By Andy Irwin
Labour needs to stop being terrified of its roots and be the loud voice of social justice – or risk irrelevance
I recently had a rant at the Labour party on its Facebook page.
It was lunchtime at work and I had just witnessed their latest party political broadcast entitled ‘The Uncredible Shrinking Man’ – quite possibly the most depressing three-minutes-and-forty-six seconds that I will never reclaim. A brief précis: Nick Clegg is the uncredible shrinking man – a diminished, ridiculous figure who is fed biscuit crumbs by an over-bearing David Cameron who makes decisions without consulting little Nick and mocks him throughout. The broadcast is filmed in black and white affording a wee hint of noir to this thigh-slapping parody. Drenched with a misguided sense of its own cleverness, and reeking of the input of six-figure salaried American strategists with unfortunate facial hair, this little offering apparently constitutes the best we can expect from the historical party of social justice.
When I look at Labour, I see the last hope for a platform of radical social change evaporating into the dusty roads built by the neoconservative agenda. “I want to vote for you”, I shouted at them through my keyboard – “come and get me”. I am so angry with them, I have been for years, I felt betrayed by the party before I was old enough to vote. I have an agenda and a set of values that I don’t think are isolated, a view of how the world should be that I don’t think leaves me sitting alone in an ideological desert looking desperately for someone to bestow my trust upon. In fact, I would confidently suggest that my worldview is held not just by a small group of quibbly twentysomething lefties who studied social sciences at university, but by millions of people living in Britain. The question is then, why is Labour not talking to me? As it is, I have been voting Green without even the vaguest hope that they will come to represent me.
Two months ago, I moved to London to start a new job. I live in a house in Brentford with six other people and I pay £535 a month for the privilege of a single room in a five-bedroom house. That is 35% of my monthly income, which is by no means a bad situation to be in when living in the capital. I have long learned that the reduced section in supermarkets is my friend, and I have become an adept bargain-hunter and I have essentially brought my weekly food shop down to an average £40. That I can afford to spend £40 per week on food shopping once again pits me among the lucky upper quarters of people my age, trying to make their way in this ludicrous opportunity bubble they call a city. I know that I am lucky. Tonight, more than 300 people will go to sleep on the streets of London, if they can find a place to lie down without being impaled.
There are a plethora of things to be angry with, things that I can’t reconcile in my head, things that are unforgivable for me. We don’t have a living wage. We have elderly people who can’t afford to heat their homes in winter. Food banks handed out 20 million meals last year, while the financial variety handed out millions of pounds to their executives citing jobs ‘well done’. Food banks, if nothing else, show that ‘The Big Society’ is alive and well and living in Britain, no thanks to the man who fancies himself as the architect of the concept – which is essentially just a jazzy rebrand for that age-old concept: community. We have millions – and this is the one of the greatest injustices – of private sector workers who are voiceless, living on a pittance and with dodgy contracts, disempowered and frightened for their jobs if they demand better pay and conditions. The retail and hospitality sectors are a cesspit of casual work, no rights, few breaks and long shifts.
We have a generation of un-unionised young people who were sold the dream of a better future if they pay £27,000 for a ride on the higher education carousel. We have some of the poorest councils in the country facing the impossible task of funding essential services for the young, the old, the sick the vulnerable, the aspirational. Their only choice is cut, cut, and cut again. Cut out the roots of communities who need these services the most and leave them to fend for themselves. We have a devastated, under-valued, exhausted and over-worked public sector workforce operating under a top-down culture of fear and an upward surge of impotent resentment. We have a desperate housing situation and a market which will overheat and collapse again. All of these things make me angry, and I am not alone – I know that I will vote on these issues and that others will too.
Labour makes squeaky entreaties to the quiet mass of angry voters on low to low-middle incomes; the group that I genuinely believe constitutes the silent majority in this country. It tells us that it wants to abolish zero-hour contracts, and that it wants to re-examine energy prices and increase affordable housing in the UK. It has told us this before and done nothing. That could be forgiven, but Labour isn’t shouting loud enough, the party is frightened of alienating the people that will never vote for it in the first place. My only option is the Green Party, who have spoken brilliantly in the last couple of years on social injustices and demanded social change. For a number of reasons, they are just not infiltrating the wider consciousness, and still seem to be suffering from a deep-seated image and credibility problem that is unlikely to be overhauled in time for May 2015.
I am told that there are many reasons to be cheerful. This usually comes from people like me, people who can afford to think that way. This is only true if people like them and me take an entirely individualistic and material view of the world and ignore the bigger picture – judging our advancement on having more stuff tomorrow than we did yesterday. Whilst I am in an extremely unstable position financially I am aware that I have it far better than many, and it is for a place where nobody gets left behind that I will be voting to live in next May. Labour needs to work harder to show me it wants me, or I’m staying Green.