Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Russell Brand speaks for his generation – and it’s problematic

Written by Mike on . Posted in Blog

Comedian Russell Brand declared all politicians liars. Sadly, few in Generation Y will raise an eyebrow.

On BBC’s flagship Newsnight programme, aimed squarely at Britain’s fusty establishment, Russell Brand let rip: “Politicians are all liars”. There isn’t much wiggle room in “all”. Yet, Russell Brand’s interview struck a chord. With over 6,000,000 views on Youtube (and counting), the interview and Brand’s petulant call for revolution was viewed across the globe. The commentariat quickly condemned Brand’s views as dangerous, or as the ever-prescient Nick Cohen noted “artists have always made a show of being drawn towards fanaticism. Extremism is more exciting and dramatic”. If we take Brand’s comments at face value, every single sitting MP in the House of Commons is a liar. If you accept this to be true, as many young people now do, then why retain parliamentary democracy?

Generation Y’s faith in democracy is limited, at best. Asked who they trust, two-thirds of British young people say they have “little” or “no” trust in politicians. Why would they? For a generation weaned on the quick-fix e-petitions, politics is a series of cocaine highs (“By signing this - You changed the law!”) followed by crushing lows (“Why won’t they listen?”). Eli Pariser’s book The Filter Bubble identified the social media filter that surrounds young people’s conception of the political truth. A 16 year old rural Texan will, due to their friendship groups and habits, see a totally different series of news posts on Facebook than another 16 year old in New York City. Our polarised politics says these two truths can’t both be right, someone is lying.

Politicians have hardly helped themselves. Trust in the British political system has collapsed. The MPs expenses scandal exposed the fact our representatives were, alongside their staid day job of writing laws, finding common purpose in stealing lots and lots of our money. The Liberal Democrat party specifically ruled out raising student tuition fees in their election manifesto. Within a year of entering government in coalition with the Tories, they increased fees from £3,000 to £9,000. Meanwhile Britain’s housing boom (central London prices are rising by 10% per annum) is robbing a generation of any chance of owning a home of their own. As Jilted Generation co-author Shiv Malik points out, while the baby boomers got free university education, could easily get a free council house (state housing) and lived in an era of full employment, all of these things have been robbed from Generation Y.

So the anger mounts. As a councillor, I’ve experienced first-hand the hatred reserved for the political class. Public humiliation, being sworn at on countless occasions, threatening phone calls: having spoken to other young councillors it’s now commonplace to be subject to a barrage of abuse if you seek political office.  Why not – all politicians are liars, remember?

Russell Brand, a Hollywood celebrity, is no fringe figure fuelling this rage. He happily promotes HP touchpads – and Disney Parks. His personal wealth is estimated at $15 million. On Newsnight his rhetoric edged closer to that of a 9/11 truther than someone who has a sideline in promoting corporations. Brand said:

“I’m not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations now and which has now reached fever pitch where you have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass that are not being represented by that political system, so voting for it is tacit complicity with that system”


“I’m not saying – the apathy doesn’t come from us, the people. The apathy comes from the politicians. They are apathetic to our needs. They’re only interested in servicing the needs of corporations.”

The anti-politics mood fuels a strong sideline in fantasies. Whether the lone extremist such as Anders Behring Breivik, or connected conspiracists such as the LaRouche movement, the internet has allowed those on the fringes of society to connect globally and feed their conceits unchallenged. Some of this infects the body politic. When UKIP candidates (the party most likely to win Britain’s European elections) quote from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion* and describe the EU as the “EUSSR” and new Home Office Minister Norman Baker MP does a star turn on Alex Jones’ podcast to reveal he believes government scientist Dr David Kelly’s death was covered up by MI5, can we still say this is the fringe? Is Generation Y wrong to get tipsy on conspiracies when they work to elect a liberal President and he says nothing of note – nothing – when the most paranoid delusions of dystopia are made to look unambitious compared to the NSA’s system of mass surveillance buried deep in the Utah desert? Francis Fukuyama predicted the “end of history” when the Berlin Wall fell. Instead we got 9/11, Guantanamo, Iraq’s non-existent WMD and Wikileaks. My former hero Blair, promised democracy in Iraq, failed and now shills for a murderous tyrant in Kazakhstan. No wonder Generation Y is so confused.

Russell Brand’s views are merely the tip of an iceberg of hostility to the political class. The complexity of the modern world and the inability of the political system to adjust to the great leap forward of the internet and social media has led to widespread disillusionment. But they have also failed to wake up to the challenge they face. Politicians are distrusted; political parties are losing activists and money, the far-right is on the rise in continental Europe. Can we really say Russell Brand’s views are no longer the mainstream?


BNP’s website the most visited during the 2010 UK general election

Written by Mike on . Posted in Blog

Surprisingly considering the British National Party’s implosion, but the BNP’s website was the most visited website of any British political party during the run-up to the 2010 UK general election according to figures published in the Journal of Europe-Asia Studies (p. 1467, Vol 64, Number 8, October 2012).

The BNP website in the three months to 16 March 2010, had more visitors than the websites of the Conservative party, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats combined. Yet, ironically it also had the lowest audience share of British visitors with only 65.3% of visitors to the site emanating from the UK with 12.6% of visitors from the US. This compares with 85.9% of visits to the Labour party website coming from the UK.

While the BNP still managed the largest audience share of all the three main political parties, in the run-up to the election its audience share actually fell 10% during this period, while it rose 13%, 25% and 29% for the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives respectively.

Why LOLs may soon swing elections

Written by Mike on . Posted in Blog

For some time political parties have been working to harness social media to help them win elections. The Obama campaign famously outspent the Romney campaign online by a factor of 10 to 1 ($47 million vs $4.7 million). Even its use of traditional media was tailored using the huge amount of digital information the campaign hoovered up from online sources.

As the New York Times (“Data You Can Believe In“) found:

“the campaign literally knew every single wavering voter in the country that it needed to persuade to vote for Obama, by name, address, race, sex and income. What’s more, he hinted, the campaign had figured out how to get its television advertisements in front of them with a previously inconceivable level of knowledge and accuracy.”

Yet, with the notable exception of the Obama campaign, contemporary political parties have been uniformly bad at building their online presence. Online startup 38Degrees has more campaigning “members” than any British political party including their Facebook likes.

To the fill the gap left by the professional, but ineffectual, online presence of the major political parties, third parties including trade unions and individuals have stepped in. Working often with minute budgets and turning out material that can cause embarrassment to the established parties, these third party actors are beginning to make an impact. is created “BY A HUMAN BEING WHO DOESN’T BELONG TO ANY POLITICAL PARTY BUT DOES GIVE A SHIT”. Sweary, blunt, highly simplified and pro-Labor the site went viral near instantly with over 1 million unique visitors in just 24 hours (with possibly up to 4% of total registered Australian voters viewing the site). Jesse Richardson, the site’s creator, had to issue a media statement re-iterating it was a personal project and nothing to do with his employers or the Australian Labor Party.

Meanwhile, in Germany, trade union IG Metall’s video implores voters not to believe the re-election of Angela Merkel’s conservative coalition is a done deal – through the medium of LOLs. A bolt-together of amusing Youtube clips spliced with a light political message, it’s amusing and effective. It works because on the face of it, the film is a spontaneous response to the direction of the election. The video opens with an unflattering image of Peer Steinbrueck of the Social Democrats (SPD) looking miserable, presumably after losing the election. No permission was sought from the SPD.

These LOL campaigns are often more effective than the efforts of the mainstream political parties. Only one SPD Youtube clip has just over 100,000 views on their channel, while the IG Metall clip has been viewed over 750,000 times – more than all the SPD’s official videos combined.

While Britain’s three main political parties limber up to the next election, it’s likely that the online political moment to go viral will be created by none of the above.