When I meet Russell Brand, as I hope to at the People’s Assembly demo this month, I am going to ask him to do me a favour. I am going to ask him to change his mind. When he edited an edition of the New Statesman, he chose the subject of revolution. Nothing wrong in that; I’m often asked for my view on the political landscape for which my starting point is to oppose the status quo in favour of a better way of doing things. However, the starting point for Russell’s revolution was a rejection of the ballot box.
In last month’s European elections only one-third of people came out to vote. It was the first time for over 100 years that neither the Tories nor Labour won in a national poll. However, UKIP’s “victory” in percentage terms (and certainly in media coverage) was achieved with the support of only 9 per cent of the voting population. Apathy was the big winner. This is not the stuff of revolution.
No one can deny that there are clearer dividing lines between the left and right in British politics since the formation of a coalition on a hard-line right-wing agreement. Whether it is the bedroom tax, the punishing assault on social provision that has brought destitution to our most vulnerable or the attack on workers’ employment rights the policies of this Government affect people’s lives in a very real way. When there are vital national assets are being put at risk it is surely implausible to promote abstention, heading further down the path of a non-participatory democracy, instead of mobilising for a clear rejection of this Government’s ideology through the ballot box. The 62 per cent no-show for the Euro elections makes even less sense when we are told the EU is one of the key issues to voters. Such a state of affairs just one year before a general election is worrying for the Labour Party which does better when turnout is high.
With an estimated four million disabled people and some 13 million living on breadline wages, there are an awful lot of people with scores to settle with this Government; we must persuade them that voting Labour is the vehicle for that retribution. Ed Miliband is certainly getting there with the beginnings of an offer that will win back fed-up voters: action on fuel prices, home building, on zero-hours working, and social care fit for our elderly.
The real problem with voter apathy and the declining turnout is the weakening of the popular mandate for our government to act in the interests of the people. The only way we can keep in check corporate power and the destructive instincts of capital is to have an equal and opposite force in the form of strong, popular government of the people.
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century shows that because the return on capital outstrips growth, and is likely to continue to do so, inequality grows bigger and bigger. The only way that this can be remedied is with intervention from governments. Austerity is still defining our age and economic growth is set to benefit those directly responsible for causing the economic mess – the casino capitalists – before it benefits those who bailed them out – the British taxpayer. Strong government with a popular mandate is what is needed to challenge the economic unfairness that Piketty points out is inherent in the capitalist system, and that so many others from Christine Lagarde to Prince Charles (yes, beyond ironic) are now openly questioning. Even Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has said that capitalism’s job is to work for the people, not the other way around. That is why strong trade unions must be a central part of any programme of fairer redistribution of wealth, ensuring a greater share of our gross domestic product goes to paying wages – not simply accumulating the wealth of those at the top.
All this requires people to re-engage with politics not walk away from it. So I hope to persuade Russell Brand to put aside his disenchantment. We have around 300 days to persuade the British people that tomorrow is in their hands.
A vote for an alternative to austerity, for a new economic settlement of decent jobs, homes and hope; now, that is revolutionary.
Len McCluskey will be sharing a platform with Russell Brand at the People’s Assembly demonstration in London on Saturday June 21. For more details, visit http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/national_demo_21_june.