I can't remember which by-election this was, but it was more than a decade ago, but I had a sort of revelation about the Russell Brand position in politics - which is basically, don't vote; it only encourages them.
I had gone canvassing into a new estate, relatively prosperous, leafy and off a main road. There were 12 houses in a cul-de-sac. Every front door opened when I knocked, and everyone said exactly the same: the weren't voting, 'on principle'.
This was not apathy. Of course it would have been easy for me to snobbishly dismiss the beer-bellies I had seen and call it apathy, but it wouldn't have been true. It was a moral position they were taking, of deep disapproval.
Even so, I am surprised to hear Jeremy Paxman coming to Brand's defence. If anyone knows about the compromises inherent in the art of politics, he does. The issue isn't about lying, as Paxman claims. What politicians do is frame the truth (didn't I promise not to use that word a few blogs back?) - but doing so for a purpose.
So I don't agree with Paxman or Brand that the problem is 'lying'. Politicians can never be completely open, and nor would we expect them to be, with the pressures they are under. Though the antics they perform before microphones are occasionally embarrassing and usually irritating.
No, there are three different reasons why Paxman and Brand have a point.
1. The corrosion of political language. Most of the political language of choice now was hatched in the 1940s - 'education for all', and so on, even 'social security'. People don't believe it any more. It goes in one ear and out the other. It is a symptom of a deeper dishonesty and a failure to think afresh. It is enraging because it is so deadening.
2. The hollowing out of political parties. The combined membership of all our political parties is smaller than the circulation of a small women's magazine because there is nothing to do, no content, no training beyond electioneering, no careers beyond elections, no thinking, no nothing, except some deference and piles of unwanted leaflets couched often in the most objectionable language. Why would people join? What commitment would there be to them as individuals if they did?
3. There seems no purpose behind it all. This is why the untruths are so alienating. 'Framing the truth' might be forgivable if it was to some purpose, but modern politics seems so often to be defending indefensible and useless institutions or worn-out ideas, rather than imagining how things might be run more effectively. It is as if the political class has been drafted in to defend the status quo by creating a complicated charade that gives the impression they are seeking change.
Change those things, break open the consensus, break open the tired old parties and then maybe we might get people to put aside their principles and vote again.
Until that happens, you have to concede that Brand has some element of truth on his side, imperfectly 'framed' perhaps...
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