Cross-posted from Agora
There are few people in British public life more destructive, especially among the young, than Russell Brand, not least because of his poisonous advice that people should not vote. When I first saw him proffer this advice on Newsnight—where I could not believe he had been invited and then taken seriously—it seemed to me a form of vandalism, using his prominent and comfortable position to urge those less comfortable to throw away one of the few levers they had to make their lot better.
But now I find the only way I could cast a ballot in the upcoming Election is if there was an option for “None of the Above”. I can only differentiate myself by noting both the very considerable gulf in our audiences, and thus responsibilities, and that I do not seek to advise anybody, only explain my own personal decision.
Having seen five years of the Coalition government, I find it impossible to cast a vote to assist either of its components back into office.
Britain’s economy grew faster than other advanced economies in 2014 and the Coalition’s claim that it has created more jobs than the rest of Europe combined is, with ambiguities, true. But these aggregate figures conceal some unhealthy developments.
900,000 people now use food banks at any one time; this is more to do with the bias introduced in the benefits system for cutting people’s money, leaving them unable to cover short-term food bills, rather than long-term dependency borne of increasing poverty, but it is troubling nonetheless.
Britain narrowly skirted a triple-dip recession* under the Coalition, a product of reduced demand because of the insistence on cutting State spending, and the proliferation of zero-hours contracts—which, let it be noted, are popular with a majority of their users—are only the most visible sign of the transformation of Britain into a low-wage economy with insecure, low-quality jobs for the bottom rungs of society, many of whom need State help anyway to supplement their work pay in order to survive.
The need to reduce the national debt and the annual deficit were the given reasons for the infliction of this social price. This is a failure on its own terms since both debt and deficit remain high, but the policy was even more misbegotten than that. The idea was that without this cut-now policy long-term growth would suffer, risking the country’s entire future, because an important study had shown that States with a debt that exceeds 90% of GDP had less GDP growth over the long-term. But the study was overthrown when it was shown that this calculation was based on a simple spreadsheet error; high debt does not lead to low long-term growth—indeed slow growth seems to lead to high debt. Thus a stimulative approach, which produced higher growth that would have paid down the deficit—and in the meantime allowed a less harsh social compact—could hardly have been worse.
In foreign affairs, the Coalition came to the rescue of Libya to avert a massacre and then did nothing to secure the aftermath allowing Libya to slip into chaos and become a playground for Islamic militancy. Britain’s Russia policy has been positively feeble, largely a result of the dodgy Russian money in the capital that has helped buoy the economic figures. With the European Union, David Cameron has had it every-which-way, often ending up with the worst of all worlds. And while I disagree with Nick Clegg’s Federalist view of the E.U., this hardly seems to matter given that nobody can trust a word he says.
It is not just Tory propaganda that says Ed Miliband is unfit to be Prime Minister; this fact was elucidated by Miliband’s excruciating, “Hell yes I’m tough enough,” moment in the March 26 interview with Jeremy Paxman. Miliband was claiming that he had stood up to the United States—Britain’s most important ally—to protect Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, from military retribution for gassing to death 1,400 civilians. That would be a disgraceful enough state of affairs, and hardly one that qualifies somebody to be Prime Minister, but it is a lie. In reality, Miliband orchestrated the defeat of the resolution in Parliament—which was only meant to consider British involvement in military action against Assad—in order to buttress his anti-Blairite credentials within the Labour Party. Somebody who will help damage Western security and stand on the bodies of gassed children to make a point about internal party politics should never be Prime Minister. To even ask what would happen if Miliband was put in a room with Vladimir Putin …
I’m a Unionist, so would never vote for the Scottish National Party or Plaid Cymru, even if I lived in Scotland or Wales. The Green Party’s leader has been indicted for her calamitous media work of late; the more serious disqualification is the Greens’ deranged manifesto. And the UKIP “alternative” is no such thing: UKIP has no solutions to offer. UKIP devolved from advocating secession from the E.U.—a cause I support—into a movement of resentment for a lost world that is increasingly couched in nasty, racially-coded language, led by a man with too much admiration for the Kremlin and who spends far too much time on RT.
My own politics no longer break down neatly on any Left/Right continuum, and I’m increasingly drawn to Robert Conquest’s suggestion that what’s really needed is a “United Front Against Bulls**t”. Since judging a party and leader by policy is a dangerous business—Clegg’s failed promise on tuition fees will forever stand testament to how easily campaign promises can fall by the wayside—the Conquest test is being applied to the personality of the leaders. It is with that test in mind that I find myself incapable of casting an affirmative ballot for anybody on May 7.
[*] Correction: Britain technically did not enter a double-dip recession. In fact, “growth was flat in the first quarter of 2012, revised from an earlier estimate of a 0.1% contraction. This means the economy did not contract for two quarters in a row—the definition of a recession.”