Friday, 8 May 2015

Things Can Only Get Better? The story of one Labour voter

I have never before shared a post on here that does not fit with the blogs brand but today I have woken up with a need to make my voice heard. Sorry to all my readers outside of the UK, brace yourselves it will be a bumpy ride.Here is my story;

Nearly 40 Years Of Political Disappointment or How Slightly Left Of Centre Does Not Work  

I was born into the Winter Of Discontent widespread strikes crippled the country and helped the Conservative Party, with Margaret Thatcher at the helm sweep into government. Looking back now I ask myself if the white paper A Place Of Strife would have saved the Labour party by reducing the unions powers or it would have just been the first sad step towards New Labour sooner than we subsequently got.

Like many Indian immigrant families at the time my family voted Conservative. I at the tender age of 3 would say how I liked Micheal Foot, he was my favourite and my family would say how cute it was, look a mini socialist. My uncle would tell me that when I grew up I would understand that the country was crippled by Labour that the unions had to be stopped. My mum would tell me that as a woman it was an important thing to have Margaret Thatcher as the country's leader. My mother's viewpoint on this matter soon changed when she, like countless other women found that Mrs. Thatcher had pulled the ladder up behind her when it came to female representation. She was openly opposed to actively combating discrimination against women stating, "they need to pull themselves up through the ranks". Equally her government's policies on domiciled care and childcare made it harder for women as, due to the place of women in our society that onus primarily falls on the females in a family.

Still it was odd to be so young and have a different political opinion that my family. Where had it come from? I can only assume that the logic and morals of a child are simple and absolute, there is no grey area in children. Children don't think about how a vote may affect their pension, savings, how inflation for a period may work to their personal advantage. No a child hears soundbites on the news and takes what those individuals have said as absolute. And that is how I began my life as a Labour supporter.

Time marched on and soon the realization of privatization, pit closures and deregulation of the financial sector, (not to mention she stole my milk), was starting to dawn on everyone, including my family. My uncle stayed strong, as did my Granny, and they remained Conservative. My mother had swung to the left and my aunt declared that now she had started teacher training she had to vote Labour. I was no longer alone in my household and as a small child I took it as my personal victory. The country was no longer happy but history shows a war always unites us, strange how so many young men and women being sent into danger does that. The Falklands War saw a sudden growth in Thatcher's popularity once more and she won a second general election.

1987 - I had lost my Micheal Foot and we Labour types now had Neil Kinnock as our leader. The Labour party slowly started to move towards the centre, perhaps as they saw The Winter Of Discontent as their demise they thought this was their only option, but as a mere child with the popular media as my only source of information I could only speculate. I was a child but was politically excited, I made Labour flags, I made posters and stuck them in the window, my mum told me off as we were renting and she was worried about cellotape being stuck on the windows.  I was an only child and as one of my school reports stated, "she enjoys the company of adults". I would sit and listen to adult conversations. I saw the onslaught of negativity against the Labour Party from the tabloid press and wondered why they hated people who wanted to make life better. I was a long way from voting but I felt that making my flags and saying my favourite colour was red I was part of something. I was only to be disappointed as the Margaret Thatcher took her third victory. How? Almost every adult I was in contact with hated the woman. And as it turned out so did her party as John Major was soon to be their new leader

I grew up in the Poll Tax riots, and saw the people win. I grew up listening to The Specials, Morrissey, The Beats, Elvis Costello, The Jam all of whom sang about what Thatcherism had done to the country. I grew up listening to the words of Billy Bragg, watching Spitting Image and Yes Minister/Prime Minister all mocking the government and the way the country was being run. Yet again I was left crestfallen as despite the Gulf War, Black Wednesday and the highest number of repossessed houses at the time John Major led the Conservative government to their fourth win in my lifetime.

As a child I felt powerless but now I was a teenager, and teenagers know everything. Not only was I a teenager but I was about to vote in my first general election. Not only was I a voting teenager I was a drama student, yes my voice was going to be heard. I channeled Billy Bragg, The Specials and John O Farrell. I was taking A Level Theatre Studies and the world would hear me roar. Feminist theatre, check. Monologues from The Killing Of Sister George, check. All culminating in a satirical piece written by my fellow students and I called From Playground To Politics. We were on fire we were about to have our voices heard. We had grown up in a Britain that we did not choose but today was our day. But.....

Yes there was a but. The Labour I was finally getting to vote for was not Micheal Foot's Labour, it was not even the Labour of Neil Kinnock. In fact it was not Labour, it was New Labour with a privately educated Tony Blair at the helm. There was a rock in the pit of my stomach not the fire in my belly that I should have had. I watch the commercials, I looked at the billboards and read the manifesto and New Labour did not sound like my Labour, not at all. Still I promised myself Tony Blair would help, Things Could Only Get Better, that is what they sang. Besides I had faith in the backbenchers they wouldn't let him move the party even closer to the centre than it already was, would they?

I decided that drama and music were no longer for me, politics was too important, making the country better for everyone who lived there was too important. I took some time out to think exactly how I could be part of creating a better place to live and settled on social care. I studied Sociology and Politics and I was very good at it, far better than drama if truth be known.

1997 things were doing as expected, better and I was feeling good that the New Labour was remaining loyal to its roots. In 1997 Labour stated that only they could save our NHS, and at the time that was true as they embarked on a decade of increased spending in the NHS, the largest increase in sustained spending the sector had seen. However, and there is always an however. In 1999 New Labour began to move the NHS from a public sector provider to include the private sector provisions under the disguise of choice and competition. As this decision was unpopular throughout the party I could only assume that this was the start of what I refer to as the megalomaniac years. Tony Blair had an inner circle and the socialists were not invited, he thought himself as commander and chief not a first minister.

At this time I was still in university, I read about Anuerin Bevan godfather of the NHS and The Welfare State, I read about inequality of wealth and The Parade Of Dwarfs. I was primed and ready to graduate and begin to make a difference. For the most part that is what happened. I became a civil servant. Later I moved to working for Charities and NGOs. I did this for more than a decade. The whole time the whispers grew to shouts about what had happened to the Labour party. New Labour was dubbed Tory Lite and funding reforms were affecting my sector. Society was no longer the master of the government but its less deserving servant. In fact now we started to hear phrases like the deserving and undeserving poor. What is acceptable poverty in a developed nation?

2007, Tony Blair leaves the party in tatters and Gordon Brown takes over as leader. He inherited a split party, those who wanted New Labour reforms, staunch backbenchers, those who wanted to move even closer to the centre. Once more I am surrounded by vitriolic attacks by the press similar to those that thwarted Neil Kinnock. 

I, like many Labour voters, am disillusioned by my party. I didn't vote for 'Best Value' contracts, selling social housing or academy schools but that is what I got. So let us gain a little perspective here. New Labour for all the faults still brought us; The Freedom Of Information Act 2000, The Human Rights Act 1998, The National Minimum Wage Act 1998, Windfall Tax, A Ban On The Use Of Landmines and Regional Development Agencies to name but a few triumphs. Also interest rates were at a record low so national debt was paid off. In 1997 Labour inherited a deficit of 3.9% of GDP by 2008 it had fallen to 2.1% nearly 50% reduction.

2010, none of this was enough and Gordon Brown stood down and we had 5 years of a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition. Five years ago I worked for a homeless charity. I like multitudes of my colleagues were made redundant. I now work here. I am grateful for this living but I scrape a living now by comparison and as much as I enjoy the continual engagement I have with my readers I somehow feel I am betraying the child who stood as a lone Labour voice in her family and who worked for charities giving the people who are unheard a voice. During those five years we have seen further privatization in the NHS, the commonly dubbed bedroom tax, the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The later includes the phasing out of Disability Living Allowance, Housing Benefit Reforms, Reforms to Working Tax Credits. Add to this a rise in the use of Food Banks, a rise child health issues directly related to poverty, huge cuts in public sector employment despite reports confirming there was no space in the private sector. Despite reports explaining austerity is not working we have once more voted to continue. This is what I studied, this is where I worked and I can only assure you that reforms in welfare have long term effects in society, and what will happen when they occur, the populous will blame whoever is in the seat of power at the time.

Why the Conservative victory last night? Well in the first case I am sickened to once more hear that just over half the country turning up to vote is a great turnout. No it is not anything less than 90% is poor in my viewpoint.  Whilst I still voted for Labour in this election as I agreed with many of their policies and for me they were the best fit for my views I was not blinded to the fact that they wanted to re-introduce the 10p tax. That there answer to under performing schools is more administration in the form of school directors and that many of their social security promises were less than radical. Add to that the fact that Tony Blair and New Labour had left voters not trusting them. I would argue that we need a real alternative

So now we are left with these Conservative manifesto promises; £12billion Welfare Savings, (despite the welfare bill being far less than our pension bill), Household Befit Cap Reduction to £23,000,
Replace JSA for 18-21-year-olds with a Youth Allowance limited to 6 months & end automatic Housing Benefit for this age group. Scrap Human Rights Act and replace with a British Bill of Rights. Strike reform and a free vote on the Hunting Act.

When will my party that I have been loyal to my entire life return to those days of being the real left, of being the workers party, of being the party that gave a voice in Westminster to those who needed it. Where is Joseph Rowntree, Aneurin Bevan, Micheal Foot and Tony Benn. I met Tony Benn (a proud day), the man who turned down a peerage to serve his country in parliament only to have is son Stephen reclaim it this is not the future I expected. When we took to the streets over the bedroom tax we did not have the numbers or the fire of the Jarrow March or Poll Tax Riots. We have lost our fire because we have lost our left. 

What I hope for is a real left again, for my Labour party to come back to me and end my disappointment. This post is littered with historical fact but is also liberally peppered with my own political opinion, which you may disagree with. As with most people with opinions I believe that mine are correct, after all what is the point of standing up for something unless you fully believe in what you stand for.

My friend wrote today that collective action does not begin and end with this election and as history has shown us the public can make a difference, how will you choose to make a difference?

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