I’ve got a few things I want to get off my chest at the beginning of a year that will determine not just who governs Britain but the future of the country itself.
Firstly, can I just say as loudly and clearly as I can – “They’re not!” All the same, that is. Politicians, I mean. Secondly, no, really, they’re not… all in it for themselves. And thirdly, yes it does… make a difference whether you vote or not and who you vote for.
Are you listening, Russell Brand, and admirers of the man with the most manicured chest in Britain? You see I’ve got a bit of a beef with Brand. More than anyone I can remember in recent times he has energised, excited and enthused people about some of the great issues of our time. It’s taken a stand-up comic and professional bad boy to do what scores of politicians and, yes, commentators like me have utterly failed to do.
The Brand v Farage pre-Christmas Question Time panto drew the crowds in a way few political programmes ever do. And yet Brand continues to tell people that all politics and all politicians are corrupt or venal or a waste of time. These days he pretends that he’s only ever argued that there’s no one worth voting for, but not very long ago he wrote in The New Statesman – “I will never vote and I don’t think you should, either.”
Now, you may ask – “Aren’t you meant to be impartial as the Beeb’s political guy?” And, you’d be right… and wrong. Yes, it’s my job to leave my personal views and prejudices at the door when I report on TV or radio or online. I am not, though, required to be impartial between democracy and the alternatives.
What’s more, if Auntie ever asked me to be I’d refuse or quit the job. My German Jewish grandparents were forced to flee the Nazis and then, later, the Communists who took over China, the place they’d sought refuge. In this election year I am an unapologetic believer in elections.
Now, of course, it’s perfectly possibly to say you love democracy but hate politics as it is now. At the last election over a third of us didn’t vote for either big party. This year the number looks set to be higher still. What will make this year’s battle so gripping is the rise of those we used to label “Others” on our election night graphics. In an echo of part of Brand’s critique, Nigel Farage’s Ukip attacks those they call the LibLabCons.
Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP condemns those they call “the Westminster parties” led by “the three amigos”. They, along with the Greens and the Democratic Unionists may emerge as kingmakers in what looks likely to be the closest, most unpredictable, most nerve-jangling battle for power in generations.
What’s more, it will be a battle between people with very different visions of the future of the country. Indeed, with very different visions of whether we should stay a United Kingdom and member of the European Union. They will argue because they care about your future and not just their own. Who you choose to vote for, or choose to reject, will make a real difference.
For many, though, the political choice is still too narrow: the power of global corporations and/or the EU and/or the courts does too much to limit the power of politicians and the chance to express your view comes all too rarely and is all too often ignored.
How to address those problems is what I am asking in my Radio 4 series. I’ve been hearing from campaign- ers and protesters; politicians from Tony Blair to Nigel Farage and William Hague; and from voters. I asked Russell Brand to do an interview, but as he posed for a few selfies I was told he was “too busy”. Pity, really, but then that’s why I’m telling you…