Russell Brand is wrong – if you don’t vote, you just won’t matter

Should the government ignore your job? Your education? Your family? If you don’t vote, that’s exactly what they will do.

Today is National Voter Registration Day. It’s made me think of Russell Brand. I’m not going to apply condescension to his prose – I think he’s articulate and eloquent actually. I’m not going to dismiss him off hand as somebody who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he does. I might have something to say about his attitude to women, but that’s for another article.

You don’t need to have a politics degree to capture the mood of the nation, echoed in Russell’s sentiments – voting is pointless and even dangerous: it only encourages them.

I actually agree with his overarching point - he wants to create a genuinely fair system. “To really make a difference, we must become different,” he says, and that’s exactly what I want to see. I do have one slight rebuke though – Russell, you’ve never voted, it’s careless to denounce something that you’ve never experienced.

However, that aside, Russell and I have some things in common. I too have moments of weariness and exhaustion with the process, but never let myself be indifferent. I do “give a fuck about politics”. That means I value my vote.

If you don’t vote, you won’t have your voice heard. The simple fact is the electoral roll underpins our democracy and our lives. If you don’t vote – will you resign? Will you quit your job? Will you just withdraw from society? Because you won’t have a say over employment, the economy, or any of the smaller or bigger polices that impact our lives on a daily basis – whether we like that they do  or not.

Should the government ignore your job? Your education? Your family? If you don’t vote, that’s exactly what they will do. If you examine voter turnout, what you see is white, older males dominating the process and government polices reflect this. Or take the power of the ‘grey vote’ – it’s rare, if ever, you’ll see this demographic protesting. They often don’t need to.

An Ipsos Mori poll showed that at the last election 76 per cent of over-65s were still voting. Their power at the ballot box is respected – because they use it. Voting means power and when you don’t vote, you give up this up.

But it’s not just about challenging voter apathy. Let’s take a moment to empathise on the origin of this apathy. Let’s reflect on the leadership of this country. So uninspiring are they that less than half of 18 – 24 year olds in this country voted in 2010. How redundant is the political process that the next generation are not even bothering with it?

People don’t vote because they think the system is broken. People don’t vote because they feel no affiliation with candidates. People don’t vote because they actually believe that no matter who sits in government, a mess is inevitable. But, if you don’t vote, you definitely won’t matter, and you’ll suffer the consequences of any mess regardless.

Russell Brand proposed a revolution of the mind. I’m going to propose something even more radical – an actual revolution in how we engage with the political process. I want to ensure young adults are a force to be reckoned with; too powerful to ignore. 

There’s no question that we can find fault with all of the political parties, but we are the ones who are ultimately responsible. The best way to counter this detachment is by getting involved. If you want to see yourself reflected in parliament elect people who can achieve this. Seriously look at the candidates in your constituency and work out who is most closely affiliated to your values.

Don’t expect that every policy put forward will be palatable. That’s not realistic. You don’t enjoy every single aspect of your work or studies, but you persevere because overall it’s aligned with who you are, or what you intend to do. If it’s not, you change it.

Russell spoke about wanting to effect “power change”. We already have the tools to do this; we’re just not using them. Voting polices have in the past been made off the backs of groups that don’t vote: the young, the poor, the minorities. It’s not fair, but if you don’t vote, the government doesn’t care - you just won’t matter.

In 2010 students turned out to vote in record numbers. The sense that despite engaging enthusiastically with the process, clear commitments were so blatantly broken - tuition fees raised dramatically - undermined the faith of many in voting.

Young citizens aren’t bored of democracy, they’re angry with its process. And I understand that: I’m angry too. But don’t allow a grudge to disempower you from playing a part in huge decisions that will affect you. Or feed that grudge and exercise your revenge at the ballot box. Register now and give yourself the choice.

It’s true that I’m young, perhaps more idealistic than Russell Brand. I’ve not had the life experiences – Hollywood hasn’t called - yet. But I believe in the power of change. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have run for election to lead seven million students as president of NUS.

For me, the hope and the absolute belief that each of us can affect our own realities, that we can thrive, and that we can change motivates me to engage with a government that let down the millions of students that I represent. It inspires me to work with Bite the Ballot to ensure students can register and be heard ahead of the 2015 general election .

We do have the power to change things - through voting. We all matter, but if you don’t vote none of us will. And if that happens, we’ll all lose.

Voting is the only way to make a difference. Photo: Getty
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Q&A: Would Brexit really move “the Jungle” to Dover?

The 2003 Le Touquet treaty was negotiated outside the EU.

What is David Cameron’s most recent claim about Britain leaving the EU?

The Prime Minister is claiming that Brexit could result in France ending the agreement by which British immigration officials carry out checks on those seeking to enter the UK in France.  

More specifically, Cameron thinks that a vote to leave the EU would give the French government an excuse to revoke the Le Touquet treaty of 2003, and that this would cause refugee camps akin to the Calais “Jungle” to spring up along the English south coast.

What’s the Le Touquet treaty?

In February 2003, Tony Blair went to the northern French resort of Le Touquet to try and persuade President Jacques Chirac to support British and American military action in Iraq. (He failed). 

Blair and Chirac hogged the headlines, but on the summit’s sidelines, Home Secretary David Blunkett and his French counterpart, an ambitious young politician named Nicolas Sarkozy, negotiated a treaty establishing juxtaposed controls at each country’s sea ports.

This agreement meant that British border police could set up and run immigration checkpoints at Calais – effectively moving the British border there from Dover. The treaty also enabled French border police to carry out checks in Dover.

British border police had already been operating at French Eurostar terminals since 2001, and manning the French entrance to the Eurotunnel since 1994.

What’s all this got to do with the EU?

Technically, nothing. The Le Touquet treaty is a bilateral agreement between the UK and France. Both countries happen to be member states of the EU, but the negotiations took place outside of the EU’s auspices.

That's why eurosceptics have reacted with such fury today. Arron Banks, the co-founder of Leave.EU, said the Prime Minister was “resorting to scaremongering”, while Ukip’s migration spokesperson, in a surprising role-reversal, said that Cameron’s argument was “based on fear, negativity, and a falsehood”.

Cameron’s claim appears to be that Brexit would represent such a profound shift in the UK’s relationship with other European states that it could offer France an excuse to end the agreement reached at Le Touquet. That is debatable, but any suggestion that the treaty would instantly become void in the event of a vote to leave is untrue.

Does France actually want to revoke the treaty?

Local politicians in Calais, and in particular the town’s mayor, have been arguing for months that the treaty should be abandoned. Le Monde has also criticised it. The current French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, hinted today that he agreed, saying that a British vote to leave “will always result in countermeasures”.

On the BBC's Today programme this morning, Rob Whiteman, a former head of the UK Border Agency, said that it was “almost certain” that the treaty would end if the UK left the EU. He said that France has benefited less from the deal than it expected:

“I think at the time the French felt there would be an upside for them, in that if it was clear that people could not easily get to Britain it would stop Sangatte building up again. The camp was closed. But history has shown that not to be the case. The French authorities still have a huge amount of pressure on their side.”

That said, the French government receives money from the British to help police Calais and its camps, and various French officials have acknowledged that their ports would receive even more traffic if refugees and migrants believed that it was easier to travel  to the UK than before.

If the treaty ended, would “the Jungle” just move to Dover?

There’s little doubt that because of linguistic and familial ties, and perhaps the perception that the UK is more welcoming than France, many refugees and migrants would come to the UK as quickly as they could to claim asylum here.

Whiteman also said on Today that since the 2003 agreement, the annual number of asylum claims in the UK had declined from 80,000 to around 30,000. So the UK could expect a significant spike in claims if the treaty were to end.

But the British asylum process makes it unlikely that anything like “the Jungle” would spring up. Instead, those claiming asylum would be dispersed around the country or, if authorities are worried they would flee, held in an immigration detention centre.

Why is Cameron saying this now?

This looks suspiciously like one of the Tories' election strategist Lynton Crosby’s dead cats. That is, in an effort to distract his critics from the detail of the renegotiation, the PM has provoked a row about migrants and refugees. Cameron is clearly keen to move the debate on from the minutiae of different European agreements to bigger questions about security and terrorism. Though getting bogged down in competing interpretations of a treaty from 2003 may not be the best way to move onto that broader terrain.