This has never been a political blog and it isn’t about to become one now, but there’s a General Election coming up next Thursday and it’s probably the most important one in my lifetime in terms of this country’s future. It’s certainly one that I’ve been worrying about for a long time, an election preceded by probably the longest campaign ever in British history, and that one of the most hateful, and revealing that I have ever seen.
I was born in 1955, and spent my first eleven years in a back street terrace in East Manchester, before my parents’ aspirations took us to a substantial semi-detached in South Manchester suburbia. My Dad was a draughtsman, and his Dad a Time and Motion expert. My Mam was a seamstress, and her Dad a warehouseman, so I came from mixed middle and working class stock, and grew up in a middle-class family.
My parents both voted Conservatives. I never discussed politics of any kind with my grandparents but I would lay odds that Granny and Grandad Crookall were Conservatives, and I would be surprised if Grandad Robinson was anything other than a Labour man. On the other hand, I grew up to be a Liberal. I don’t know where my political instincts come from. Dad died before I could have any political discussions with him, and I never asked Mam why she was a Conservative. I don’t remember any incidents, arguments, moments etc. that shaped my thoughts in any particular direction, but when I came of age in 1973, and the country paid me the courtesy of holding two General Elections between then and my nineteenth birthday, I knew that I would vote Liberal.
To be honest, a substantial part of that was a lack of fixed convictions either way, and the notion that, whoever won and whatever mess they made of governing, I could not be blamed for it. But at the same time, I have always described my political belief as that of an instinctive wet liberal (small ‘l’). I believe in fairness and decency, in equality of opportunity and treatment. I hate racism and sexism and discrimination. I believe that this country should be run for the benefit of all, not of those who already have more than others, that there should be protection for those who, for one reason or another, are unable to protect themselves. In short, I believe that it is the role of Government to ensure that the Big Fishes are not allowed to spend all their time eating the Little Fishes. I am, in that sense, impossibly idealist.
So voting Liberal was a neutral option, a non-commitment, at least until 1979. I voted in Nottingham that year, the year that Thatcher came to power and the country in which I grew up began to change. Thatcher’s Government taught me one fixed and determined political principle that I have held to all my life after, which is that the Conservatives should never be voted into power. Thatcher changed the political landscape for at least the rest of my life. Her Government prioritised money, the bottom line, as not only the primary purpose of Government but the only purpose. The years of consensus, of toleration, of cooperation, of acting as if we were one country and that Government was for all of us was trampled into the dirt. Thatcher’s Government prioritised, encouraged, promoted greed and selfishness. It brought division into public life with a vengeance, it failed large swathes and classes of people, dubbed them as enemies for the crime of having less money than those the Tories considered as their own. My dearest political principle in those two decades was ‘Get the bastard Tories out’
There was only one practical approach to that: vote Labour. I voted Labour in 1983, 1987, 1992 and finally 1997. The first of these elections was the only time my vote has ever made any difference: I lived in the only Conservative ward in Manchester, and that year we took the constituency Labour. In 1989, I moved into my first house, and found myself in a staunchly Labour constituency, where I live today, but never once has my vote meant anything.
I last voted Labour in 1997. We all knew the Tories were finally on their way out, after eighteen years. It was written into everything they did and said: after so many years in power, the Conservatives had no ideas left, no policies or beliefs, other than the one that they ought to be in power and no-one else should. That was smashed by New Labour on a joyous night (yes, I was up for Portillo). Blair’s victory, which in time became the falsest of false dawns, freed me to return to my ‘true loyalty’, enabling me to vote Liberal Democrat (ineffectually) at subsequent elections.
The last time – and barring a political change of tremendous magnitude it will be the last time – was in 2010. Change was coming, had to come. I’d said once, before 1997, that all Governments have to be thrown out once in a while. Continued power corrupts. Governments lose focus, lose purpose, start to believe that their presence in power is the only thing that is important, that everything they do is sacrosanct and in accordance with a quasi-divine will, and once they reach that point, they have to be turfed out so that they can be reminded that they are only mortal and they can’t get away with any stupid idea they come up with. New Labour under Gordon Brown positively reeked of that in 2010. The dangerously authoritarian pushes towards the abrogation of civil rights was just one sign of that, albeit a very dangerous one. Returning Labour was an endorsement of this policy, no matter how much people hated and feared it: a Manifesto comes as a whole, take it or leave it. Never mind, I was voting Lib Dem. Not only did that absolve me of responsibility, well, it was looking good for the Libs. They were on a roll, they might well grow into a position as serious political players. The future looked bright. That’s a mistake I’ll never make again.
I have a get-out: I still live in a staunchly Labour constituency, so my vote was a waste of time, as it always has been throughout my life, 1983 excepted. But that doesn’t assuage my guilt. It wasn’t my intention, it was diametrically opposite my anticipated outcome, but I am still responsible for facilitating the most evil, corrupt, anti-democratic, doctrinaire, retrograde, Government I have seen in my life. It’s not just the politics. It’s the lies, the incompetency, the arrogance and open contempt displayed for those who have suffered as a result of their policies. Little has been done to disguise that the cumulative effect of their policies has, in every area, been designed to favour the rich and powerful over the every day, the weak and enfeebled. Folk who are disabled, who are physically and mentally incapable of working, have been certified as capable by clerks with no medical training, in the face of expert evidence. They have been tormented and pressurised, treated like liars and skivers. Large swathes of the country have been drawn into believing that they are liars and skivers. And everywhere we turn, the media has supported, backed and accelerated this process. Government proposals, statements, outright lies, are allowed to pass without challenge, are regarded as holy writ, are exaggerated and compounded, and those who speak against, no matter what truths they can demonstrate, are ignored, marginalised, smeared and slandered, cut off from any public debate. The BBC has turned into a shameful Government lapdog. It mocks the Labour party and Ed Milliband, irrespective of truth, publicises complete irrelevancies (what the fuck does it matter if Milliband had problems eating a very hot bacon sandwich?), its people constantly interrupt its spokesmen when Conservative politicians are allowed to repeat proven lies without the remotest challenge.
I have grown disgusted with this country. For years I have mused that, if I were to win the Lottery, I would leave, to escape the every day horror of life, and the knowledge that I have watched its degradation over nearly sixty years, but now I would leave in disgust and despair at how the Conservative Party, facilitated by the lying Nick Clegg, has corrupted and perverted this once wonderful, tolerant, fair-minded, caring and helpful people, and how the rich and the cynical, the foul monsters like Murdoch and Dacre are screaming their heads off to accelerate what has already happened.
For a long time after 2010, I feared that I would have to break the habit of a lifetime, and simply not vote this time around. Last year, I decided that I had a duty to vote Labour, and this I will do on Thursday. To a large extent, that intention represents a return to the Eighties and Nineties: I genuinely believe that another Conservative Government will go even further than the last, and that the destruction it will wreak on the fabric of this country will be, for all practical purposes, irreversible. More and more people will die, not just during the course of the next five years, but over a longer term than I can care to think. Should I, for any reason, lose my job, I am likely to be one of them.
I don’t say that Labour are the answer. In too many areas they do not go anything like as far as I think they should, but they are far from being the Red Tories they are accused of. In the circumstances, in a staunchly Labour constituency, I have the luxury of voting Green if I choose. It won’t change the result. But it also won’t change anything. I believe, I hope, that the Greens will build, and become a party of major significance in the near future, but at the moment they have no practical purpose in respect of the imperative goal of denying the bastard Tories another administration. No, I’m voting Labour.
It won’t make the slightest difference as to the seat: Andrew Gwynne will be returned with or without my support. But we have already seen the attempts by the bastard Tories and the right-wing, rich-bastard controlled press to subvert our democracy by doing everything it can to paint any Labour success as ‘illegitimate’. As not counting. As not being proper. So I believe it’s my duty to add my vote to the total to be cast for them. The more votes Labour has, the harder it will be for the Murdoch Press, and foul-mouth Dacre’s shit-stirring Daily Mail to sustain the inevitable claim that Labour are not, and should not be the party in power. This one matters, people.
I’m not going to urge any of you who read this post to vote Labour, wherever you may be, though obviously I think that’s the most important vote to make. But please think about who you’re voting for, and why. Think about who will be affected by the outcome of this Election. Think about the lies that have been told. Think about how Cameron and Osborne and all the Tories have avoided answering questions, avoided defending their record, avoided putting forward any word of what they intend to do if they are returned. And please ask yourselves what you want your vote to do on Thursday. Because this one counts.
It really does.