Mondeo Man, Movements and Russell Brand
On June 21st Russell Brand will perform on stage at the culmination of the People’s Assembly’s "No More Austerity" march. Its raised a few eyebrows, and I’ll be honest, his contribution isn’t what excites me about the demonstration and make me want to fill a coach full of people. But maybe that’s not the point, and getting Mr Brand on stage is about a wider, more important goal…
Picking speakers and performers for the main stage of a demonstration is a pretty tough task. No matter who you pick, there will be complaints. Certain groups, most notably political parties and trade unions, will feel entitled to send speakers. Sometimes those who have an actual reason to speak will feel so thoroughly unentitled they’ll refuse on principle. Its always easier to get a union bureaucrat who’s good at their desk job to stand up and waffle than getting a frontline worker with a heroic tale of sticking it to the boss to share a heartfelt story.
Then there’s the issue of performances by musicians, poets or others. In an era when no one entertainment unites everyone, and because subtle doesn’t really work on a political rally stage, its easy to leave half the crowd feeling disengaged. Added to which, famous artists are even less available than famous political speakers, and there’s a selection bias towards the most obnoxiously self-promoting.
There’s a wide gulf between speakers and artists who will draw activists and those who draw the wider public. This is somewhat compounded by the fact that the generally famous tend to be rejected by members of the left. This happens for several reasons: either these people are insufficiently political, or use insufficiently political language to communicate from a political stage, or they’re seen as representing some aspect of mainstream society we’re opposed to. This all gets compounded when real issues with people’s character butt up against a desire to occupy a fringe, or even ghetto, position.
To put it bluntly, famous people are generally either liberals (like most people), sound like liberals (so they can appeal to the most people), or are controversial in the wrong ways (hence the media likes them, rather than ignoring them).
The People’s Assembly is about building a mass movement around opposition to cutbacks, sell-offs and the wilful lowering of standards of living whilst wealth sores. It’s easy to pick speakers for a rally platform that appeal to differing shades of activist. But if we can’t find people to appeal to non-activists then we’re missing the point of being the People’s Assembly. And we need to acknowledge that these people we’re trying to reach out to will have some very questionable attitudes. Those attitudes might even determine in some small part who they are drawn to.
Perhaps part of the issue is that we’re trying to connect with what was once called ‘Mondeo Man’. Maybe "Ford Focus Man" would work in today’s world. An urban dictionary definition goes thus "A typically average/boring British man who would stereotypically live in Kent, own a semi-detached house, have a wife, two kids and a Ford Mondeo." And probably works in the private sector. And probably doesn’t belong to a union. And probably engages in ‘banter’ and watches misogynistic TV shows. Yuck.
Yet, beyond the endless debates between the ultimate victory of the boycott or the riot, the Poll Tax was probably defeated by simple dint of building a movement that included these people in significant numbers. For sure, Britain is now a more diverse, and some might say fragmented, place. Such a person probably doesn’t exist.
Of course, this has a direct knock-on effect. The Left rightfully prides itself on giving a specific home to the victims of prejudices that Mondeo Man probably best represents the perpetration of: racism, sexism, ableism, conservative views on sexuality. We also know that views change through being in movements.
Sticking Russell Brand on stage isn’t going to make everyone happy, nor should it. It’s an admission we can’t build the biggest possible movement without engaging those who, in other struggles, might be seen as part of the problem.
But its a brilliant move. Its a willingness to think outside the box. Its a brave attempt to move the political boundaries: we’re the middle-ground and the Tories and bankers are the political and economic extremists. In one sense, its a challenge to UKIP that we can and will appeal to the same disaffected people that they will. And we’ll do it better, with meaningful and just solutions. I might not be excited about seeing Russell Brand on stage, but I’m excited by the possibilities this development could lead to for a broader and wider movement.