I can’t offer in depth political analysis. I can only offer gut feeling and experience. I know that isn’t enough for most of you and I don’t blame you. Question everything, I say. What I can offer you is an explanation and reasons – perhaps naïve, perhaps misguided, perhaps biased, I accept that – as to why I have voted Labour.
First thing’s first.
Apart from a brief dalliance with the Greens, I have always voted Labour. My personal politics lean very much towards the left by default. I believe in fairness and helping those in need which I have often done to my detriment. I’m almost Scandinavian in that belief that no one is intrinsically ‘better’ than anyone else by virtue of birth, money, job, whatever. I believe that paying into a system in one way or another affords you certain guarantees in terms of health, happiness and well-being.
I spent my teens to my early thirties in Sheffield. The city and the surrounding areas were torn apart by Conservative policies. It caused, as is well documented, mass unemployment, appalling poverty and according to a lucky friend who work in an employment agency (irony, right?) around three thousand people applying for every job that went through her office. Sometimes, she would go for weeks without having jobs to advertise and the only reason the office stayed open was that it was part of a chain. 90% of the jobs she handled were outside of the area. Jobs in Sheffield, she said was “filling a dead man’s shoes”.
So work was almost impossible to find. Signing on was a task that could take up most of the morning, depending on the queues and you were given a paper to sign saying that you had looked for work in the previous two weeks. They knew that there were no jobs to be had and didn’t push it.
Now my education wasn’t brilliant. I went to a school that had the worst reputation in the county (I was in Kent at this point) and had undiagnosed dyslexia. I didn’t get a diagnosis until I was 30. With no qualifications, getting a job was doubly impossible (if that’s possible, but you take my point) and I essentially had to work for myself. It didn’t go well. I tried learning and boosting my education while unemployed. I started college every year, but every year, the DHSS (as it was then) stopped my education under threat of losing my benefits around February every single year.
I went on a JTS which was essentially dole + £10 for a full time job. I work in an advice centre. Halfway through my JTS, the government slashed the rates of unemployment benefit. One week, I was working full time (with the extra tenner) for £65, the next £36.05 again, with the added tenner.
In the midst of all this, the HIV/AIDS crisis was happening. Gay men were under enormous threat from a government who, at one point, were considering internment camps to stop the spread. You know, rounding up gay men and imprisoning them. Whether they had the virus or not. In the early 80’s, being gay wasn’t too bad, by the mid-80’s I was scared to leave the house. I would hear of friends who had the shit kicked out of them because they were gay and one being kicked to death because ‘the fucking queer bastard bled on me’. I experienced the violence personally. I ended up in casualty on more than one occasion for the heinous crime of existing.
Because of the fear and hate whipped up by Tory policy, legislation and speculation, my life has, at times, been intolerable. And yes, attempts at my own life were made. Some of my friends were not so lucky – or perhaps they were depending on viewpoints. How can I condone policy that causes suicide? How can I support a party that allows situations to happen that facilitate this?
In later years, almost unbelievably, things got easier. One of my artistic endeavours paid off and things looked better for me. Arts projects rarely last and after a number of years, that fizzled out, no one had money to commission me further and I was back on the dole again for a while. I got a job as a stop gap and ended up staying for seven years before moving on. I went to University to finally get that degree I’d been promising myself and worked throughout the four years I was there.
About five years ago, a year or so after graduating, I had a major recurrence of agoraphobia. I had had two short periods in Sheffield, but this time… well, I’m still in its throes. Five years of being terrified to leave the house. Now, my work record is patchy, I know that but throughout my working life, I’ve paid tax and National Insurance, I even paid national insurance stamps as an option while unemployed.
When this bout of agoraphobia hit, I was told categorically that I could receive nothing from the state, despite having paid every penny of tax I should have done and paid more National Insurance than was expected. Nothing. Not one penny. For someone who has paid into the system for a lifetime, that’s unforgivable. The reason I was refused was that I couldn’t guarantee getting to the signing on office regularly because of the agoraphobia. I showed them ample evidence of searching for work at home and they were impressed that I’d managed to find so much home work to apply for, but I couldn’t get to the office, so couldn’t have money. Agoraphobia isn’t an illness that is considered an illness for the purposes of benefits.
I had been pushing for some sort of therapy to help with the agoraphobia and after three years, I got some counselling sessions. After the initial meeting, the therapist said “We need a good year of weekly sessions to get to the bottom of your problems and sort them out. Unfortunately, because of government cuts, we can only give you 12 weekly sessions. After that, you have to pay.”
The price was £40 an hour. I wasn’t working and had no money of my own. I took the twelve sessions and although helpful, it clearly wasn’t enough. Although I’ve made some movement forward, for example doing an MA in Portsmouth that took two months of training just to be able to get to the railway station and to Portsmouth on my own comfortably. I still can’t get into my home town, but if I need to get to Portsmouth, I can do so with some discomfort.
I even managed to walk round Sheffield on my own for a while last week. Unthinkable even a year ago. I’ve even got to a few gigs, although I haven’t done those on my own and have stood at the back and run as soon as the bands put their instruments down. For someone who freelanced and did 4 gigs a week down the mosh-pit, this is a terrible state of affairs!
Essentially, The Tory Party, throughout my life, have sought to repress me. Not personally, obviously, but it seems that everything I am and everything I do and everything I love is contrary to what the Tory party think is good for the country. Having seen and been victim and – sometimes – reluctant survivor of these policies; having so many people not get the help they need; dying because of being sanctioned; dying because they lost essentially financial help needed for disability; unable to pay rent or mortgages because of low wages and zero hours contracts; using food banks for the same reasons; becoming homeless, I’m filled with revulsion..
I’ve seen people bullied, belittled and become the victims of hate as a direct response to Tory policy. Moreover, my identity as a European is about to be stripped from me. My basic Human Rights are being threatened and the poor, the disenfranchised, the sick . . . things are about to get a lot worse for them. And for what? A return to a Britain that never really existed? A manifesto that shares too many similarities with the National Front? The deaths of more friends?
In each term the Tories have served, more friends have seen despair and live in fear of what happens next. This is no way to live. Shouldn’t we be nurturing talents and getting the best from people? Can you explain how constant belittlement achieves this? How does leaving Europe with no deal, better apparently than with a bad deal, can be anything but harmful? What exactly are we manufacturing anyway? What can we export that Europe needs? Bollocks all basically.
Like I said, this is all personal experience, I’m not going to enter in to discussion, because it’s my experience and my opinion. Opinion can be challenged, experience can’t be. But, the ultimate truth here is that because of Tory policy, I feel like a lesser person. I feel like I have no self respect. I feel like I’m nothing. Thanks for that Tories.
Now. I’ve voted Labour, to no-ones surprise. I don’t care that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t – with all the best will in the world – a ‘natural leader’. Being a leader isn’t about how media savvy you are, it’s about how you the job done. I admire his integrity and find the smears and misinformation about him atrocious. Despite my utter contempt, I find misinformation about Chairman May as appalling. The ultimate political naivete though is expecting honesty. Given Corbyns policies of fairness and respect for the people, I’m right behind him, in principal, but like I said, honesty. It’s a thing and I have reservations, even about him.
I can’t stand the endless stories of death and hate caused by Tory policy. I can’t stand the money grabbing policies design to make the rich richer at – quite literally – the expense of the poor.
I can’t stand the inequality.
Nothing short of revolution is good enough.
Go and vote. Do the right thing for everyone, not just for your wallet.