“Big Society”…?

I’ve been meaning to write about my disenchantment with the current political climate in the UK for a long time, but haven’t been able to find the words, which, as you may imagine, is a problem for somebody writing a ‘blog.  Words are kind-of important.  I’m not really a political writer, because I find the inevitable partisan arguments tiresome and, generally, nobody seems to change their point of view, so it can be a frustrating and pointless exercise which can, if you’re not careful, lose you friends and mean that your relatives don’t talk to you as much as they used to.  Still, there’s just so much happening in the UK right now that it makes my blood boil with the injustice of it all, I just have to say something. It’s the reason I’ve been so quiet over the past few weeks – I’ve had so much say, but haven’t been able to work out how to say it.  Well, hopefully I’ve finally found a way, that doesn’t just involve standing on my doorstep shouting “BASTARDS!” until my face is purple and I can no longer breathe.

I’ve always thought that politics are important.  I understand that this isn’t a popular view in an era when people are more likely to vote for someone in the “X Factor” than they are to vote for someone in a general election.  Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to see beyond their own domestic lives and generally only tend to get involved in issues when they arrive on their own doorsteps.  Well, the issues are certainly arriving thick and fast at the moment and the lives of “ordinary” people are going to be affected even more over the coming years by the decisions that are currently being made by the current Conservative & Liberal Democrat coalition Government.  Another problem is that people tend to get angry about certain issues and vent their anger at the wrong people.  The price of petrol, for example, is something that many people are currently angry about – which is fair enough, because it’s extortionate and is currently pricing low-income families out of owning a car.  The trouble is, with the current climate of cuts, they’re also slashing budgets for public transport, so many areas are going to find themselves with drastically reduced bus services or the axing of whole routes.  Time to get on your bike?  Maybe.  Perhaps we can push that message onto the disabled and elderly who rely on subsidised transport.  Or just fit a motor and wheels onto their Zimmer frames.  If they can afford the petrol, that is.

People regularly call for a one day boycott of the petrol stations.  Yeah, that’ll show them.  Don’t buy petrol on Tuesday – just buy more on Monday and Wednesday to compensate.  Sounds terrific.  Of course, you haven’t reduced your consumption at all (which is the real short-term answer) but I suppose the sales of ready-made sandwiches and Ginsters pasties with grey, gristly meat fillings may have gone down a little.  As unfashionable as they may be and however much petrol heads may mock them, we need electric cars and hybrids more than ever before – fuelled by a national grid fed by power plants using renewable energy, of course.  It also irks me that so many people get on the Government’s back about the tax on petrol prices when the insanely profitable oil companies are making huge amounts from the petrol you need to get yourself to work each day.  They are the ones controlling the prices.  The Government is ethically obliged to tax petrol, considering the fact that it’s a finite resource and does a lot of harm to the planet, but Shell, BP et al aren’t ethically obliged to do anything other than make obscene amounts of money from one of Earth’s natural resources which surely should belong to each and everyone one of us?

I voted Liberal Democrat at the last election.  That’s right.  Blame me.  Naturally, I cast my vote in the full knowledge that Nick Clegg and his political pals would abandon their core left-of-centre beliefs for an ounce of power and the chance of electoral reform.  Now, I’m aware that the party I voted for didn’t win the election and really have no right to any major say in the way the country is governed, but they were in a position to form an alliance with another party to form a Government.  Given that fact, surely centrist Labour would have had much more in common with the left-of-centre Liberal Democrats than the right-of-centre Conservatives?   As the majority of votes cast were for either Labour or Liberal Democrat, doesn’t it seem incredibly perverse that we have a predominantly right-wing Conservative Government and that the policies which made the LibDems attractive to vote for have all but been swallowed up?

This coalition just doesn’t make any sense – and we’re seeing our public services stripped of funding, thousands of public sector jobs lost and uncaring policies leaving some of the most vulnerable in society without the help they need or, rather, leaving the care of the people to the “big society”.  Sounds about as plausible as that other great Conservative idea, “care in the community”.  The idea that all of the gaps in our public services are going to be plugged by volunteers is an idiotic one.  We live in a selfish world.  I don’t like it, I wish that wasn’t the case, but it’s true.  The total amount of altruistic people who will give selflessly are few.  In reality, volunteer work is a luxury and most who do volunteer work aren’t going to be doing a full-time job, bringing up children and running a busy household.  Of course, thanks to the current economic climate, further fuelled by the cuts, we have plenty of unemployed people with time on their hands.  However, why should we rely on people to work for nothing when they are effectively replacing people who were being paid to do the job?  If the job is inessential, then, logically, nobody should have to volunteer to do it.  If the job is essential, then someone should be paid to perform it.  It really is as simple as that.

I have no loyalty or affiliation to any one political party.  The Labour Party, which should be my “natural” party of choice, showed no loyalty to us, so why on earth should we reciprocate?  Blair made the Labour Party into “New Labour” and it quickly became part of the establishment that we had wanted to tear apart and re-build.  Of course, there were triumphs.  The minimum wage and Northern Ireland were undeniable historical landmarks which happened thanks to that particular Government.  However, I believe they will mostly be remembered for the illegal Iraq war and the economic and banking crisis which was allowed to happen owing to Brown’s love affair with the city.  Like some wife of a Mafia boss who enjoyed the luxury life but didn’t really want to know where all the opulence came from, he should have realised that it would all come crashing down around his ears when the cops finally caught up with Tony Soprano and, just like that wife with her head firmly buried in the sand, he spent the money which wasn’t his to spend bailing the criminals out, in the vain hope that they would change their ways.  It all seems so hopelessly naive.

So, my attitude was screw New Labour – and definitely screw the Tories who laid the foundations of Thatcherism which Blair so eagerly built upon.  The fact is, politics is so closely intertwined with big business that every vote for these behemoths of British politics is accepting that we, the everyday working Joe and Joan, are propping up the corrupt system which allows the richest in society to carry on living their opulent lifestyles in the vain hope that they will throw us a crumb or two in the taxation that they spend so much time and money employing clever accountants to avoid.  All of this was the reason I decided that the Liberal Democrats couldn’t be any worse than the two parties who have held a stranglehold on British politics for the best part of the last Century.  Especially seeing as they were making manifesto promises of starting taxation at £10,000, scrapping University tuition fees as well as lots of different economic policies closing loopholes exploited by the wealthy.  It all sounded good and I even had a brief moment of optimism after the initial shock that they were colluding with the Tories until I saw Clegg and Cameron laughing together at those podiums.  Laughing at a joke made at Clegg’s expense, no less.  Nick Clegg is still a joke, even now.  Trouble is, nobody is laughing any more.

Let’s not forget, though – although the LibDems are bastards for enabling the Tories to systematically dismantle the welfare state and the public services many people rely upon, the biggest bastards are the Conservatives themselves.  By all means, let’s not let the Liberals off the hook – let’s hope they come to their senses soon, before it’s too late – but the policies we’re seeing making this country a much worse place to live in for the vast majority of those on low-to-moderate incomes or in poverty are Tory through and through.  Even though there is all this talk of the “big society”, they really don’t care about you or I and the old Etonian millionaires certainly don’t understand what it is like to live an ordinary working life or our small-scale economic pressures.  Many Conservatives have the attitude of looking after yourself and your own – and that’s exactly what they do, from the highest level down.

Many people will argue that we need to tighten our belts and that cuts in public services are inevitable.  Well, I believe history proves otherwise.  After the Second World War, the UK found itself in an economic mess, with a huge financial bill after the war and massive trade deficits.  What did Clement Attlee’s Labour Government do to get the country back on its feet again?  Did they look to save money by removing the economic safety nets for the country’s needy?  No, instead he ploughed huge amounts of money into the public sector, nationalised the utilities and major industries – and founded the National Heath Service – and, as a result, Britain became one of the fastest growing economies in the world, enjoying higher standards of living than ever before and well as having one of the most caring and united societies in the history of this country.

I think it is blatantly unfair and deeply depressing to go on a long rant about how terrible things are, without at least suggesting something positive that we can all do to change the situation, so here is my idea.  Quite honestly, I don’t buy into the idea that a brand new political party is the answer.  There are lots of new, small parties with good policies and great intentions springing up, but all they do is dilute the vote of well-meaning and similar-minded people.  Personally, I think we (meaning all of the centrists and left-leaning people) need to re-claim the Labour Party.  As the backbone of Britain, the Labour Party is there for us, the workers, and it should be our voice, look after our values and act in our interests.  After all, we are the majority.  By rights, the Labour Party belongs to us, so we should take it back by joining in vast numbers.  The actual current membership is fairly small and the percentage of members who actually attend the branch meetings is even smaller than that, so if a few hundred thousand people joined and started making their voice heard, it was impact the Labour Party greatly.  If you are a member of a Trade Union then your membership will be half price.  If you’re under 27, you can join for the massive price of a penny.

Strength is in numbers, in unity and by having the strength and courage of your convictions to make your voice heard.  All we need is for people to start getting involved in the decision-making process of the party, to demand that they make the changes to their manifesto which will benefit the people they were meant to represent in the first place and to ensure that any Labour Government will get it right the next time.  As Labour are in opposition and they’ve quite obviously got a lot wrong during their time in Government, they’re going to be more receptive to change at this point in time than in their last 15 years of existence.  Let’s face it, something needs to change.  I can’t, in good conscience, accept that this selfish, harsh, greedy world where everyone looks after themselves will be the society our children inherits – and it would break my heart if future generations continued to adopt that kind of attitude.

In the short-term, there is a protest in London called March For The Alternative taking place on Saturday March 26th, 2011.  Under the banner of “Jobs, Growth, Justice”, it is a chance for the ordinary working people of this country to register their immense displeasure at the way our society is being systematically dismantled.  Seeing as the Tories have told the police that they face pay cuts, I can’t see the boys in blue being too heavy-handed – some of them may even join us, who knows.  It is only by actually doing something like this can we claim to have been part of any change that happens.  If we do nothing, then, inevitably, nothing will happen and we only have ourselves to blame. We may as well just bend over and hope that the Tories will be kind enough to use lubrication.

But I can guarantee you, they won’t.

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About A.D.S.

You are reading the musings of a music-obsessed forty-something who was brought up on The Beatles, lived through Britpop and now spends his time in pursuit of the best music around. This 'blog gives me an outlet to write about the huge number of albums I buy and the many gigs I go to. All of the opinions expressed are my own and if you don't agree with me, then I understand - music is a very personal thing. I like to receive comments, especially if they're nice ones.
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