I’ve never really been one for discussing politics with members of the public face-to-face. During the last election campaign, I spent a day helping out the local Labour Party but that’s about all I have ever done, though anyone who knows me, knows how frequently I post about politics on Facebook.
I am well aware of the fact that posting about politics on Facebook is a bit like shouting in a box – not many people are likely to hear you and those that are listening tend to be those already in your social circle and many will broadly agree with your politics anyway. So, to try and counter this limitation, I have decided to try a different tact and actually engage with people face-to-face. Sometimes it might be a conversation with a colleague, sometimes it might be an opportunity that presents itself in everyday life.
I have to say that my actions haven’t really got me very far. The most common argument that I have encountered was “what’s the point of voting? They’re all the bloody same.”
Once a guy I was talking to, a taxi driver, used this argument, claiming that all politicians were corrupt and only in it for themselves. When I tried to counter him by telling him that Jeremy Corbyn was different and that he had one of the lowest expenses claims of all MP, he replied that he was a ‘mug’ for not claiming more. “You can’t have it both ways”, I thought to myself, “you’re either complicit in corruption or you stand against it”, but there seemed little point in arguing this point. The taxi driver’s argument, like those of everyone else who claims that they are ‘all the bloody same’ shows that they haven’t really been paying attention to this election.
Until recently, you couldn’t really blame people for saying “they’re all the bloody same”.
I’ve spoken these words myself more than once before. I had utterly given up on following politics – it just depressed me. New Labour had essentially become ‘Tory-lite’, as it moved away from its traditional working-class roots to more central ground.
However, over the past few years, since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, The Labour Party has transformed itself into a political party more attuned to their working-class roots. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have moved further to the right and seek only serve the interests of themselves and their billionaire backers. The Conservatives are bankrolled by billionaires, supported and protected by a media owned by billionaire.
As Labour’s Barry Gardiner said of Boris Johnson – “This is not a One Nation Prime Minister. This is a 1% of the nation Prime Minister.”
After nearly ten years of Conservative power, it feels as if we are no-longer moving forward, that all progress has stopped and that we are slipping rapidly backwards.
Recent data from UNICEF shows that the UK has dropped dramatically in the global rankings for child rights within a year – falling from 11th to 156th, whilst the charity Action for Children recently estimated that nearly 1 million children under the age of 11 will spend Christmas this year without a warm home or fresh food.
Meanwhile, it was reported earlier this year that £3.5 million given by the EU to help alleviate child poverty and homelessness in the UK is in danger of being lost, due to our government failing to use this money. Food Bank use has skyrocketed in the UK over the past ten years, with one recent article pointing out that the UK now has more food banks than McDonald’s branches.
Life for people with disabilities has also got harder over the past decade, due to the government’s cruel austerity measures. It was reported earlier this year that more than 17,000 sick and disabled people have died while waiting for welfare benefits.
This level of fatality should not be unacceptable in one of the richest nations in the world.
I recently read an article about a 58 year old Kevin Donnellon, who was born with no limbs, and has needlessly had to complete an “intrusive” 24-page DWP booklet 3 times this year, in order to keep receiving benefits “It’s not like my arms and legs have grown,” he remarks, highlighting the absurdity of this process.
Just a few years ago the UK was a torchbearer for disability rights, now it feels as if we are heading back to the days of workhouses.
A few days ago, Sally-Ann Hart, the Conservative candidate for Hastings and Rye remarked that people with learning difficulties should be paid less than the minimum wage because they do not understand money.
This exploitative attitude toward people with disabilities reminds me of a story somebody once told me about their experience of working with people with disabilities in the 1970s. In those days, the people that she supported were working in a match factory where they all suffered from burns on their fingers. It concerns me that we are slipping back to these days, or perhaps even further back in time. With Victorian attitudes still prevalent amongst the Tories, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the reintroduction of workhouses of the kind we had in the 19th Century.
This isn’t progress.
The ‘Oven-ready’ Brexit, that Boris Johnson is offering has been revealed to be nothing more than a farce. Like the chlorinated chicken we will soon be expected to eat – it comes without a health warning. As the leaked documents highlight, Boris Johnson’s promises to protect our NHS from a trade deal has been revealed to be yet another lie.
The leaked papers show that the US wants sweeping liberalisation, based on a so-called ‘negative list’ – unless you specifically list it, assume it will be opened up to US corporate penetration.
As one commentator remarked “Far from taking back control, Britain has clearly entered into a relationship where we hold none of the cards”.
I’ve heard it said, many times that all politicians are liars, and with good reason, but there was a time when the lifespan of a lie at least lasted until after the election. These days the lifespan of a lie is much shorter in the minds of some, but linger in the minds of others. Many of you may have heard the joke or seen the meme about how we are breeding a strain of fact-resistant humans, but the truth is we are all creatures of habit and tend to stick rigidly to our beliefs.
Brexit, and those avidly devoted to its cause is a case in point.
Before continuing, I should state that I voted to remain in the EU back in 2016, although I did consider voting leave at the time. The whole shit-show Brexit has become demonstrates to me that it was an ill-conceived idea in the first place. It’s all very well saying ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘Leave means Leave’, but you wouldn’t ‘leave’ your house without having some destination in mind, why would you leave a trade pact with your closest neighbours without having some realistic idea of what you want instead?
Many of those seeking to leave the EU seem to think that the spectacle we have seen over the last few years have been delaying tactics by those who don’t really believe in the cause, but this seems a rather weak argument.
What seems clear to me, is that the term Brexit itself is very vague and is ultimately meaningless.
Yes, you can say that it means the UK leaving the EU, but what has become obvious is that there is more than one way to go about doing this. Various options have been laid out in parliament, but none have been accepted because nobody has been able to agree on what the alternative to being in the EU should be.
The endless embarrassing mess that the nation has dragged itself through over the past few years, could have been avoided if we had gone into the referendum with what Brexit was supposed to look like. It was all very well for Nigel Farage and the like to promote Brexit, but with no real power to make real on the promises that were made, how could anybody be expected to achieve something workable?
There are many Brexiteers that choose not to believe the grim forecasts for Britain’s future when we leave the EU, but I would take the word over experts over the groundless optimism offered by Brexiteers.
We have had warnings of a 500% rise in customs processing from the boss of one of the UK’s largest customs brokers, warnings of civil unrest and food shortages from local councils, warnings about shortages of medicine from medical experts and, warnings that Brexit will damage the economy from the Bank of England, but all these expert opinions are dismissed as ‘scaremongering’ by people with no-expertise in these fields.
They dismiss these expert warnings as being ‘project fear’, but I can’t honestly see anything to be optimistic about – especially if we were to make a deal with Donald Trump.
Of all the tactics used by the Leave faction, the use of language has been the most effective.
I have already talked about the term ‘Brexit’ itself – a word that uses a great economy of letters that makes it sound catchy, but when you strip it back, its meaning is ultimately vague. Perhaps the cleverest use of language by the Leave camp, however, is the idea of ‘Project Fear’ – the very idea that any argument that portrays the Brexit as being a bad idea is shown to be a conspiracy, by those who disagree with them.
In truth, the very forces that helped to shape the nations consciousness during the referendum campaign was the ‘real project fear’.
The poster showing the huge crowd of dark faces supposedly walking toward our nation, the targeted Facebook ads that peddled lies about Turkey and Syria joining the EU, the continued drip drip of the “fake-news” memes from Britain First and the misinformation printed in the right-wing press each day – This is the real project fear.
During the referendum, it was noted that there was a spike in hate crime, and given the hysteria that seemed to be breaking out Nationally the tragic murder of the MP Jo Cox by a right-wing extremist could have been predicted.
Fear is like a virus – those with the resolve to fight it off can resist it, but those whose resolve is weak can become infected.
Those who have fallen on hard times due to the Conservatives austerity measures, those marginalised by society because they are at odds with the changing rules of polite social conduct, proclaiming “Its political correctness gone mad” and those who are growing older and are suspicious of the rapidly changing world – these are the people that are most vulnerable to the effects of fear.
You can be infected by this fear and be oblivious to the fact.
It’s like having a cold for so long that you forget that it is there, fogging your senses and making you feel run down and groggy.
Fear is like a ghost that whispers in your ear.
It haunts you when you walk down the street at night and hear nothing but voices in an unfamiliar tongue.
It tells you that the bag left by the bench is a bomb and that the loud crash of a falling sign in a shopping mall is a terrorist attack or that the face behind the niqab is the face of evil.
Boris Johnson and the Conservatives seek to manipulate people’s fears of terrorism and this has been extremely effective, but I suspect that many of them are haunted by the same fears that they’re projecting outwards.
I read recently about an unearthed Boris Johnson article in which he said that he would ‘turn-tail’ if he encountered a group of black youths in a park. The article indicated that this was evidence of his racist attitude, but I read this more of a sign of his fear of that what he is unable to understand. Granted, it is this kind of reaction that promotes ignorance, racism and bigotry, but I also recognise in this response, a human being who is scared. Though I am able to feel this empathy for him, I don’t think this is enough to forgive him however, for it is this fear and ignorance that also makes Boris Johnson so dangerous.
The spectre of fear whispers that the world is changing too fast and that the old days were better.
Maybe this is so, but change is inevitable.
Like King Cnut’s futile attempts to stop the tide – nobody is able to prevent what will come to be. I remember speaking to a successful business man a few years ago who was a keen UKIP supporter. He fondly recalled his youth knocking about London’s West End in the 1950s and how he knew everyone. The population of London at that time would have been much lower than it is today, and it would have been possible to know many people. He then described how much the area had changed since those times – so many foreign faces. It is doubtful though, that he was ever took the time to talk to these people. Had he done, so he may have found that he had more in common with these people than he thought.
Most people essentially want the same things as us – work, security, family, but fear whispers that we shouldn’t mix with other cultures.
Statistics show that many of the places with the highest percent of leave voters during the referendum were in places where immigration levels were actually quite low.
This suggests that those who fear immigration most are those who have had the least experience of interacting with others from ethnic groups.
Here, in Gravesend, Kent, the pattern was different. Gravesend has had a large Sikh community for years and according to 2015 data released by the Office of National Statistics, has the highest percentage in the country of people born outside the UK, yet Gravesend voted overwhelming in favour of leaving the EU.
Though I do not know the exact reasons for why so many people voted leave locally, I suspect that this may be to do with immigration. Much has changed in the town over the past 20 years or so, as the London sprawl has spread out. The population has grown – bringing in greater ethnic diversity. Having been to university I am no stranger to socialising with people from many ethnic backgrounds and had made friends from all over the world.
I welcomed this influx into Gravesend, as I felt it might make the town a more colourful and cosmopolitan place, but others are not so convinced. At the time of the Office of National Statistic’s report, the local Conservative MP, Adam Holloway, expressed his concerns. “In Gravesend I have noticed huge changes over the last 10 years with people arriving from all over the world as well as the European Union. The UK has thrived on immigration, but when is enough, enough?”
Whilst I do not see this rise in non-UK born citizens as an issue, I do understand how this rapid change may cause concern to some, especially amongst older generations, who tend to be those most resistant to change.
However, are these concerns really justified, or is it just fear whispering in people’s ears?
Fear shouts out from the news-stands every day – it tells us that the immigrants are the ones who are taking our homes, our jobs, our money.
It tells us that we are being Islamified, that we have to adopt Sharia Law, that mistletoe is being banned, that the word Easter is being removed from Easter Eggs and that our traditions are being eroded away. When you dig beneath the surface though, these stories turn out to be mostly untrue.
The media plays on our fears for the loss of our traditions and we accept what they tell us is the truth.
Traditions are important. We cling on to traditions because they give us a sense of identity. We believe we are who we are because we live in the same way our ancestors lived.
However, is this really the case?
Life has changed so much in the UK over the past few hundred years, as we have become increasingly urbanised. Amongst other things, we have experienced the industrial revolution and two world wars that have reshaped much of the world, affecting the way in which we live our lives, from the way that we travel through to the food that we eat.
As we grow older, it is easy to convince ourselves that the time that we grew-up in were halcyon days, but this is merely an illusion – Time moves forever onwards and traditions change. As I approach half a centry in age, I too look back with a fondness for the past and a sadness at its passing, but I am also aware that I cannot change things and there is little point in trying.
I have studied the history of science and I am well aware that new ideas often taken years to gain acceptance. Ideas, like Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, were once seen as radical and were not accepted overnight. When these ideas were finally accepted, it wasn’t necessarily because those who supported his ideas had better scientific evidence – it was mostly because the old-guard had passed away and the new blood coming through were more open to the new way of viewing things.
The historian of science Thomas Kuhn put forward the idea that science goes through periodic ‘paradigm shifts’, which he defines as “universally recognized scientific achievements that, for a time, provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners”.
Darwin’s theory, for example relied on the earlier work of Geologist James Hutton (another scientist whose theories challenged the accepted view). Hutton was the first person to calculate the true age of the Earth. Without, this advancement, Darwin would not have been able to envisage the length of time needed for evolution to occur. Analogous to the concept of ‘paradigm shifts’ is the idea from German philosophy of each time period having a ‘zeitgeist’, or ‘spirit of the age’ that dominates its characteristics.
I mention these ideas here because they are relevant to what is happening in the UK today.
As was noted during the last general election, there is a clear voting pattern, with young people tending to favour The Labour Party whilst the old tend to favour The Conservatives. It has been recognised that support for the Tories drops away by 2% each year as their core support from older generations pass away. Whilst this gradual slip away from the Conservative past should be welcome news to many on the left, I can’t help but look on this creeping change in the demographics with a sense of sadness.
I distinctly remember a TV show from my childhood called “The Good Old Days”. The programme was a recreation of the MusicHall entertainment from the days of the British Empire. I didn’t like the show – it was too old-fashioned. It was always one of those programmes that we would switch over. However, when I look back on this TV show, I also feel a sense of sadness. It had clearly been intended to entertain the older generation, but as these people passed away the show had lost its relevance and was cancelled in 1983. Now we are seeing the gradual disappearance of the generations that followed them as WWII and the last days of the British Empire disappear from living memory.
The shockwave caused by WWII, sent ripples that have stretched across the past seventy years or so and are only now beginning to subside.
We are not the same people that we once were, and though we may mourn the passing of what went before, we cannot resurrect the past. The memories of the Empire are finally disappearing with the sunset, and with them the attitude of superiority that colonialism promoted.
I wonder sometimes if the recent rise in the popular far-right is just is just the agonal gasps of the passing of the old zeitgeist. The racist, misogynistic, homophobic attitudes of our ancestors is dying out. Young people, on the whole, tend to be more open-minded and accepting of ethnicity. They also tend to have a more fluid understanding of gender and sexuality. This is in stark contrast to the older worldview, and this frightens the older generations.
The young are still hopeful, they see Labour’s manifesto as offering them the kind of chances that have been denied to them at a time where social mobilisation has practically drawn to a stand-still.
Older people, do not seem to recognise that life is not as easy for young people as it was for them, when unemployment levels were as low as 3%. I have seen many attempts to promote Labour’s manifesto as a fairy-tale for gullible students, but when the policy has the backing of 163 economists and academics that recognise the need for “a serious injection of public investment” it can’t be that far fetched.
Labour’s manifesto offers hope, whilst the Conservatives talk of nothing but ‘getting Brexit done’, which, from the sounds of the leaked trade talks, is nothing more than the selling off of what is left of our nation’s assets. Whether it be through the gradual selling off of our NHS or allowing the dangerous practice of fracking, the UK is up for sale – This is not the sovereignty that Brexit promised us, this is where ‘project fear’ takes us.
Labour’s manifesto, on the other hand, can be looked on as ‘project hope’.
Labour are promising to build thousands of new homes, they are promising to renationalise key industries, to properly fund the NHS and to introduce a National Care Service. These policies and others are aimed at making life better for you, not the Billionaires that fund the Conservatives or the newspapers that would have you vote against your own interests.
A vote for Labour is a vote for hope. A chance to step away from the narrative of fear that has dominated the last decade.
Over the past few months politics has been more and more depressing as the no-deal Brexit loomed over us. It felt to me that our nation was doomed as we have sunk further and further into the Brexit mess.
Now there is an election, there is a chance for hope. Should Labour win, I have every faith that Jeremy Corbyn will stick to his word and will negotiate a deal with the EU that protects workers’ rights and our economic stability. Should he manage this, and such a deal should win in a second referendum, I would be more than happy to accept this eventually. Better that, than to live a life eating substandard US food, before eventually dying penniless from a curable disease because I couldn’t afford my medication.
You might like to kid yourself, that this couldn’t happen here, but what proof can you offer me that it won’t?
When you go to the polling station this Thursday, do not dwell on your fears – look to the future with hope.
When you enter the polling booth do not cling on to a fading past. Do not vote because you fear the passing of our traditions. Vote for the needs of future generations, not your own, but above all vote for the party that offers hope, not for those who have shrouded you in fear.