07 April 2006

Apathy loses to a "fool": Keith Brooke

"We have to do what we can, right through from the personal level to anywhere we have influence."

So says Keith Brooke, author, editor, birdwatcher, web manager for the University of Essex, family man (his teenage kids actually like him), who announced his candidacy for the Colchester Borough Council in the May elections, with this headline:

the fool enters politics

That made him irresistible to this vicarious voter, so I asked him if he would grant an interview, and he graciously agreed.

AT: I have a weakness for fools. What makes you think you're up to fool grade?

KB: Funnily enough, there's an invented song I quote in my third novel (Expatria Incorporated, 1992): "In a world of fools he didn't make the grade." That phrase has stuck with me, always in the hope that more andmore of us won't make that particular grade. Sometimes it seems a forlorn hope, but you've got to keep plugging away.

The reference on my "Shifting" diary to me being a fool was simply observing that I have so many things on the go at the moment - running infinity plus, the various strands of my writing career, my part-time job at the university, my family, etc - that the last thing I really need at the moment is to be entering local politics. But one constant throughout my adult life has been my tendency to try to do the right thing, to do the *interesting* thing, and deal with the consequences later. Helping my local Green Party by standing in the local elections is very much A Good Thing, so I'll deal with the pressures on my various commitments when I have to. Somehow.

AT: Low turnouts have been a feature of all recent UK elections, so much so that the BBC asked "Is apathy winning?" What are your thoughts about elections, and is there a difference between local, regional, and national elected bodies?

KB: Turnouts in UK elections can be pretty poor, particularly in local elections. On the other hand, last weekend I knocked on a few doors in the ward where I'm standing: something like fifty per cent of the people who answered were positive about having a Green candidate, and the vast majority were pretty friendly. I don't know how that will translate into turnout on the day, but it's pretty good.

The electoral system - for most elections - in the UK is loaded against the smaller parties, of course. First past the post, gives a straight run-off in each ward/seat, so a party can get a decent proportion of the vote and still end up with no representation. This leads a lot of voters to seeing a vote for a smaller party as a wasted vote, so it reinforces the stranglehold of the mainstream parties.

I think it's tragic that we're still talking about there only being a scattering of Green councillors across the UK, and a handful of representatives at higher levels, while senior politicians can still get away with gesture politics as far as green issues are concerned.

AT: European political belly-button examiners have been saying for years, and still do, despite the best efforts of the current US administration, that today's world is post-democratic". Colin Crouch, for example, in his book Post-Democracy, argues that "the decline of those social classes which had made possible an active and critical mass politics has combined with the rise of global capitalism to produce a self-referential political class more concerned with forging links with wealthy business interests than with pursuing political programmes which meet the concerns of ordinary people."

So where do you fall in the power structure? What do you think of this hypothosis? Is there democracy to be found in Britain? And is there any chance of you becoming Sir Keith?

KB: Ha! If I bunged a few million quid at the Labour party maybe I'd even get a peerage!

I'm not so sure we've moved into a post-democracy: I think it might be more the case that we've never quite realised the aspirations of those in the democratic movement in the last century. Have we ever been in a democracy? The system has always been loaded; it's always been open to abuse by those with money, those with influence, those with muscle.

Communism provides great tools for analysing power structures, but its solutions all failed because they were so susceptible to corruption from within, or pressure from without. Democracy is great in theory, but it,too, is prone to all kinds of abuses and imbalances. Capitalism is a fine model in a world where the market truly reflects the needs andwishes of an informed population, but hey, tell me where that world is!

All these systems are vulnerable to the same corrupting influences that people are: the pursuit of self-interest, the abuse of others, the misuse of power, and so on.

But this is what we're up against. In a world where we desperately need to get our act together so that we can start, on the one hand, to do what we can to minimise climate change and abuse of the environment and all the consequences of these things, and on the other hand, to try to cope with the changes that we've already set in motion ... well, we need to sort out our priorites, and stop bickering over the same old petty domestic rivalries.

Where do I stand in that power structure? Off the scale, unfortunately. Thinking about these issues should be central to all decision-making, not just the remit of a few cranks on the fringes. But it ain't.

AT: If you were elected, what would you hope to do in your post?

KB: Be realistic. I think the Scottish Greens have it right: with only a handful of members of the Scottish Parliament, the Greens aren't in a position to call the shots, but they can influence, raise issues, challenge. They describe this as being the green conscience of Scottish Parliament, and at this stage it's the job of Green councillors to act as the green conscience of the council on which they serve. If we can move Green thinking into every area of council activity then that would
be a big achievement.

AT: How does your family stand in the issue of Keith Brooke, politician?

KB: They laughed quite a lot. They're still laughing. They'll be laughing even more if I get elected and have to work out how to juggle my commitments. But they're behind me. One thing we've been doing as a family (documented in my "Shifting" diary) is trying to demonstrate that you can live sustainably and ethically and still lead a normal life, andI think we've been remarkably successful at that.

AT: Have you been lobbied yet?

KB: Someone asked me, if he gave me a "loan" for the campaign fund, would I make him Baronet of Colchester.


Read Keith Brooke's newest novel just released from Pyr


“If you're looking for great, well-written new science fiction novels by writers you have a reason to trust, then Brooke is now your man. Or at least, he will be when the world gets a chance to crack Brooke's world of Genetopia ..." Agony Column

"British author Brooke's engrossing far-future parable intertwines old, old human questions: Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going? Must I go?...impressively conceived, poignantly drawn..."
Publishers Weekly
starred review

1 comment:

Jason Erik Lundberg said...

Yay for the Green Party! Good on ya, Keith.