It’s the European elections today. This is the map to my polling station conveniently located on the back of my polling card. That’s pretty much the only part of this process that’s convenient for me. The election’s on my day off and my polling station is a train ride away, not a long one admittedly, but I’ll be lucky to show up, vote and get back inside an hour. As someone who works in three buildings in two towns three days a week I value my non-commute time pretty fiercely. As a freelancer riding multiple deadlines, I view that hour or so as being, essentially, stolen from me.
It is, in short, a royal pain in the arse to go vote.
I am therefore going anyway. In fact I may already have voted by the time you read this.
First off, let’s talk about Russell Brand. The Goth Dandy of British Comedy has come a long way in the last few years. He’s a quietly fierce, intelligent writer who has attacked political opinion journalism with the same good natured intellectual brutality he brings to his best comedy. Brand is far from perfect, and yes, this is the same Russell Brand who was the other half of ‘Sachsgate‘ which was one the things that led to the Jonathan Ross/Hugo Awards trainwreck earlier in the year. These days he’s an interesting, articulate figure who is starting to carve a niche out for himself as someone who says what other people are entirely too British to articulate. Such as in this interview;
Brand has a point. Politics in the UK has been a parade of disenfranchisement, betrayal and passive aggressive failure since the Thatcher era. British politics works in the same way geology does; slowly and with constant erosion. Endless decade-plus reigns have meant that parties have lived their entire three-act narrative of power in the public eye and it’s always the same one. Initial sweep to success, a couple of genuine achievements, courting of Pop icons, slow but constant accruing of scandal and incompetence, eventual hard fought failure. Lather, rinse, repeat,wait for the latest version of ‘Shipbuilding.’
Like I say, Brand has a point. Politics in this country is, these days, a choice between pink balloons in slightly different suits. The options are as follows:
-Labour-Fresh off their decade plus in the spotlight and currently run by a man who stood on his own brother’s face in the campaign to lead the party. They, on paper, are one of the best options for me. That’s something I’m not entirely happy about, especially given their fondness for courting the right wing at the expense of their own supporters.
-The Conservatives-I’m the son of a teacher and a nurse and I grew up in the 1980s. These people get my vote the same day Lucifer gets a job juggling snowballs in Hell.
-The Liberal Democrats-Currently in a nominal ‘coalition’ government with the Conservatives. This is a lot like Nermal from Garfield selling his soul to Darth Vader to stand next to power. Their parade of broken promises would be hilarious if it wasn’t so immense. This is, once again, not happening.
-The Greens-The Liberal Democrats without the massive, toxic corruption of power. Honestly, I’m thinking these guys.
-UKIP-Who are campaigning on an anti-Europe platform to…get elected in Europe and fritter away their Euro MEP salaries as a means of sticking it to the Man. Amazingly, this seems to be a popular option for some people. That’s even before we get to the fact that the views of many of their individual candidates on homosexuality, foreign people, people of a perceived lower class than them, poor people, people who they aren’t related to and basically everyone who definitely won’t vote for UKIP varies between demented and disgusting. They’re a feral joke, that’s rampaged across the political landscape not because they have popular support but because their figurehead can pass for a likeable rogue who likes a drink whilst simultaneously being a mustard-suited sociopath who cites Vladmir Putin as a politician he admires.
Let’s be clear here, folks.There is no good option. This is the literal version of the South Park episode about democracy. To make matters even worse, these are European Parliament elections, a system so vast and byzantine that most people don’t understand what it does and that includes a good chunk of the MEPs themselves.
The thing is; Europe is a profoundly weird place. You may have noticed. What you have is essentially a layer cake of nations, flying in loose (Or restrictive depending on your point of view) formation. The European Parliament exists to ensure the continent-wide laws that these countries adhere to are enforced, that trade agreements are fair (or fair enough) and that individual countries have a say in the running of the deeply odd, patchwork superstate that is the European Union. It’s untidy and messy and almost certainly corrupt but show me a governmental body that isn’t untidy, messy and a little corrupt and I’ll ask why we aren’t re-watching The West Wing from the beginning.
My point is this; it’s a system that doesn’t quite work.
Name one that DOES.
Better still, name one single, solitary system at any level of human life that invites participation and better serves your interests when you decide not to participate.
Brand has a point, but he doesn’t have a conclusion. Choosing not to participate is choosing to be silenced and there are more than enough people trying to do that already. This is a bad time for British politics, as bad as it’s been for a good long while, but that’s a reason to show up not to back away. Yes it’s a broken system, yes it’s inconvenient and annoying and yes the amount of shitty journalism written about the elections could form a planetary ring at this point. But this is a chance to participate in the conversation of government and if you don’t take your chance, the people who do take their chance will drown you out.
So, if you’re eligible, and if you can, vote. I’ll see you on the train.