By Daniel Margrain
It came as a complete bolt out of the blue for this writer to learn that one of the most politically astute, articulate, insightful and widely respected journalists in a generation is to abstain from voting at the forthcoming General Election.
Steve Topple, who in many ways I saw as mentor, and who has often promoted my work on twitter where many others ignored it, yesterday (May 1, 2017) came out publicly on social media to effectively state that he sees no political value in voting at elections.
According to Topple, placing a cross next to the name of a candidate at elections is akin to endorsing a corrupt capitalist system.
In response to criticisms from readers, Topple announced the following on Facebook (May 1, 2017):
So, seemingly because I’m going to spoil my ballot at the election, I must have come to this decision from a position of privilege.
NOPE. I’ve spent years at the hands of the DWP, living off crisis loans, money people have dropped in the street, hand-outs and generally eating thin air.
I now live on a council estate with my GF and her ten-year-old son, the former who has just had all her benefits stopped. So we’re living off my Canary wage.
SO DON’T COME ONTO MY TL TELLING ME THAT BY SPOILING MY BALLOT I DON’T CARE ABOUT ALL THE BAD SHIT THAT WILL HAPPEN IF THE TORIES GET IN AGAIN.
I’ve spent 12 years living at the hands of Labour and Tory governments. And the DWP. So probably know far better than half the people commenting just how FUCKING BAD things can be.
So you can take your assumptions about ‘virtue signaling’ journalists and shove them up your prolier-than-thou arses. Or come to my estate, knock my door and try telling it to my face.”
To a certain extent, I understand and sympathize with Topple’s predicament, particularly as I learned through recent exchanges on twitter (May 3, 2017), that Steve lives in a safe Tory constituency. Just for the record, I’ve not spent twelve years living in the hands of successive Labour and Tory governments like Topple has, but thirty-eight years having first voted in 1979. So if anyone can claim to feel embittered and disillusioned, it’s people of my age who have suffered for far longer.
I, like Topple, have abstained at elections in the past in situations where no meaningful choices have been offered to the electorate. I understand the arguments that override his rejection of a capitalist system that benefits the elite ruling class minority at the expense of the rest of us.
Under normal circumstances, his arguments could be seen as a legitimate response to the actions of corrupt Labour party leaders who have put the interests of the establishment above the electorate. But these are not normal circumstances and Corbyn is far from being the usual Labour leader.
Those who have argued that the reason Topple intends to spoil his ballot paper on the basis that he is doing so from a position of privilege, are barking up the wrong tree. Anybody who has followed Steve’s journalistic career, will know that his various articles focusing on political and current affairs issues that rally against injustice and inequality are sincere and heartfelt.
This makes it all the more perplexing why Topple hadn’t decided to make an exception by refraining from spoiling his paper this time around given circumstances in which a Labour government under Corbyn would almost certainly usher in a much needed transformative kind of politics.
Apart from what I regard as Steve’s lack of wisdom in relation to his decision to spoil his ballot paper, I also reject his justification that underpins this decision. Topple’s apparent insistence that the inherent structural failings of capitalism cannot be reconciled with a democratic polity to help rein-in the systems worst excesses is, in my view, indicative of a narrow defeatist outlook.
There is no reason to believe that engaging in the political process and putting the case for a revolutionary transformation of society cannot go hand in hand. It might not be the kind of revolution Steve imagines, but that is cold comfort to those who have lost loved ones as a direct consequence of Tory austerity.
The notion that increased hardship and suffering is a necessary prerequisite to the onset of revolution, which is what Topple seems to be implying is, I would argue, ultimately selfish and, should in my view, be rejected. Too many people who are suffering untold pain under the Tories, cannot afford to wait for people like Steve Topple to be awoken from their slumber at the point at which the revolution begins.
People are suffering under the Tories in ways not witnessed since the Victorian era and they are desperately hoping for some light in what is a very long tunnel. Corbyn is the first Labour leader in decades that provides them with some much needed optimism for the future.
What we are currently seeing unfold, is potentially one of the greatest periods in British political history. An honourable and decent man who has fought off two coups against him, has too many decent folk riding on his success at the election for him to be dismissed out of hand by people who should know better.
In the hope that Steve might reconsider his decision to spoil his ballot paper, Corbyn supporter, Felicity A Wright, wrote on Facebook (May 1, 2017):
“Listen, Steve, I get it. I’m a crip and on benefit and I felt so let down by Labour that I spoiled my ballot last time by writing “None” across it. My husband, who is my full-time carer, spoiled his with more panache by writing “Clement Attlee” across it. And that’s the thing: I believe Jeremy Corbyn IS the new Clement Attlee. Have you seen his record? He’s been on the side of the poor, the weak, the voiceless from the beginning. He has been arrested for protesting against Apartheid & for refusing to pay the Poll Tax. I believe he is a genuinely good man and that, unlike the Kinnock/Blair side of the Labour Party, he cares about making a fairer society. So I’m voting Labour & so is my husband, in the hope that Jeremy really is what he seems to be. Please do the same! The Canary is one of the things which has given me this hope and is the only news outlet I actually subscribe to. Keep the faith. xxx”
Felicity is right. There are literally millions of voters out there who see in Corbyn somebody who is not just another self-serving careerist politician, but a man who is sincere and whose is motivated by a need to make society better for the many as opposed to the few.
Having read Topple’s often brilliant polemical articles, it would seem highly improbable that he is oblivious to the differences between New Labourism exemplified by Blair and the old Labour of Corbyn. Moreover, given the political landscape since Thatcher, the notion he intends to abstain from voting, particularly as his anti-Tory polemics are so incisive, means that I’m at a loss to rationalize his thought process.
The truth is, as ill-judged as I think Topple’s decision to spoil his ballot paper is, it’s not my main point of contention. What I find particularly strange are the contents of a recent tweet of his in which the slogan “Time to trash the Tories” is invoked. It’s bizarre that “trashing the Tories” is seen by Steve as being concomitant to spoiling ones ballot paper.
Topple is not just any old bloke, but a highly influential and respected journalist who many people look up to for inspiration and guidance. In short, in the age of social media where more people than ever rely on alternative sources of information to counter the fake news of the mass media, opinions of the calibre of investigative journalists like Steve Topple matter.
Despite it’s supposed non-corporate credentials, the on-line publication Topple often writes pieces for, the Canary, is still heavily dependent on advertising revenue streams for its existence. As such, the news outlet is interwoven into the very fabric of a system Steve purports to hate.
Further, it is reasonable from the perspective of his many readers, to deduce that his effective absolving of responsibility of the election outcome, is undermined by the content of his polemical articles in which he consistently prosthelytizes against the Tories. Unfortunately, because of the contrarian position he has taken, Topple’s visceral attacks on the Tories from here on in, will lack credibility.
Yesterday (May 1, 2017) was a very sad day for me personally having learned that a writer I have long admired and respected made the incredulous decision to spoil his ballot paper – a decision that can only benefit the Tories.
I sincerely hope Steve changes his mind in the days ahead.
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