If you didn’t know, or couldn’t tell, I am an avid (and possibly addicted) user of Twitter. The immediacy of social connection has given politics a thriving base and (usually) a very good ground for discussion and debate. What’s particularly nice is the ability to connect with other people within your own political persuasion, particularly those you aren’t likely to meet down the pub on a Saturday night.
However, perhaps the worst part of Twitter is what limiting yourself to 140 characters creates – reactionary-ism. You cannot really carry yourself across (particularly if you waffle as much as I do) in such a short amount of space, and so you go for the extremes of your argument to get your point across. If everyone spoke in the tones or subject matter they did on Twitter, we’d assume the whole population had turned evangelical.
Bearing this in mind, it’s probably easier to understand how you can start arguing with someone who, on the whole, you agree with. And so I am brought, almost painfully, to the Labour Leadership Election. I’m not going to talk about the candidates I like, or the candidates I dislike, because that’s not what’s important – what’s important is this seems to be what’s important to everyone else.
As I type, my Tweetdeck pops up in the corner of my screen with an argument between a David Miliband and an Ed Miliband follower. I despair.
What needs to be remembered at this point, and at every point, is that we are one party. I’m not going to turn against people who I am fighting on the same side as just because they’re supporting a different person for leader of that same fighting side. What the Labour Party desperately needs right now is unity and cohesion, and to bear in mind that in two months, we will all be on the same team again. To really beat back this unholy alliance of a Government, what needs to be maintained above all is that we are principled and together as one against a much greater evil.
Roll on September 25th, when I shall greet whatever leader arrives with 100% of my support, and I bloody well hope everyone else will too.
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It’s the third of May. There’s an election in less than 3 days. I have no time for pleasantries.
There is a possibility that, in four days time, we’ll be waking up to a Conservative Government. And I, among a lot of the people I’ve spoken to over the last four weeks, am simply terrified of this fact.
And no, I’m not having Thatcherite flashbacks, or scaremongering. No, I’m not being irrational. No, it’s not that I’ve no idea what their policies actually are. No, I’m not being blindly supportive of my own party. This is real fear. Like it is in every person whose job is under threat in a Tory term. Like it is for every mother who needs the help of the taxpayers to support her child. Like it is for every student wanting to get into university next year on Maintenance Loans because they’re too poor to afford it themselves. Like it is for everyone who can relate to what I’m saying. The Tories have been out for 13 years – but there’s a good reason for that.
I’m not going to talk about the past, that’s a stupid idea. I’m going to talk in terms of manifestos, in terms of proposals, in terms of things that will decide the next five years of the country. I’m going to tell you why I’m Labour.
I’m Labour, because when I was a baby, my Dad used to sit down and work out how long it would be before me and my little sister would be out of nappies, because he couldn’t afford to keep us in them. I’m Labour, because I can remember Christmases on the fringes of my mind where we didn’t have the money for presents – from either of my parents. I’m Labour, because I can still remember what my primary school looked like before the Labour Government paid for it to be completely rebuilt. I’m Labour, because without them I wouldn’t have had the Gifted and Talented funding that sent me to a Sixth Form two years early on a preliminary scheme to stretch me and gain me an A Level well before my time. Because I’ve been in education since I was 3 years old, and I don’t particularly fancy what my life would’ve been like if I’d had to do National Service at 16, rather than being encouraged to continue my education in whatever way I liked – I chose A Levels, but Apprenticeships and NVQs were all offered to me. I’m Labour, because since I was 5 years old, my life’s been made bearable and been supported by a Socialist Government.
The manifestos prove the difference between the parties as easily as history does. Two of the core policies to the Tories’ manifesto include a repeal of the ban on Fox Hunting, which is immensely unpopular with the masses and serves to entertain a barbaric privileged few with a rather twisted notion of “tradition”, and a cut in the top band of inheritance tax, which removes a large chunk of government funding, all in aid of leaving a large amount of money in those few who own an estate most of us can only dream of.
I think it simply comes down to a question of fairness. Call me young and idealistic if you like, but I believe in fairness and equality. And maybe you can say it’s because I don’t have it, but I’d pay the money I didn’t need happily into a system which would give it to people who did. It comes as second nature to me, and I think, as Clement Attlee famously advocated, once you’ve been out among the people that really need that care most, you realise it can’t be done through charity, or through the occasional goodwill of a rich débutante. There needs to be a social structure in place designed to make sure the people at the bottom of the pile are lifted as high as possible by the people at the top. These people that need Socialism the most are the ones that understand why the welfare system needs to be in place, regardless of those few – and yes, they are ridiculously few, no matter what the Daily Mail would have you believe – who abuse or cheat the system.
What bothers me is that if you haven’t been out there, or even if you have, in a lovely, staged, “hug a hoody” environment with three armed guards, you really don’t understand the plight in these parts of Britain. And what’s more, you have no idea what it was like 13 years ago, without the minimum wage. These people couldn’t keep their head above the surface. The Labour initiative has kept them afloat. There are a lot of things about New Labour that I disagree with, but this is not a New Labour Government. I joined the Labour Party because I trust Gordon Brown. He’s not big on charisma, and he’s not big on façades or image. Gordon’s big on courage. He’s big on policy. And he’s big on tough decisions. Gordon is, if you like, all substance, and has all the respect I have to offer. David Cameron is all style, there are no policies, there is nothing.
I’m not making this comment blithely based on nothing; go and look yourself. I’ve done my research, I’ve checked every party’s policy. I can’t find any actual policy in the Conservatives manifesto. There’s no explanation of funding. I’m going to take Care for the Elderly as my example. After being asked a question, I checked both policies – and that of the Lib Dems, with how close this election has become.
The Labour policy is to create a National Care Service to mirror the work of the National Health Service, with an emphasis on care in the home and care based on need, rather than the size of your wallet. They explain that the high rate of inheritance tax in place currently would stay as it was, and the funds from that would be used to pay for this service. They set out dates – a fully working system by 2015 – and a workable, ambitious but not overly so, timescale. I took half an hour reading over the proposals – There were several long, text-heavy pages. The Liberal Democrats have a similar policy – it seems less thought out and less detailed, but it certainly sings the same tune.
The Conservatives policy is to … You know, I’m going to copy it in, and you can read it word for word.
“We will introduce a new ‘home protection scheme’ that will end the desperate situation whereby tens of thousands of older people are being forced to sell their homes each year to pay for residential care at the end of their lives.
In addition, we want to see much greater use of direct payments and individual budgets, which give people real control over their care.”
Where are the figures, Dave? What does the ‘home protection scheme’ entail? How will you go about such a thing? Why have you made no mention of your “Free-care-so-long-as-you-have-£8000-going-spare” policy that you unveiled at the 2009 party conference? Unfortunately, as always with the Conservative Party, I am left with many more questions than answers.
When it comes down to it, I can’t trust a man who can’t justify himself. Whose whole electoral campaign has been to smear the leader of the opposition, rather than make any sort of emphasis on his own policies. They saw the mistake of this half-way through, but it was too late then, and hard hitting slogans like “NATIONAL SERVICE FOR 16-YEAR-OLDS” and “CUT BENEFITS FOR THOSE WHO REFUSE WORK” didn’t have the same impact anymore.
I’m Labour, because I don’t trust David Cameron as a leader. Because I do trust Gordon Brown. Because I believe in equality, fairness, and more than anything, substance and courage. We’ve been the underdogs for this whole fight, we’ve been outshone by Prince Charmings with bright white teeth and camera smiles.
But the only person who can lead a country is a weathered, experienced old King who knows what he’s talking about.
This is why I’m Labour. And I can justify myself to a floating voter, I can make them see it, I can make a floating voter into a Labour voter in half an hour. But I’ve been afraid, up until now, of debating with Tories. Afraid of being shouted down. Afraid of the fact that a Tory is so afraid of change, they’ll never agree, but I’ve been embued with the courage of the Labour Party. I’m going to make it my business to change a Tory’s mind.
If you believe in the same things as me, if you believe that what I’m saying is right, make it your business too. If everyone who supports Labour can convince ONE Tory voter of the reasons that Labour are so much more reliable, trustable and suited to being in power, and how false and badly masked the Conservative Party are, we’ll win this election with a landslide.
As Gordon keeps saying, this election is wide open.
Let’s take it.
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