23 March 2015 by Mikey Smith
The Queen guitarist is angry at corruption in politics – and thinks he’s come up with a way to fix it
Brian May is angry – but you’d never know it to look at him
He’s angry with the Coalition government. He’s angry with David Cameron. He’s angry with Nigel Farage and that a party with an “apparently racist” element might get real power after the election. Most of all, he’s angry with a political system which keeps the privileged in power and puts honest people at a disadvantage. He’s looking to kick off a very polite revolution, kicking the corrupt and selfish out of politics and replacing them with ‘decent’ people.
In January, we exclusively revealed the Queen guitarist was considering standing in the election. We can now reveal he’s decided against it – because he thinks he can cause a bigger stir from outside the House of Commons.
“I can make a lot more trouble being an activist.” he says, on the eve of officially launching his new campaign group, Common Decency. “I much prefer standing on the sidelines and not having to have a fixed agenda.”
Here’s what Brian May – guitar legend, animal rights campaigner, and renowned astrophysicist – had to say about his new drive to make politics decent – and on his personal journey from lifelong Tory voter to left-of-centre activist.
Russell Brand, Ukip and revolutions Brian May and Adam
Lambert on Queen’s recent UK tour
Asked if he’s calling for a revolution, Brian says: “I suppose so, which puts me right there with Russell Brand, doesn’t it? I did read his book and I like it. There’s plenty of reasons not to like Russell Brand, and I understand that, but whether or not you like him I think everyone should read that book because he does speak the truth. He’s a very important part of what’s going on. And he thinks what’s going on is an increasing anger towards politicians – most obviously demonstrated in the rise of Ukip.
“I think people will see through the one dimensionality of Farage,” he says. “I mean, he’s attractive to people because he represents people’s dissatisfaction, anger and disgust at the way parliament is run. I think it would be a tragedy for Britain if we saw Farage have some power. We’re headed down such a dangerous path on the edges of racism and that’s being generous. To me the most horrific prospect is a Conservative – Ukip Coalition – that I think is the end of any shred of common decency in this country.” But he insists the MPs and candidates he chooses to work with during the campaign will be “colourblind.”
The team are preparing a list of candidates to offer an endorsement, which will include Tories, Labour, Lib Dem, Green and NHA members who are seen as independent, individual and happy to defy the party whip. They’re even looking into supporting Ukip candidates if they can find a good one.
“We haven’t settled on anybody yet, but there’s a good chance we will. I’m not a fan of Farage, but again there’s an uneven group of people who’ve assembled under that banner and I think some of them, actually, are not racists and may be worthy of support.”
No seat is safe
The Common Decency website gives a good idea of what Brian is trying to accomplish. For every constituency in the country, his team have pulled together a pie chart breaking the result from the 2010 election down into the usual winner and losers – but also including the huge chunk of the population that didn’t vote at all.
“You look at George Osborne’s seat,” he says, “and it looks like a very safe seat because there’s this enormous sector of the pie that’s blue. So everyone says it’s a safe seat, I’m not going to bother to vote. I felt this as well – I didn’t vote in the last election. I didn’t get around to it because I knew it wouldn’t make a difference.” He gestures to the thick wedge of people who neither voted for George Osborne nor any of his opponents. “If all these people got off their asses and voted, they could wipe this guy out. This is not a safe seat if everyone votes, so our slogan is “No seat is safe, no vote is wasted.”
Crowdsourcing the campaign
Common Decency isn’t just a website, it’s a community. The team have thrown the idea open to the world, along with a set of rough principles for how decent members of parliament should behave, and the kind of policies they should stand up for. On the draft list you’ll find a zero tolerance approach to animal cruelty – which you’d expect from Brian, whose frustrating experience lobbying MPs to oppose the badger cull spurred him into action on this project. Some of the other policies – like redistribution of hereditary land, partial nationalisation of banks and an end to policies of austerity, which Brian describes as a “flawed concept” – might surprise his fans. But these aren’t so much a manifesto as a conversation starter. It’ll be the community of supporters that will discuss and refine what the campaign stands for.
“It’s a draft list,” says Brian. “What we’re doing is asking for people’s opinion on the pillars that are there and asking for extra pillars as we go along. With the people out there who are subscribing to us, we’re asking them to give us their feedback and shape our campaign.”
And despite the PhD, Brian admits he’s not an expert on everything. On nationalised banks, he says: “I slung that in. It’s a punt. My understanding of the banking system is not good enough to specify any details, but it seems to me that we made a tragic mistake in bailing out the banks.” But he hopes people will be attracted to politicians admitting when they don’t have easy answers.
“I know I can’t understand everything and I would like to see more of that. I would like to see people who are asked an awkward question on TV say “That’s an idea I’m not really strong on and I take advice from this person, rather than trying to bluster your way through.”
Getting less right-wing with age
There’s an old saying about people getting more right wing as they get older – but Brian, a lifelong Conservative voter – has gone the other way. But why?
“I’ve realised the consequences of the things which I’ve always believed like compassion towards people, compassion towards the weak, to people who don’t have a voice, to animals which has become a big thing with me, that’s always been there inside me. But now I’ve had to sit there and think as opposed to being out there touring the world the whole time. It’s become apparent that I’ve had to get rid of certain blocks in my thinking.
“I’m outraged that the country is so riddled with privilege, corruption and inequality. To me this is not being a decent society. This is not a big society, this is a selfish society ruled by people who have enough power to keep them in power. It’s a terrible, vice like grip that we’re in and I feel angry.”
He even wants to pay more tax.
“I’m outraged, and I don’t mind paying more taxes if it leads to a fairer system. I’m actually proud of the amount of tax I’ve paid in my lifetime.
Speaking about his time in Queen, he says: “We were never ruled by money. I remember Freddie being asked “Are you happy you’re rich?” and he said “Of course I’m happy I’m rich, but I’m happy because the money tells me that people like what I do.
“And Freddie was very comfortable with making money – he came from nothing, his family had nothing. As My family had nothing really. I think my mum thought we were upper middle class, but she was putting money in jars to pay the electricity and to make ends meet. We were very poor. So I know what it’s like to be poor and I’ve worked hard for what I’ve got.
“That does not mean though that if I see a poor person they didn’t work as hard as I did. That’s not the case, and that’s Cameron’s whole stance isn’t it? You know, all these people are scroungers. The scroungers are people sitting on inherited wealth and not paying any tax. It’s bloody obvious, but they’re being protected by David Cameron at this moment.”
Asked what his ideal outcome on May 8th would be, Brian says, hopefully: “I’d like to see a new set of MPs in the house of very mixed colour, all who have the courage of their convictions and who will vote according to their conscience and according to the will of the constituents who put them there. Then I think we have made the first step towards reform and giving everybody a voice – which they should have.
“Democracy’s about everybody having a voice.”