Ed Miliband and Labour: Russell Brand versus Eduardo Galeano
by Ian Sinclair
6 May 2015
To paraphrase the Artist Taxi Driver, after 312 episodes of critiquing mainstream media and politics on The Trews, publishing a book titled Revolution and fronting a film called The Emperor’s New Clothes, the comedian and activist Russell Brand has decided… to urge people to vote Labour at the General Election on Thursday.
Brand’s argument rests on two key points. First, he believes the “danger of the Conservative Party” requires “decisive action” – voting for the Labour Party. Second, Brand noted that Labour leader Ed Miliband said he welcomes pressure from the general public.
The former argument echoes the aged-old call for voting for the lesser evil. With the exception of Brighton Pavilion (where the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas is standing), Brand, like Owen Jones, urges everyone else in England and Wales to vote Labour. Though I don’t agree, I understand the ‘lesser evil’ argument, of course. However, it is important to note there are varying degrees of tactical voting to get the Tories out. For example, George Monbiot argues people should vote for a party that inspires them – such as the Greens – except in the 16 constituencies in which a strong Green swing away from Labour could hand the seat to the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats.
But it is Brand’s argument about Miliband that interests and baffles me most:
“One thing I agree very sincerely with Ed on is that politics doesn’t rain down on us, it comes from below… movements putting pressure on governments. We don’t know what the limitations of a Labour Administration are going to be but we have just heard the leader of the Labour Party saying that he welcomes and wants pressure from below… what I heard Ed Miliband say is ‘If we speak, he will listen’…. what’s important is this bloke will be in parliament and I think this bloke will listen to us.”
Compare and contrast this gullible wishful thinking with the late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s power sceptical dictum: “In general, the words uttered by power are not meant to express its actions but to disguise them.” That’s right, you heard it here first: sometimes those in power don’t tell the truth. They might, shock horror, be trying to deceive the population.
Interestingly, Miliband’s view on social and political change closely follows public statements the current President of the United States has made:
“I believe change does not happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up. Dr. King understood that. It was those women who were willing to walk instead of ride the bus, union workers who are willing to take on violence and intimidation to get the right to organize. It was women who decided, ‘I’m as smart as my husband. I’d better get the right to vote.’ Them arguing, mobilizing, agitating, and ultimately forcing elected officials to be accountable. I think that’s the key.”
Yet Brand, like an increasing number of people, is largely immune to the skillful oratory of Barack Obama, even asking Miliband rhetorically in his original interview “We all got excited about Barack Obama. What happened?”
However, when it comes to Ed Miliband and the Labour Party Brand throws any critical thinking out the window. With this in mind it is worth recalling Miliband’s actions on some issues that are of concern to millions of people across Britain, issues that campaigners have been pressing the Labour Party – trying to apply “pressure from below” in Miliband’s parlance – to act the right, humane way on.
- In January 2015 Miliband voted for the Government’s Charter for Budget Responsibility, which included plans to slash public spending by a further £30 billion.
- In November 2014 The Guardian reported “The Labour front bench has accepted over £600,000 of research help from the multinational accountancy company PricewaterhouseCoopers to help form policy on tax, business and welfare… The support to shadow ministers including Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt comes after the Guardian revealed PwC’s role in establishing potentially favourable tax structures for hundreds of companies around the world – including many British businesses – in Luxembourg.”
- In March 2014 Miliband supported a national cap on benefit spending which limited each household to a maximum of £26,000 in benefits, a policy Save the Children said would push 345,000 children into poverty in four years.
- In March 2013 Miliband abstained from a parliamentary vote on a bill that would prevent 250,000 “exploited” jobseekers from receiving £130m in rebates.
- Miliband backed the 13-year war in Afghanistan, the disastrous 2011 intervention in Libya and the on-going bombing of ISIS in Iraq.
- Miliband supports the retention of Trident nuclear weapons, which the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament estimates will cost around £100 billion over its 40 year lifetime.
On these issues Miliband did not welcome, listen to or act on pressure from below. Rather he ignored the voices of protest and concern.
As Brand has been influenced by Noam Chomsky, let’s leave the American dissident thinker with the final word. Speaking about Obama in 2009 Chomsky reiterated Galeano’s truism, explaining “It is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric” because “deeds commonly tell a different story.”