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23 March 2015 by Emily Ashton
Photography: Lynzy Billing / BuzzFeed
The Queen guitarist talks to BuzzFeed News about why he hates David Cameron, loves Russell Brand, and wants to inspire a radical overhaul of the way the country is run.
“I think the days of voting for a party ought to be over,” Brian May tells BuzzFeed News.
The Queen guitarist, amateur astronomer and animal rights activists has called us here to announce his “Common Decency” campaign, which calls on voters to shun political parties at the general election and choose the most decent local candidate instead.
The Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition has, he insists, been a “disaster” because it has not listened to voters. Instead, he is calling for a “true democracy in which the people have an effective voice” – and, in particular, an end to the “scandalous” system of party whips under which MPs are ordered to toe the party line. His dream is for a House of Commons filled with independent-minded MPs to “serve their constituents and moral conscience first”. That way politicians will no longer be able to “gang up and bully us all” into unpopular policies.
“I think the days of voting for a party ought to be over,” he tells BuzzFeed News, “because I think that’s what’s made the bullying possible. That’s what got us this very degenerate two-party system where people slag us off and do not seriously discuss issues with a view to reaching some kind of compromise. Ironically, I think coalitions are a very good thing, just not this coalition.”
Calling on voters to be “colour-blind” when it comes to party labels, he said: “I don’t think I would vote for a party, I would vote for an individual who I thought was decent and was going to represent my point of view, so that’s what I will do.”
May says he comes from a “good Tory family” and has voted Conservative in the past. But he is sick of David Cameron. Dismissing the Tory leadership as “landed gentry”, he says: “Cameron and Osborne and his clique of old Etonians have done an awful lot of damage. To me it’s absolutely incredible that we’re all doffing our caps and saying these people have a right to rule over us. But they have no idea, they have no concept what the man in the street needs. Because they’re in there to represent what they understand [and] what they understand is the privileged people around them.”
Asked who he wants to see as prime minister, he says: “Probably anyone but Cameron, if I wanted to be facile about it. That’s not me being anti-Tory, it’s me being anti-Cameron. It is strange, yes, I come from a good Tory family and I always believed that hard work would pay off. But the corollary, which has been taken up by this government, is that if you’re poor you must be a slacker and you don’t count for anything. And I find that a fundamental misreading of what goes on.”
Last month, May’s spokesperson suggested that the musician might stand as an MP in the general election. But May tells BuzzFeed News that it wasn’t on the cards. “It was suggested to me but really I never got very far down the line of considering it,” he says. “I wanted to have an influence and I came to the conclusion fairly quickly that the best way to have an influence was to continue to be an activist like I am and maintain my independence from all the parties.”
The Common Decency campaign will endorse candidates who act “decently, transparently and accountably”. Those who have already earned May’s seal of approval include Andrew George and Adrian Sanders from the Lib Dems, Angela Smith from Labour, Henry Smith and Tracey Crouch from the Tories, Caroline Lucas from the Greens, and Louise Irvine from the National Health Action party. “We’re not asking anything of any candidate, really,” May explains.
“We’re not asking them to sign anything or commit to anything. It’s just: ‘We think you’re decent people, we think you represent your constituents and your conscience so we’re going to tell our people to try and cluster round and give you support.’”
The principles of Common Decency are backed by around 18,000 people so far, May says. But he hopes to boost support with the campaign’s formal launch on Tuesday, at which point voters will be able to suggest their own names for the movement’s endorsement. The aim, he says, is to give voters “hope” about the future. “We hope to mobilise them to get out, get off their ass on 7 May and vote, even if it’s the first time and last time they ever vote,” May says. “This is possibly the only chance we’re going to get in this century to really change things. If the seeds are not sown right now, we’re going to be in this horrible mess we’re in now for a very long time. We do basically believe that parliament is rotten but there are very good people in all parties. If we can make sure on 7 May that parliament is full of decent people, no matter what their background is, then we’d be in great shape to take the next step.”
May hopes that Russell Brand, also a keen advocate of a political shake-up, will join his campaign. The comedian has famously called on people not to vote, but May insists that Brand’s message has been misunderstood. The musician said he had enjoyed Brand’s book Revolution and was an avid watcher of his YouTube show The Trews. “To be honest this whole ‘telling people not to vote’ is not prominent, if it’s in there at all. It’s implied,” May says. “What he’s saying is with things the way they are it won’t be worth people even being part of the system. I think he’s been misquoted. I guess what I’m hoping is that he’ll see what we’re doing and he will say ‘Yes this is actually the way I see things as well’. Because he’s advocating shaking up the system and rebuilding it from top to bottom and that’s exactly what we’re advocating as well. So I don’t think there’s much air between us in a sense.”
May says he has “no vested interest whatsoever” in fighting for change. “I don’t need to be rich, I don’t need to be famous,” he says. “The only reason I have for sticking my neck on the block is I think things are desperately wrong and someone has to be naive enough to tilt at the windmills.”