Britain: Russell Brand mistaken to sow illusions in Labour

Russell Brand calls on people to elect a Labour government, saying Ed Miliband will ’listen’ and wants pressure from below

"Russelllllllll Nooooooooooo!!!!!!!". This response from YouTube star the Artist Taxi Driver probably summed up what many people felt when they saw the latest episode of Russell Brand’s Trews internet broadcast.

On the Monday before polling day Russell Brand released the final extract of his interview with Ed Miliband and called for a vote for Labour to stop another Tory austerity government.

Many of the people who have liked Russell Brand’s activism and call for revolution will be disappointed.

Without doubt the prospect of another Tory government promising vicious cuts, including £12 billion of welfare cuts, is a terrifying prospect.

In the last year of the pro-rich Tory-led government, a million people, many of them working, have been forced to visit foodbanks.

Labour’s inability to command a decisive poll lead given the massive hatred of the Tories is an indication of how little confidence there is that Miliband offers a substantial alternative. Labour offers, at best, austerity-lite.

Labour has promised cuts from day one of this election campaign. In January only five Labour MPs voted against a further £30 billion of cuts over the next three years.

Labour is committed to maintaining the public sector pay freeze. Ed Balls has committed the party to the local government cuts that have slashed jobs and annihilated vital services for children and young people, for women, and for the most vulnerable in society. And across the country Labour-led councils have been making those cuts.

’Listening’ Labour

Russell Brand calls on people to elect a Labour government, saying Ed Miliband will ’listen’ and wants pressure from below.

But on 8 May or whenever a new government is formed, if the leader is Ed Miliband he will make cuts and say that the votes he received are a mandate for that.

In his book ’Revolution’ Russell Brand doesn’t claim to have all the answers. His book is not about revolutions or how one could be prepared – it’s more a series of interviews than a thought-out strategy for ending capitalist exploitation and inequality and proposing an alternative.

Maybe he has spent too much time with these ’advisors’ he consults. On the streets, indifference to Labour is deafening and those who do say they’re voting Labour aren’t doing it with hope that there will be a huge improvement. Anger at austerity and the establishment is the most common response.

Guardian journalist Owen Jones, in welcoming Russell’s stance, has repeated his claim that only a Labour government will listen to movements opposing austerity.

Jones writes about "a Labour minority government actively held to account every single day by those of us who want a country run in the interests of working people."

How could it be held to account after all the changes made by Labour leaders to destroy socialist and trade union influence inside the Labour party?

Lack of appeal

In reality it is a reflection of the desperation stakes that Labour, whose spokespeople so viciously attacked Russell Brand after he said there was no one worth voting for, now tries to use him to reach young people.

In the absence of a manifesto that offers a future – rent control that brings rent down, investment in quality council housing for all, a £10/hour minimum wage, scrapping zero-hour contracts, and free education – Labour hopes it can use this stunt to boost its vote.

In the interview Miliband talks about trying to ’change Labour’. But Labour has been emptied out as a party.

Under Ed Miliband’s leadership the last vestiges of a working class voice within Labour have been destroyed.

Under Blair Labour lost millions of working class votes that had nowhere to go. The divisive Ukip party has benefited, peddling lies and claiming to be anti-establishment while representing the interests of the 1%.

The trade union leaders who have hesitated from taking action to build a new party bear heavy responsibility for contributing to this process.

The need for a new mass workers’ party that can provide a voice for the 99% against austerity has never been greater.

Jones’ argument that the workers’ movement needs a ’friendly ear’ in government in order to defend itself is utterly incorrect.

It was a mass working class movement of non-payment that defeated the Tories’ poll tax in 1991. That defeat cost the rich billions of pounds – scrapping the tax meant a transfer of wealth away from them as it was a tax that benefited the rich.

This is just one example of a mass movement imposing a defeat on a right-wing pro-capitalist government.

The Con-Dem government has not been the stable coalition that is now claimed as we approach an even more unstable post-election scenario.

The failure by the right-wing trade union leaders to provide leadership to the angry workers looking for struggle has allowed it to stay in power.

The mood for struggle has been revealed time and again, by the students in the first months of the coalition, by the millions of public sector workers involved in strike action, by the democratic uprising that took place in Scotland when the independence referendum appeared to offer a chance to strike a blow against ’Westminster’ austerity.

Mistaken stance

Russell is mistaken to have used his status as a reference point for workers and young people in struggle to call for a vote for a party that is committed to maintaining austerity and the capitalist system.

During the interview he talks about the need to confront the interests of the powerful super-rich 1% on behalf of ordinary people.

He rightly mentioned communities empowering themselves but he did not, for example, demand any answers from Miliband on whether he would repeal the anti-trade union laws, to help workers to fight austerity measures.

The Artist Taxi Driver asks if Labour conducted some sort of brain transplant on Russell Brand because the person who takes the fight to the banksters and spivs in his recently released film fails to land a single punch in this interview.

Russell neither demands any commitment from Miliband not to make cuts nor proposes ways that the powerful 1% can be confronted on behalf of ordinary people, such as taking the banks into public ownership.

One question he might have asked is: What is Miliband’s ’responsible’ capitalism? Capitalism is a system based on exploitation, with the inequality that Russell rails against woven into its very fabric.

Miliband has, at best, committed to tinkering around the edges, for example freezing energy bills rather than taking the energy companies into public ownership as 68% of the population want.

There has been no commitment to ending privatisation of the health service, to reversing the disastrous academies programme in schools.

Labour has promised a £8 an hour minimum wage by 2019, but this represents an increase of pennies and fundamentally benefits low-paying bosses not workers.

Ongoing struggles

It is true that mass movements will be required to fight cuts whatever form the next government takes.

In fact there are many struggles currently taking place even as the election looms, like striking council workers in Bromley, Barnet and Glasgow.

But the workers involved need a political voice that would stand on the side of the millions suffering austerity.

In the biggest working class stand in 60 years, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has started this.

At one point in the Miliband interview reference is made to Miliband’s father Ralph Miliband who was a socialist.

Miliband laughs that off – and in reality he has nothing to say about socialism. Only representatives of TUSC and the Socialist Party have offered 100% opposition to austerity.

In interviews TUSC national chair Dave Nellist has explained that the claim put forward by all the main parties that austerity is necessary is a lie.

There is no shortage of resources to provide everyone with a decent standard of living – they’re just in the wrong hands.

It’s a shame that Russell Brand hasn’t used his status to reinforce TUSC’s call to nationalise the banks and energy companies as a key way to confront the powers that be on behalf of ordinary people.

The need for a democratic socialist plan is likely to gain more support under the future government as struggles against austerity develop.

Russell is in danger of finding himself forgotten in the political arena of the future as a movement for a real alternative throws up spokespeople and leaders committed to fighting for a socialist transformation of society.

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