In his interview with Jeremy Paxman, Russell Brand hit the nail on the head. In the world at the moment, politicians are “apathetic to our needs. They are only interested in servicing the needs of the corporations”. Perhaps this is the reason why the edition of ‘New Statesman’ that he edited is currently sold out everywhere in Amsterdam, it resonated with people.
The reality on the streets
The past month I walked through Amsterdam looking for work, applying wherever I saw a ‘help wanted’ sign. In bars, cafes, restaurants, hostels, clothes shops. There were very few places with signs up. When I handed my CV to them, most places responded that they get flooded with applications and some got hundreds of resumes that day. When I extended my search and applied at places that did not have signs, they responded there that they also get flooded with resumes most days, and don’t usually bother keeping them. When I applied at one bookstore, the elderly woman behind the counter responded that giving her my CV would be ‘a waste of paper’. Others looking for work told me they experienced similar things. Signs are put out asking for work one day and will be taken away the next day. University graduates have given up the hope they will work in the area they studied, and are happy to get jobs they would not have had to study for. There is a running joke about university graduates who are preparing CVs and cover letters for a job washing dishes. There are a lot of people out there looking for work. For the generation of university graduates that finished after 2008 it is a struggle to raise money, let alone look at pursuing a career. You could be forgiven for thinking that everyone is in the same position. You would be wrong.
The Richest 1%
Since the global financial crisis of 2008, incomes of the richest one percent actually grew by 31.4%. To add insult to injury, during the year of the crisis the CEOs of the big banks received bonuses of several hundred million dollars. To put this in comparison, imagine a kid being put in charge of a lemonade stand. This kid then sells lemonade that disappears before anyone can drink it, burns down his lemonade stand and the others on the street, and creates a global shortage of lemons. Now imagine the parent rewards this kid with several million lifetimes worth of pocket money for his ‘good performance’.
There are some out there that profit still, and perhaps profit more because of the recession. In his article, Russel Brand contends “the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites”. Based on the actions of political leaders in providing massive amounts of bailout funds to the financial world to the detriment of people all over the world, it is hard to argue he is wrong.
The dream of democracy was to create a system of equality, to be the antithesis of systems that benefitted only the elites. The hope was that it would look after the needs of the people in that society. Since widespread deregulation of the 1980s, income inequality has spiraled out of control. The system that was intended to protect the people was used to create a new elite. It has been used to cater to needs of this elite to the detriment of the majority.
The fault with the argument
Up until this point, I am in complete agreement with Russel Brand. At present inequality is a massive issue, and it can be argued that almost all of the problems in the world stem from this. It has been argued that people often gravitate to crimes such as theft and drug dealing, and those that result from these, because they have no money to survive and cannot find legitimate work. Hunter S. Thompson once said “politics used to attract the best and brightest; now it attracts the dumbest and meanest”. In the current situation, politics attracts the greediest and most ambitious. Inequality is systemically encouraged by the two party political system that bends to the will of big business while simultaneously ignoring the needs of its citizens.
However, Brand’s call to stop voting is dangerous, and would be exactly what reinforces the balance of power in favour of the elites.
The problem is it does not take into account how most Western-style democracies operate. Countries like the Netherlands, England, Australia, the United States and so on, all operate under the representative democratic system. Officials are elected to represent groups of people, most commonly under the two party preferred system. Brand argues leaders of the two party system no longer represent the best interests of their people, and as a result people shouldn’t vote. However this neglects one of the crucial elements of this system.
When people vote, they elect officials for the house of representatives and also the senate. In Netherlands, as in most other countries, the house of representatives proposes new legislation. If the proposed legislation is agreed upon by the majority, then it is sent to the senate to be accepted or rejected. The crucial piece of this is that independent parties receive the same power.
The independent parties can hold real power in terms of encouraging new legislation or accepting or rejecting proposed legislation. If you don’t think that the current government is doing enough to tackle corporate corruption, vote for one of the socialist parties or those aiming to oppose the big banks. If you believe the government should do more to address environmental issues, vote for a green group. If you think more should be done for animal rights, vote for an animal rights group. Once elected their officials can propose new legislation and can also accept or reject proposed legislation. In the Netherlands there are independent parties like the Green Left, Party for the Animals and 50Plus that are dedicated to resolve specific issues in society. The amount of officials representing each group depends on how many votes they receive.
To those who think it is an impossible scenario, it has occurred before. Following the Australian elections of 2010, neither party emerged with a majority. People in Australia felt that there were problems with the two main parties, and they felt frustrated with both. Many voted independent, and as a result there was a hung parliament. This situation was only resolved when the Labour party allied itself with the three main independent parties, including the Greens, and formed a majority government. From 2010 to 2013 this alliance resulted in many new legislations and amendments focused on environmental protection, disability support and so on. The independents had some real power and could make a significant difference.
If you really feel that there is no party that adequately addresses your needs, maybe create your own. For the generation of university graduates that are unemployed or underemployed; it seems like there are enough of us to not only create a new independent party, but maybe also enough people to vote ourselves in. We could bring in policies that actually mean something to our generation; make unpaid internships illegal, increase taxation on the biggest corporation to pay back the debt they caused, maybe even ban all cars from driving in Amsterdam and make it a bike only zone.
A change of paradigm
If you really want to have a revolution in the system, vote independent. In the words of Hunter S. Thomspon; “all we have to do is get out and vote, while it’s still legal, and we will wash those crooked warmongers out”. Don’t believe that you have no power, we all have a power to voice what we want, and we all make decisions individually that together have the most powerful impact to decide what kind of world we want to live in. The call to not vote is irresponsible, as it neglects the power and voice voting allows us. What we need is to change our paradigm that there are only two parties to vote for. Each and every one of us has the power to change our system.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go put my Bachelor of Economics to good use and go wash some dishes for minimum wage.