Yesterday evening I and over 400 other political aficionados had the privilege of attending the i’s latest student-based debate, questioning whether ‘a generation of young people are right to give up on politics’. This event being based in the Northern heartland of Manchester, I must say that certain revolutionary phantasmagorias did enter my mind. Indeed, a small band of politically active individuals gathered in an industrial geographical hinterland, discussing the downfall of the present political model did evoke illusions of foco insurgency and oversized Cuban cigars. But, although it certainly has to be admitted that Owen ‘Che’ Jones overthrowing Russell Brand and assuming his natural role as leader of the student revolution does have a certain attraction, he would perhaps need the help of Oly Duff in achieving the amount of resplendent facial hair necessary to become a true comandante.
Beard admiration and revolutionary illusions aside however, the event emphasised many crucial aspects of the political engagement debate- observations that will continue to be highlighted as this subject evolves.
'Voting is like continuing to date your girlfriend after she has dumped you and started shagging your dad'- Amol Rajan
Although a crude, not to mention somewhat disturbing, quote from the editor of the Independent, this frank brutality underlies the political protest point of view, so aptly represented by our revolutionary pretender Russell Brand. Indeed, the argument goes that- candidly put-young people have been royally f****d over by the existing powers at Westminster. Greasing the ladder of self-reliance, emptying pockets and crushing ambitions, successive governments have left a post-university world of supermarket employment and one-bedroom flat renting, through no fault of the students themselves. Indeed, many of yesterday’s attendees had barely enjoyed their first sip of dad’s warm Stella by the time bankers had started gambling their futures away on toxic debt.
As such, Bradinistas would say that we should not vote. We should not encourage those who actively facilitated the deplorable actions of economic overlords. If we do, aren’t we ourselves as much to blame when the same situation inevitably ensues all over again? And not just that, aren’t we merely assisting the conservative forces that maintain a malignant voting system and the corrupt elitist playground of Parliament?
This is the view we heard last night from Amol Rajan, and it is a perspective I have a phenomenal amount of sympathy for. Instead of engaging in the fool’s world of Westminster, Rajan argued that we should engage in politics in other ways, through ‘journalism, charity and volunteering.’ Young people must engage in politics, but engage in the right way; mastering tools to build future prospects, rather than enabling those which innately destroy them.
Here we come to the juncture in the debate, and what separates the Brandinistas from Owen Jones’ angry band of nascent revolutionaries. Indeed, what discerns Jones’ perspective from that of Rajan’s rival Marxist faction (ok, I may be getting carried away slightly with the revolutionary allusions now) is an alternative view of political forces external to Westminster.
As has been evidenced and experienced throughout history, external protest can set the political agenda, and we cannot brush off lightly the achievements of those who have changed so much through protest and direct action. But, in the end, whether we refer to the Suffragettes movement or the modern campaign for equal marriage, representatives within Westminster have always been necessary to implement change. ‘Democracy gives accountability, without it you have people like me running around representing nobody’ said Jones; both internal and external action is necessary for fundamental change, and we cannot shirk our responsibility to partake in either.
On this count Jones is right, and our malleable political centre is being sculpted by external forces more now than ever before. Ellen Jones said that ‘politicians using social media is like someone turning up for a party when they’re not invited.’ This is tragically accurate; the backfiring consequences of Cameron’s ‘statesmanlike’ conversation with Barack Obama only serving to prove that point. Yet at least they are at the party. They are listening to what everyone else is saying and even nervously partaking on occasion, even if they are the parent in the room who everyone wishes would just shut up and leave.
Through social media politicians are more accessible than ever before, and their actions are accountable to an online political realm which is hastily becoming more effective than standard parliamentary procedures (although with PMQs in its current state it is not hard to see how). But without the accountable few, we are merely thousands of isolated, disparate voices.
We must vote, but we must also engage in other ways. Politics does not just stop at the ballot box. If we embrace this, then politicians will eventually buy us some free booze. And then perhaps we may start involving them in the party.
When the debate drew to a conclusion last night, we were asked to hold up a card to represent our final decision on the motion. A delightfully frightening image of Russell Brand was to be held aloft if we support the decision of young people to abandon Westminster politics, and an ‘iVote’ card for if we opposed the motion. This was the result:
A sea of iVotes ordained the room, with only a speckling of Brandinite rebels. But I do not believe that this displays young people’s unreserved support for Westminster politics. Indeed, so many people attending a debate on the flaws of Westminster illustrates the degree of sympathy towards this view. Overall, I believe the message was this: ‘We will not abandon Westminster politics, we will change it.’ And now, more than ever, we have the power to do so.
As for Russell Brand? Well, I do believe you should remove the starred beret my friend, temper your rebellious declarations and convert.
Welcome, Comandante Jones.