Looking back with hindsight, my transition from a lifelong Tory voter to Labour Party member and activist, started gradually from 2015. In the April of 2015, I changed jobs, and went to work for a marketing department at a college in Birmingham. It was here that I learnt just one aspect of the cost of austerity.
I was alright Jack. From my working class roots, I’d fortuitously fallen back into education, as a mature student, I took a free Access course and graduated in 2000 with a Business degree from Coventry University. Through that, I had a job, a house, a car, two cats and regular holidays. I didn’t see what was happening to those less fortunate and born under unlucky stars.
2015 also saw a general election, and now time has passed, I am ashamed to say that I was jubilant that the Tories won. My colleagues were less happy, having worked in education for far longer than I.
The college I worked for was very much a hands-on vocational college. Very much for those that were unlikely to go to university, but still valuable to society. End of term talks by the Principal always mentioned the threat of budget cuts, despite being fiscally responsible and achieving results, and latterly a merger, which if not agreed to, would have been forced through anyway. I could see how hard everyone worked to do their best for the kids, yet due to the budget cuts, voluntary severance loomed over everyone.
2016 came and I was persuaded to join Unison. If anyone would have predicted that I would have joined a union, I would have said they were mad. Despite my working class roots, my Mother is a champion of Thatcherism and one of those strange phenomena – a working class Tory – though not politically active and confesses to not really understand politics. My Mother gets her ‘news’ from the Daily Mail. So I guess that says it all.
Of course 2016 was also the year of the referendum. At the age of 45, politics had not interested me much before. As far as I was concerned, politicians, with few exceptions, were lying, scheming, warmongering, selfish, self-serving, money-grabbing, privately-educated individuals, who didn’t have a clue or interest in the lives of real people…
…I knew that Corbyn led the Labour Party, but if asked to pick him out from a line-up, I doubt I would have managed it. The Monday after Brexit, Corbyn was being attacked for what he wore. Of all the things I believed you could attack a politician for, clothing would be 100+ on the list. So I was curious, normally politicians are being accused of being with prostitutes or some shady deal, or perhaps even for extortionate expenses, who was this guy being vilified for wearing corduroy trousers and a jumper? Tell me Google…
The first image I saw of him was a 1984 black and white photo of him being arrested by a police woman and a police man, whilst protesting against apartheid in South Africa. This was in the era when Thatcher told everyone Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Next was his opposition to the Iraq war, with his 2003 anti-Iraq war speech. He had an allotment, liked making jam and seemed an ordinary man. I then found out about his expenses as an MP, or lack of them, and that was that. On the 29th June I joined the Labour Party… I want the kind of society he wants.
Austerity also had a great part to play in my change of ideology. It wasn’t the nurses, doctors, firefighters, unemployed, disabled and low paid workers that created the catastrophe that was 2007/8 for the 1st world countries! It wasn’t ordinary people that gambled with the family silver and lost. It was the greedy bankers, and I use that term literally and in rhyming slang. It angers me greatly that the poorest and unluckiest in society are having to pay for austerity. Why aren’t the perpetrators paying for it? Why are the Tories giving financial breaks to these criminals? Because they still believe in neoliberalism and it is literally killing people, but all they care about is money. I may not be religious, however I do wholeheartedly believe that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’. As the 6th richest nation on the planet, we need to do better regarding social justice. Corbyn has the desire to leave no-one behind.
I have also been lucky enough to meet Jeremy on two occasions. Both times in Birmingham, first time was during the leadership campaign and I volunteered to be a marshal, so got to be front and centre in order to Facebook Live his entire speech. 2nd time was at an anti-racism event at the Birmingham Council House. We happened to arrive at New Street Station at the same time, so took the opportunity to shake his hand and get another selfie. He only had two people with him, a young guy and lady. No security, no men with bullet-proof vests and guns. He was very accessible and happy to talk to me for a few minutes. What a warm and caring individual. He is everything I thought and hoped he would be and I would follow him to the ends of the earth.
So quite the whirlwind, if truth be told. I have woken from my apathetic political coma with enthusiasm and vigour. I want to play a small part in history, in helping to get elected, one of a few MPs that actually gives a rat’s rear end about the majority and is not in the pockets of corporates. Corbyn is the sort of politician I’d always hoped and dreamed of, but believed that they would never reach a position of power…
I have seen the increase in homelessness in my city. When I broke my wrist in January, I received a quick and efficient service from A&E, however when walking to X-ray department, I saw whole corridors with people on trolleys. I see the endless stories of people having benefits sanctioned, people being declared ‘fit for work’ despite the advice from doctors, and then going on to die. This is not what I would expect from the 6th richest nation on the planet. Where has our compassion gone? This is no longer a country I am proud of, with an ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude. I do understand it though. I was one of those people not too long ago. It’s not that I didn’t care, I just didn’t see it. Out of sight, out of mind, and of course you don’t tend to see what you’re not looking for.
If all of this wasn’t enough to change my paradigm, we now have Tory election fraud. Not only are there some 30 Tory MPs who have overspent in their 2015 election expenses, due to the need to bus in the handful of Tory campaigners they have for an election, but also the laundering of money by HSBC to the Tory Party. Yet how much of this is making the mainstream news? This is a scandal worthy of bringing the downfall of any government in the world, and yet… virtual silence!
Our democracy is a swamp, complete with monsters. Yet there are many people who do not see through the facade. As Edward R. Morrow once said “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves”. I am not suggesting for one minute that the majority of the British population are sheep, I do however think that the trust that is given to the Tories is misplaced and we are sleepwalking into a situation where we end up with a US-style healthcare system, where some people will someday need a gofundme page, in order to continue to live.
What sort of world will the children being born right this second grow up in? On our current path, I don’t envy the youth of today.
It stinks. The whole system stinks. The Tories have money, lots of it, and they use it to buy election wins. The Labour Party is the largest political party in Europe, so we have people, and lots of them. We have the manpower to make a difference, and if we lose, it won’t be because I didn’t put a few shifts in.
If you’re willing and able, please, contact your local party and get involved and volunteer an hour or two, this could be our last chance for a generation to get a fairer society and to save the NHS as we remember it.