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Op-Ed: UK Elections 2015 — Campaign receives boost from Russell Brand

In a sudden turn around, comedian Russell Brand urged the population to *gasp* vote just days before the election. On May 4th, the firebrand took the media by surprise when he released unseen footage of his interview with Labour leader, Ed Miliband.

The footage — released via Brand’s Twitter account — recaps Brand’s criticism of UKIP, Lib Dems and most notably, Conservatives before revealing the final moments of his conversation with Miliband. Brand is respected by many for his work at the community level despite his fame and success and therefore is looked at frequently as the voice for the voiceless in Britain. Up until last night, Brand positioned himself as a paladin for a new way of doing politics, one that recognizes that voting is a useless exercise meant simply to give a veneer of respectability to a corrupt political system ruled from the shadows by the 1 percent. Why the sudden turn around?

Brand himself acknowledged being “Mr. Don’t Vote” but the message he seems to convey is that the dismal state of the British economy, along with the constant impoverishment of the lower rungs of the social ladder brought about by David Cameron, are far too great to be ignored.

Indeed, despite the fact that the General Elections are right around the corner, there is still little indication of who will be moving into 10 Downing Street. A recent “poll of polls” showed that Labour and Tories are still neck and neck. Both parties are expected to win 32 per cent of the vote, but with Brand’s latest message broadcast to his ten million followers, Conservatives should be worried.

During the first half of the interview, Brand claims that the “economic elite” have their “talons” embedded in the Conservative party and that this elite has done everything possible to make sure the votes from the average citizen, “mean very little.” Furthermore, Miliband and Brand discussed the fact that the Conservative party consistently promises one thing via propaganda to the public while conceding to the wishes of the top 1% behind closed doors. Miliband goes on to claim that he believes Labour could improve the country while “Tories want to say, this is as good as it gets.”

Of course, Brand’s political theories should be taken with a pinch of salt. However, the comedian-turned-revolutionary is indeed on to something. As part of a crusade mounted against the so-called “shirkers”, Cameron’s government has cut £21 billion from social security. Unfortunately, the cuts have disproportionately impacted the disabled and the young, leading to a spectacular growth in people teetering on the poverty line. Indeed, the majority of children and working age adults in poverty live in working, not workless households. Despite record levels of youth unemployment and a growing gap between the rich and the poor, the Tories have announced plans to enact a further £12 bn in cuts from the social security budget.

The same logic is apparent when looking at the issue of EU membership, the Conservative standpoint — which was recently supported by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg — wants to implement a mandatory four year waiting period for EU migrants seeking benefits “ in an attempt to halt the flow of people across the Channel to Britain.” The Conservatives and Lib Dems seem to be playing into the misconceived, yet sadly popular notion that EU membership is somehow to blame for high rates of immigration to Britain. In fact, the Tories attempted to bury the report that found EU membership economically beneficial, if not essential, to the survival of the country. Moreover, the total number of people coming to the UK from the rest of the world far exceeds those from the EU — and is continuing to increase.

A report conducted by University College of London actually found that immigrants from 10 countries that joined the EU since 2004 had contributed more to the UK than they took out in benefits. The idea that leaving the EU would somehow benefit Britain falls under the umbrella notions that nationalism is popular in the country and that immigrants from the EU are the source of the nation’s problems with public healthcare and unemployment.

It is no surprise that the uninspiring race had such a lack of support from the voters. Thee issues that matter are muted in favour of popular scapegoat issues like immigration — a hot topic in your local pub, but not necessarily the most pressing issue in the nation. While Brand attempted to mobilize the masses, it may have been too little, too late.

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