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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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

Theresa May says Article 50 will be triggered on 29 March. The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On Wednesday 29 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.