Thursday, October 21, 2010

Should I ever want to remember what I did on the 20th October this is it.

"I can't make Harry content or stop Kate from hurting...any more than we could stop the war by marching or get tuition fees dropping by protesting our local MP. All I can do is be around when they need me and help clear up afterwards."

I wrote that line in the Autumn of 2003, coming as it does towards the end of Some Sort of Beautiful. It's from the mouth of Will, the character who in political terms I most identify myself (though, as is the way, he is most definitely a Lib Dem, I'm - though I only realised how much so this year - resolutely Labour). Did I think this aching realisation for Will meant that he would give up trying? Absolutely not. There is no way that my fictional Will could concede that change is not possible any more than I could.

On election day this year I took lots of photos of "my day". I'm not a big photo-taker, prefering the stealth method of stealing other people's. "The end of days" I joked with Arsenal Fan that night as we sat in his living room and ate pizza and watched result by result unable to go to sleep through a combination of stomach twisting hope and blind terror. A few days later once again I sat in in that living room and cried as it became clear what was going to happen.

On Tuesday night, coming home from Ivan and the Dogs - a play of poverty and desolation and quiet sadness, I felt a wave of despair that I could only link back to that day in May. I could sit here and list all the things that I disagreed with about Labour policy (and that would take some time) but I knew, however loosely in some cases, we were bound by the same ideology. But this Government? I went to Oxford, I hung out in the Union, I saw what these boys were. As @pennyb articulated on twitter "None of these people have ever had to choose between food and heating. We do."

For all the rhetoric there is nothing "fair" about the Comprehensive Spending Review, any more than the idea that "we are all in this together". How many people does Osborne know who are on benefit? How many people does he know that (already) cannot get a job (not because they don't want to - but because they can't)? How many people does Osborne know who will lose their jobs (and not have a nice inheritance to fall back on)? How many people on Disability Living Allowance does Osborne know? That the harshest, most damning cuts since 1918 which will result in upwards of 500,000 people losing their jobs, was delivered with jokes, and back slappings, and cheering from the Conservative and Liberal benches is more than disgusting - it shows total contempt for the reality of what was being done. These aren't just words and numbers, politcal showboating, each statistic is a person.

I have a huge personal investment in what is being done. My grandparents on both sides lived in council housing all of their lives . My father left school at 15, my mother at 16. Neither were Grammar School kids, so my father - following his father - went into the building trade, my mother facing the "choice" of hairdressing, factory work or secretarial school did day release whilst working in an office. My father would have loved to have been a journalist, my mother long-harboured desires of being a Librarian. Eventually my father did a part-time evening course at, what was then, Leeds Poly, qualified as a Quantity Surveyor. We lived in council housing in East Leeds until I was eight when, in what my Dad still says is the best financial move he ever made, he bought a house. All of my mother and father's siblings are now house owners. I was part of the first generation of my family to go to University (both myself and my sister have degrees, as does one of my cousins). I sit here, living in London, with that degree from Oxford as well as my Masters, actively persuing a career in something I love and I want every state school girl to have the opportunities that I had.

Even deeper than that - my nineteen year old brother has, along with the usual hotch-potch of surrounding conditions, a fairly acute case of autism. It is unlikely he will ever be able to work enough to support himself. He relies on state support (along, of course, with much unrecognised and unpaid for support from my parents) and for him to be reassessed (as he will be) is more traumatic than Osborne would ever be able to imagine. My youngest brother, for medical reasons, is taught in a special unit. In July Leeds council attempted to withdraw this education (on the basis that they had to save money). My father, not one to sit back, researched educational law and placed Education Leeds in such a position that they were forced to offer my brother a place at the unit. At the time I said - but what about the children whose parents can't do that?

You might have noticed that my father works in the construction industry (and, of course, we're not building new houses any more). The company he worked for having gone bust, he's been unemployed for over six months now and, as the Leeds skyline attests, this isn't an industry that's recovering.

So, I'm angry. I'm angry because I know of what Osborne and Cameron and Clegg do not.

And if I - and everyone like me - don't do something, who will?

I wrapped up - though clearly two pairs of tights were not quite enough to prevent the cold numbing my toes - and joined the anti-cuts rally that was taking part outside of Downing Street last night. And it was worth the cold and the numb toes to feel that my anger was not alone.

What the range of speakers made clear was that we need to convey the message. It's a lie that Labour's overspending caused the deficit. A banking crisis caused a global recession (and the Conservatives were wanting less, not more, regulation of the banks prior to this). There are many things I would lay at Labour's door but over-spending is not one of them. It's a lie that the CSR is "fair". Let us be clear - it hits women and the young and the disabled and those who have little already the hardest. Everyone should be made to read Johann Hari's superb - and urgent - analysis. It is wholly wrong when, knocking £8 billion off of the welfare system, Osborne excuses Vodafone from a £6 billion tax bill. And the thought that the Lib Dems have thrown away pretty much everything they stood for in order to get a chance at AV (which will most likely fail) and 22 Ministerial positions makes me almost physically sick. If I had a Lib Dem MP I would be banging on his or her door and asking how they sleep at night.

And for all I opened this with something suggesting the futility I don't think this is futile. This isn't a Conservative majority of the style of Labour in 1997. Everything is a little bit more murky. Regardless of which, how would I look myself in the mirror each day if I knew I sat back and did nothing whilst so much that I value was destroyed for ideological reasons under the guise of economic necessity?

1 comment:

Stephen said...

*Stands and applauds*
I was the age you are now in the late 1970s, and lived through Thatcher - and that will have been as a summer day compared to what is now unleashed.