I’ve haven’t hidden my feelings about the Labour Party’s politics of late, but today, given the choice of the Conservatives of Labour, I’m voting Labour. I thought this would be a harder decision for me, but actually it wasn’t. I was and remain a great supporter of Tony Blair, I believe – genuinely- in the inclusive national politics of New Labour, I argued against Jeremy Corbyn being ‘put on the ballot’, I argued against voting for him in the first leadership election, and the second. This is in so many ways not ‘my’ Labour Party right now. I believe in centrist politics, I don’t believe you have to make a political choice between the rich and the poor. I believe you can find a politics that can deliver for the vast majority, and I believe that with the right political approach you can persuade wealthier people to support a programme involving a lot of redistribution of wealth. I know it, because New Labour did it. Child Tax credits, Working Families tax credit, Pension credit, disability premium for the poorest, to name just a few. I don’t believe those politics are on offer now, instead we are being given a stark, highly divided choice: Vote for the rich or vote for the poor. It’s crass, it’s not my politics, but when it’s all boiled down, it’s the choice we have, and I’m going to vote for the poor.
For more than a decade I have worked in welfare rights. On a daily basis this involves advocating for people who are sick, disabled and/or elderly to access the support they need to live dignified lives. This can involve accessing disability benefits, housing, care at home or in hospitals etc. There is one thing that welfare rights advisors throughout the country see again and again: Labour councils are almost always more actively disposed to helping the poorest. There is a philosophical basis for that.
In the last few years, welfare rights advisors have seen a creeping penalisation of misfortune in the welfare system. Many of the people I support are older people, pre-retirement age, but say older than 55/60. Watching them walk into my office, with walking sticks, arthritis, cancer, toilet problems, deafness, with their latest letters requiring them to attend fitness-to-work interviews, or telling them they have lost the higher rate of this, or that, or that they will have to sign on at the Job Centre and ‘actively look for work’ while they appeal yet another dreadful decision, is – to be perfectly honest – just obscene. These are usually people who have worked all their lives, but have become ill in recent years, or through an accident (many people I work with have spent a lifetime working in construction). They are not the caricature of a lazy welfare recipient*, (*after close to 15 years in welfare rights work I’m not sure many of these actually exist). We fight appeal after appeal (and usually win, such is the transparent ridiculousness of the initial decisions), yet these people should never have been put through this ordeal in the first place, and for many, who do not have access to a welfare rights advocate, the decision is final, and their lives become even more difficult. These stories are everywhere, and it *is* linked to government policy, and of course the Conservative political philosophy.
Our schools are underfunded, our hospitals are underfunded, we have people sleeping in trolleys in hospital corridors again. Homelessness is evidently on the rise, people sleeping on the streets in greater numbers than I can remember since I was a child growing up in Hackney in London. It is virtually impossible to get a GP appointment when you need one, the housing system is a total mess, overcrowding, broken lifts, heating problems, insecure doors, we’ve seen a return of drug dealing, robberies, and anti-social behaviour that Labour ploughed so much into challenging when in government. The fact is, May, and Cameron before her, have cut, and cut and cut, and whilst I could understand the initial reasons for a tightening of the national belt, (Labour also pledged cuts), it does in recent years seem to have become an ideological mission, and as such was taken much too far. They have damaged our country. They have damaged our country. Whoever wins today, a line needs to be drawn under this direction of travel. It has to stop.
I wouldn’t suggest to anyone to vote a certain way in this election. I know there are deep, profound issues for people, and I feel them. But when faced with this binary choice between a Labour government and a Conservative one, I have to listen to my conscience, and for me that means I’m voting Labour.