This article appeared in The Palatinate
Russell Brand has given a voice to the disillusioned masses. “I fervently believe that we deserve more from our democratic system than the few derisory tit-bits tossed from the carousel of the mighty, when they hop a few inches left or right” he declares, representing the common man in not-so-common language. To pare it down, he thinks politicians just don’t get it and are all the same and as such voting makes no difference.
We don’t have to guess into the future to see the effect of this nihilistic advice, because young people already vote in far fewer numbers than old people. In 2010, only 44% of 18-24 year olds voted compared to 76% of over-65s. What this means in practice is the government has less qualms about looking after the young.
Pensioner’s benefits remain sacrosanct, meaning in times of austerity millionaires still get a free TV licence and bus pass, and while real wages have fallen pensions are protected by the ‘triple lock’ system. Meanwhile the government has had little to lose by scrapping EMA, trebling university fees and ignoring prohibitive property prices. It’s all very well protesting with hashtags and marches, but all the clicktivism and student politics in the world don’t threaten politicians if they know you won’t vote.
The charge that they are all the same is superficially harder to counter in an age where appearances are everything. Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage may all look like a bunch of posh white men in suits. But each wants to shape our country’s future in distinct way.
A Conservative government would bring about deep cuts to benefits and public services, while offering voters a chance to leave the EU in a referendum. Labour would tax the rich more and introduce cuts worth about five times less than the Tories, while tampering with big companies’ prices to try to reduce the cost of living.
Meanwhile, with polls suggesting no overall majority the big two look destined to rely on one or more other parties. If you’re in the middle, the Lib Dems offer moderation: the economic head to Labour’s bleeding heart or the ‘good cop’ in a duo with the Tories.
If you’re not convinced by any of the above, several radical parties could also have unprecedented influence after the election. UKIP pushes for less immigration and rails more generally against modernisation, whether it is political correctness or the EU. The Greens would give everyone a basic income and try to focus society away from work and materialism.
Then there is the small matter of whether Great Britain should split up. The SNP are stronger than ever after 2014’s referendum and a large vote share in the election will help them push for further detachment and could even pave the way for another referendum.
There is a plethora of choices on the ballot paper. Not voting is also a choice. But it won’t help you, or anyone else.