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Crop brenda from bristol

Graham Martin argues that we should give Brenda from Bristol something to really complain about

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21st November 2019 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Oh gawd. Look out. Here she comes again.

Remember Brenda from Bristol? No? Well, there’s an election coming and if you’ve forgotten who she is, you’ll be reminded soon enough as the media trots out that clip of her reacting to news of the 2017 snap election.

If you can’t wait, I’ll fill you in. Brenda from Bristol is the pensioner who was famously vox-popped as the poll was announced and asked what she thought.

She is widely credited with having “caught the mood of the nation” (© every newspaper ever) with her outburst: “not another one! There’s too much politics going on at the moment”.

Sometimes, in a rotten system or presented with rotten choices, you have to make your presence felt, even negatively

She’s been championed as the voice of ‘ordinary people’, exasperated with the faceless ‘political class’, with that clip played again and again.

But I have always found Brenda’s outburst as deeply dispiriting – and I have often wondered what it means.

First of all, it’s complex. There are all sorts of reasons why people are disenfranchised from the electoral system and its politics.

I’m not anti-abstentionism. Sometimes, in a rotten system or presented with rotten choices, you have to make your presence felt, even negatively.

And people have to be presented with something worth voting for, or getting energised about. It is curious how commentators can pen paeans to the Blair-or-Cameronite sureties of the now collapsing centre while being blind to the fact that it was the diseased, war-mongering duopoly of New Labour and its Tory shadow that has fed record levels of voter abstention.

What I find troubling about the feting of Brenda, and her resurrection every time we go to the polls, is that it ignores the troubling questions which arise in favour of a cheap, snobbery-laced laugh.

If Brenda is pissed off with politics, what does that say about politics? Let’s take that seriously, but let’s not collude with it.

“There’s too much politics going on at the moment” is a profoundly troubling phrase. How can you have too much politics? How can you have a surfeit of democracy?

Can you have too much control over your own destiny? Is this a bad thing?

I think that’s wrong is not “too much politics” but too much of the wrong kind of politics – the wrong systems and instruments of democracy.

What would be genuinely empowering – for Brenda and everyone else – is more politics and more democracy.

But the politics has to be meaningful (think of the record levels of voter turnout and engagement during the 2014 Indyref) and the democracy ground-up and thorough-going.

We don’t need less democracy – we need more. As imperfect as the system is, we should welcome every chance to engage with it and to frame the debate for progressive policy and we should fight for greater and more meaningful forms of participation. From citizens assemblies to community budgeting to radical industrial democracy where workers and trade unions control and direct production.

All of these must be looked at.

Let’s stop feting Brenda. Instead, let’s give her something to really complain about.

Graham Martin is editor of Third Force News.