved with them is crucial. But to put it bluntly, if you’re rioting in the streets about student debt or unemployment it’s going to be a hell of a lot cheaper for the government to pay the overtime for a few more TSG goons officers than it would be for them to actually fund universities properly or to stop cutting benefits.

Plenty of people, of course, will probably at this point be tempted to reiterate Brand’s point about being so disgusted with politicians and the entire political system to vote for any of them. Tough. By all means feel disgusted – given the current state of British politics, that’s an entirely sensible reaction. But this is more important than your precious feelings, so get over yourself. Not getting screwed over by the Tories will take a lot more than disregarding Russell Brand’s advice about voting, but it might be a good start.

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Reader Comments

John Smith

Well put, not exercising an aspect of the power you do have, means that it won’t be taken into account, and possibly and more worryingly in the long run, removed or at least watered down.
This may be a gross over simplification or a little tautological, but if you don’t vote, you don’t count in a democracy (even a flawed one such as ours) in the same way if you don’t have kids, from a purely genes eye view evolutionarily you don’t count in the stakes of heredity.
I do of course acknowledge and note cultural contributions, and effects in both sides of this analogy.

#1 
Written By John Smith on December 13th, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

Well put, not exercising an aspect of the power you do have, means that it won’t be taken into account, and possibly and more worryingly in the long run, removed or at least watered down.
This may be a gross over simplification or a little tautological, but if you don’t vote, you don’t count in a democracy (even a flawed one such as ours) in the same way if you don’t have kids, from a purely genes eye view evolutionarily you don’t count in the stakes of heredity.
I do of course acknowledge and note cultural contributions, and effects in both sides of this analogy.

#2 
Written By Simon Bellord on December 13th, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

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