5 years ago, I was a vocal Liberal Democrat supporter and member and even managed to convince people around me generally apathetic and uninterested in politics to vote for the LibDems in the General Election of 2010. 5 years on and I carry the burden of knowing that my vote helped contribute to the misery and pain this government has inflicted upon ordinary people, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, with the Liberal Democrats help. This election my principles are important but not as important as the pragmatic reality that without electing the Labour Party on May the 7th 2015 we face a reinforcement and acceptance of a political and economic programme that is undermining all the progressive battles and victories our country should be proud of, especially when it comes to the National Health Service and the Welfare State. People are literally dying and at such times we have to do what we can, here and now, to make things better in the system we have. Under this electoral system the only real choice we face this May is whether we want to reelect the Tories or elect Labour and choose an alternative vision and path.
This is why I will be voting Labour on May the 7th.
I got involved in party politics when I was at College, joining the Liberal Democrats after seeing their progressive looking leaflet that came through our door promising the abolition of things such as tuition fees and trident. It appealed to the inner liberal of me. My first proper PMQs was Tony Blair’s resignation, the Labour government looked tired and the Liberal Democrats seemed fresh and interesting. The Tories didn’t appeal to me, their Social Darwin, small state moralist approach turned me off – I credit my College sociology course and tutor for making me think about the root causes and critically considering the social, political and economic reasons for the problems we face as a society. Sociology should be on the national curriculum.
My support for the Liberal Democrats carried on at University, I got involved in some of the student politics and was even the Secretary of the Leeds University Liberal Democrats society. I campaigned outside the University with a cardboard cut out of Nick Clegg repeating the line “I agree with Nick” trying to persuade students to vote for charismatic Clegg. Despite the euphoria associated with the Liberal Democrat campaign for the 2010 General Election I could sense from the party leadership stance they were more willing to join with the Tories than Labour if it came to the crunch. I was concerned with this given how anti-Tory I was and how anti our policies they seemed to be.
On the 5th of January 2010, I was quoted in an Independent article, “Clegg faces party backlash over Tory alliance”, stating this fear:
On the 12th of May 2010, I was quoted in a Guardian article, “Liberal Democrat grassroots sounds unease over Conservative coalition”, commenting on the concerning developments regarding a coalition forming between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats:
The Liberal Democrats did indeed join forces with the Tories. With the Liberal Democrats now trailing in the polls often with single figures facing MP loses across the country the party has an uncertain future. I dealt with quite a lot of abuse from members and supporters of the Liberal Democrats when leaving the party but have never doubted my decision or justification for doing so – the experience made me a lot tougher when it comes to political debate too. Every day this coalition government has existed and every day the Liberal Democrats have come out with more Tory defined excuses for the harm and destruction they have caused I realise how right my decision of leaving was and how wrong my vote for them was.
When the Liberal Democrats finally sealed the deal with the Tory party I felt cheated and ashamed that I had supported a party that went and supported everything I thought I was voting against. I was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article, “U.K. Suggests Electoral Changes”, on July the 6th 2010 and in The Guardian on the 15th of May 2010, “Disillusioned Liberal Democrats desert their party”, about me joining the Green Party after the Liberal Democrats did a deal with the devil:
I was even cited in a book, Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging in the UK 2011/12, given my decision to leave the Liberal Democrats:
I guess I needed a sense of purification after the shame I felt for voting in the Liberal Democrats. It was too soon for me to join the Labour party given that they were in the midst of a Leader election battle that would decide what direction the party would take. The university bubble I lived in also contributed towards my decision to be in the Greens. I lived in a world where I wasn’t directly affected by a lot of the decisions that were to be implemented quite quickly after the Tories got into power. I also had less of an understanding than I do now regarding the way the media affects political life. Whilst it’s important not to lose this sense of fighting for a better world and the belief that things can change, I realised it was important to also be pragmatic and try and do something to create small but effective change rather than nothing and no change.
Whilst at University I was also concerned that student protests were quite single issue and many within it failed to make connections to other issues. The anti-tuition fee demonstrations were valuable, admirable and powerful but I was struck by how college students joining these marches protesting against the removal of Educational Maintenance Allowance were in my experience shut out and quickly left what often turned out to be protests demanding unrealistic things and also how the very people that were leading the student demonstrations and defending violence that broke out also were sometimes the very people that were first to attack those taking part in the London riots. The key difference must have been class. It was okay for middle class students to smash a few things but working class people that had nothing to lose, smashing up and burning private property, were deemed wrong and irresponsible – how stupid were they smashing up their own communities people argued. I was one of the few at the time trying to argue for some context (here for instance).
It was this bubble that began to burst whilst I was writing my BA Sociology University dissertation when I started to understand more about the merits of working and campaigning inside and outside party politics and how context is everything. However, it was my eventual involvement as a Director (from 2010 onwards) and employment (2012 onwards) with SilenceBreaker Media that really changed my view of things. Our work in disadvantaged areas such as Edlington, Doncaster and Thurnscoe in South Yorkshire that were left to ruin by the Tory Thatcher government made me realise how the difference between Labour and the Tories works out as a huge one for ordinary people. One party formed out of ordinary people and has to answer to ordinary people given that they are funded primarily by trade unions – made up by ordinary people – unlike the Tories that have 50% of their funding from the City of London. I did become slightly disillusioned even whilst doing my Masters in Politics with how aloof some of the theoretical arguments were and how exclusive such knowledge and theory was. I did contemplate quitting but I am glad I stuck it out as one of my aims for the future is to try and make key theoretical arguments more accessible for more people rather than just for academics sitting at conferences that cost a few hundred pounds to attend and creating their own exclusive language.
Through working in the community I started to meet more and more people that were directly impacted by the Tory government’s policies, people that were left behind and also people that were falling for mainstream narratives such as there being no money left. I also started to see the impact upon the sector itself and how funding started to become more voucher, market based and the threat leaving Europe has for the social and community sector – this was something I covered in my Masters Dissertation. It’s things such as the repeal of the bedroom tax, attacking the control of private landlords, tackling energy companies and threatening to break up Rupert Murdoch’s media that increasing attracted me to the Labour Party. They sound different to the New Labour era and Ed Miliband talks about taking on vested interests and power. In hindsight, whilst New Labour have a shocking record on tackling private interests and protecting and enhancing civil liberties, they did have a good social and economic record in terms of focusing on helping disadvantaged communities, groups and areas. They have a social conscience, something that is totally lacking from the Tories. It was all this that then saw me join the Labour Party in 2012. Yes, I was asked when I was going to join the Monster Raving Loony Party given the number of parties I’ve been a member of in a relatively short period of time – according to The Sun I’m already in it! You must be doing something right when you’re annoying Rupert Murdoch and he warns that Labour threaten his existence.
Under this Conservative government we have seen food banks rocket, inequality soar with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, the NHS is reaching 1990 levels of destruction, the welfare state is being cut back to a point where people are literally dying as they are denied just needed help and they are furthering an ideology with their mainstream media right wing pals that this damaging and depressing direction is the only way. Labour challenge this narrative and Ed Miliband shows in interviews like the one he did with Russell Brand that he is not afraid of taking on powerful interests – so effective that Russell Brand himself is now voting for Labour. There’s no wonder the mouthpiece of the City of London, Financial Times, decides to not back the Labour Party because of their ‘fascination’ with inequality:
The Green Party and others are telling people, much in the same fashion as the Liberal Democrats did in 2010, that you shouldn’t be afraid to vote for your beliefs and that a vote for Labour is pretty much the same as a vote for the Tory party. There is even more to lose in this election compared to 2010. The Tories are wanting to finish the destruction they have started, we can’t give them legitimacy for this. If the Greens genuinely believe there is no difference then I think they need to study the electoral platforms of the two parties a bit more – Labour would repeal the bedroom tax, repeal NHS privatisation, they would cut by only £1bn over 5 years whereas the Tories would cut by £30bn alongside the Tories finding over £10bn welfare cuts whilst protecting pensions that make up nearly half of benefit spending, “more than the £48.2bn the UK spends on servicing its debt”, the Liberal Democrats would cut by £12bn and the SNP would cut even more than Labour, despite anti-austerity rhetoric, at £6bn. Thus, in terms of the mainstream parties Labour are the anti-austerity vote. Unlike the Tories, the surplus they want to achieve also is not an overall surplus meaning that they want to invest and borrow whereas the Tories have ring-fenced this too so it’s part of the surplus target. The difference between the SNP and Labour is largely rhetorical, and the fact Labour are trying to win seats in England against a right wing media that has helped the Conservatives capture the simple narrative that “it’s Labour’s fault that we’re in this mess” has to be taken into account. The SNP have the backing of Murdoch’s Scottish Sun sister paper who has calculatedly backed the SNP to try and make sure the Labour party aren’t elected.
And no, for the record, it wasn’t Labour’s fault that the international financial system crashed in 2008. It was a subprime mortgage crisis that originated in the US because of the selling of too many mortgages to people that couldn’t afford or guarantee them but through financial products such as collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, syndicate collateralized debt obligations and special purpose vehicles, risk that the banks thought they had put off their balance sheet came back to bite them – financial institutions across the world had no idea what their debt actually contained given the process of securitization that was supposed to spread risk around the international financial system but rather created the slow down of money circulation because of this lack of knowledge of where the toxic debt had ended up. But how complicated does that sound? How easy is that to explain to people on the doorstep without it sounding like an excuse when the media narrative doesn’t look at this reality?
This is what Labour has to contend with and whilst this Tory government has borrowed more than the New Labour government did across its three terms, we are told that Labour ‘maxed’ the credit card. What Labour did was invest in public services that were crumbling to pieces. There is now a warning that the NHS is returning to these 1990s levels that Labour had to rescue in 1997. This is after average spending on the NHS annually has been the lowest since the 1950s under this government with many feeling such a budget freeze has effectively been a cut given health inflation.
In terms of theory applying to context and being more accesible, Antonio Gramsci’s hegemony argument couldn’t be more relevant as through mechanisms such as the media we are told over and over again that things such as “we have to cut the debt” – despite this not being backed up by facts, for instance after the Second World War when we built the NHS and welfare state the debt was near 250% of GDP whereas now it’s only around 80%! – are universal interests with people consenting to the economic and political policies that are being implemented in the name of national interest. It isn’t a national interest though, it’s something that has been constructed and constantly reconstructed to further the status quo. The power of such ideas is only heightened by people not wanting to take part in the voting process, falling for the idea that their vote doesn’t change anything when it does. In this context, for now, alongside the broken electoral system any chance of voting in a substantial number of Green MPs is considerably low. The Liberal Democrats faced this problem at the last election as whilst their popularity increased they actually saw their number of MPs go down despite a slight increase in their vote share. It’s in this context, with Labour moving towards a more progressive platform, we have to get behind the Labour party and make sure that the Tories don’t get back in. They are the only serious alternative to a Tory government.
Whilst I will be voting Labour, also I’d recommend being smart and if in your area it’s a race between the Tories and someone else and Labour have no chance of winning choose the anti-Tory vote. Obviously, I don’t include Ukip in this – despite pretence, their racist, homophobic and sexist bile is worse than the Tories. You can use the “Tactical Voting Guide” section to this Telegraph article to help with who to vote for in your area to help stop the Tories by simply just entering your postcode. My postcode result backs my support for Labour:
So there you go. Please use your vote and help get the nasty party out. They only have their own interests and those of their rich donors at heart. Be pragmatic, realistic and hopeful. The idea of another 5 years of this seriously makes my stomach turn. We really can’t take the result of this one for granted – it’s an election that will really define the narrative and direction of this country for a long time to come.
For more information on what this Conservative government has done over the last 5 years check out the documentary Return to Doncatraz by Jay Baker – I produced, researched and co-wrote this film and also produced the companion book that has a host of facts and analysis that need to be shared as widely as possible to counter dominant myths. The film can be watched here and the book can be purchased here for only £1.00 with all proceeds going back into SilenceBreaker Media, the not-for-profit social enterprise to help with the production of alternative media and distribution of reconditioned low cost computers breaking down digital divides.