Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Politics as usual

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Look, I am a Labour person. I’ve always been a Labour person. I have never voted for anyone else, except I think once during the eighties I was so cross with Labour for being unable to challenge Mrs Thatcher that I voted Green. I am a dyed in the wool old lefty, in the pure sense that I really do believe in the state. I know, sue me. I think that private enterprise is, to a greater or lesser extent, red in tooth and claw, as it probably should be in order to survive in the jungle of the free market. And individuals, however benign, may have interests that clash. So I think we need the state, however imperfect it is. But for all that, John Reid simply cannot go around at the party conference telling Martha Kearney of ‘the great global successes we have had, like the economy’. Let us just read that again. The great global success that is the British economy. I might believe in government (I actually have an odd faith in politicians) but I am not an idiot. John Reid thinks I am an IDIOT.

I fight disillusion with every fibre of my being. On my more absurd days, I think it a moral failing. You have to believe in something. There must be high days and holidays and Pollyanna days, otherwise you might as well go and sit in a corner with a bucket on your head. But I am teetering on the verge of thinking All Is Lost. I am in very real danger of becoming one of those people who really does believe that we are overrun with ASBO kids, despite my enduring faith in the Young People. There is debt everywhere one looks, stretching away to the horizon. There is a war so insane and endless that Joseph Heller might have written it, where brave young soldiers die in the dust of Helmand and no one will send them any bloody helicopters. The children still cannot read. No one appears to be teaching history any more. (I care horribly about this; history has been my thing ever since I got the big blue History of England when I was six years old and could not put it down; it was the subject I chose for my degree; I still bless the memory of the splendid and terrifying Mr Woodhouse, who taught me history when I was fifteen, and who truly showed me how to write.)

All the writers who care passionately about the progressive side of politics ask one bleak question: what is the Labour party for? No one has a good answer. There is a post-ideological mood in the country as a whole, a low desperation that says: please, please could someone come along and make the trains run on time. Not in a crazed Mussolini way, but just in an All we ask is to get from A to B way. The marvellous American pollster Cornell Belcher, as thoughtful and articulate a man as I have ever seen in politics, recently came over to Blighty to take our psephological temperature, and was quite shocked to find a complete lack of hope in the future or belief in any politician of any stripe. I would love to say that this was just good old British phlegm (he was all shiny hope and change and yes we can), but it was more than that. It is a searing backlash from that brave new dawn of 1997, when so many people, even those who were Tories at heart, really did believe that a transformation might come. Remember that hopeful sunny morning? Everyone was smiling in the street, I never saw anything like it. And then, little by little, painful reality bit, and now there is nowhere left to go.

I must not fall entirely into the pit of despond. I give Labour peace in Northern Ireland, which was huge and must never be forgotten; I thought it would be like the Middle East and the hating and killing would never stop. I give them the repeal of Clause 28 and the happy introduction of civil unions and impressive reform of petty little immigration laws that discriminated against same sex partners. I give them a vastly improved NHS, although don’t get me started on the notorious IT system that cost billions and did not work. I give them, slightly counterintuitively, the reformation of the Tory party. By dragging British politics to the centre, which is pretty much where it should live, Tony Blair forced the Conservatives to rethink their social policies and become much kinder and gentler, which gladdens my old liberal heart.

But that’s it. Too many of the children still cannot read. No one cares about the libraries, the great unsung Cinderella of the public services. There is no clear thrilling policy to navigate the choppy waters of a changed world. The British public does not want cake every day and castles in Spain; all it asks is that it may look with some degree of hope towards a brighter tomorrow. In the middle of this fervid but somehow empty conference season, I am not sure where we go from here.


  1. It's been a while since I've voted, much to my chagrin. I've lived in Greece for 20 years and though I can vote in local and Euro-elections here, I can't in Parliamentrary elections. To do so, I would have to take Greek nationality and the Powers That Be at the British Embassy would make me give up my British passport if I did that. This, in spite of the fact that I have paid I don't know how much in taxes, and have done so for more years than first-time voters have been alive.
    So much for "no taxation without representation". Surely if we have a united Europe, there's an argument for letting EU citizens vote, wherever they in the Union may be?

    I COULD use my right to a postal vote in the UK, but it seems wrong somehow when it's somewhere I haven't lived for two decades. (My family frequently remind me that I don't have a clear picture of the new reality in the UK)

    Having said that, I follow British politics closely (possibly much more closely than most who do vote) and can't help having very clear opinions.

    I have always been a Labour luvvy, despite coming from good Home Counties Tory stock. My dear old Daddy used to called me 'Red Mandi' whenever we got into a political argument.

    I cheered like a mad thing at the Labour landslide in May 1997 (I was visiting my parents with my newborn son) and have applauded many of the things that have been achieved since then.

    However, if I had voted in the past General Election, I would have had a real dilemma. In light of the Iraq fiasco, my conscience would not have permitted me to vote for Labour. And yet, my head and heart would never let me vote Tory.

    We are now at a crossroads, and it seems inevitable that the next Government will be posh Dave and his gang. Unless Labour can get its act together, and take a good hard look at the reality faced by ordinary folk every day (instead of spouting lies designed for idiots). Peter Mandelsson did a good job of rallying the troops yesterday - I'm just not convinced that it's not a case of "too little, too late".

  2. (Sorry, got a little carried away there.
    Always happens when I get a whiff of the soap box.)

  3. I think power corrupts, hence it's always good to have changing governments even though the see-sawing creates havoc with long-term policies like reduction in carbon emissions (which I hope all the parties have now signed up to).

    This is a subject close to my heart which I could go on and on about. (I wrote my thesis on the British Labour Party and the newly formed SDP years ago in Finland.) But, I popped over to tell you that there's an award for you on my blog. If you do awards that is..?

  4. Really enjoyed this post, I agree absolutely. I'm afraid I've become so jaded that when Obama got in (hurrah!) I was delighted but couldn't help remembering the euphoria of 1997. By the way, do you follow Louise Bagshawe on Twitter? It was interesting following bith your tweets this afternoon - you're a diehard leftie, she's a Tory girl - yet you appeared to agree on pretty much everything. (Completely with you on the shoes and the sisterhood thing btw, though I haven't got a leg to stand on as I am obsessed with jewellery).

  5. This is a great post but it is also desperately sad. I was always very engaged with politics and I'm not a fantasist, no party or system can be perfect- but since the Iraq war I find it really hard to stomach our current administration.

    I am labour/ socialist on paper but what the administration has done since 1997 is basically an absolute betrayl. If you want to be a different party, be a different party and have the courage. This party is not one that supports workers or the majority of people.

    It is also one that is giving an unelected man, a man who voters rejected, an enormous ammount of power in government. I still believe myself to live in a democracy but Peter Mandelson is not democratically elected. I know civil servants are not either but they serve the country for the most part and do not direct government policy across areas of speciality in the way he does- they work in one office. Peter Mandelson serves Peter Mandelson- not the country, not labour.

    Peace in Northern Ireland is a one of the great blessings of our time but I also consider it to be above party politics.

    I'm sure there have been good things over the last 12 years but there have been bad things too. They have spent an absolute fortune on the NHS and education and although they are better they are not as good as they should be for the money that has been spent- it's been wasted and now the cupboards are bare and the children still can't read and write properly and the Hospitals are still humiliating people who are too weak to look after themselves. I live in a country that has always had humility, I don't see humility for the dying person i saw on a drip in a wheelchair left alone in a gown on the King's Road recently because he wanted a cigarette. Okay he wanted a cigarette, he was about 90, he was dying I imagine, let him have one, don't leave him on a busy road basically naked. Find a room for him. ( I have never smoked but last time I looked it was legal and cocaine was not, cocaine is in every bar and club I go to unchecked and uncared about- and no one trys to help me not to feel pressured to take it when I'm offered it constantly, but old people who have no pleasure can't be found a warm room for a cigarette?).

    I feel the creap of a regime unchallenged. There is no difference between labour and the tories except superficial things. A regime unchallenged becomes corrupt. They all want us enslaved in debt so we do what they want I'm afraid. I don't know why. They could all earn more in other jobs and none of them seem to have a love or passion for this country I would consider pre- requisite.

    I saw Tony Benn on the tube the other, hammering away about a documentary he'd seen, still full of life and passion and interest. That's a real politician.

    Sorry rant over!

  6. Excellent to see everyone getting their soapboxes out and putting on their ranting hats, which is what I do most days, even in the privacy of my own boudoir (terribly habit of SHOUTING at the Today programme). Don't you think it interesting that this post has provoked such thoughtful and well-informed responses when the sneaky little subtext in the zeitgeist is still that politics is really something only the chaps are interested in? I'm just saying. Thank you all for staging such a tremendous Mrs Merton-style heated debate.

    Oh and Helena - you are a perfect angel to give me an award. I feel very humble and would like to thank my mother, my agent, my dogs, all my fellow bloggers....

  7. Lovely post, which very eloquently (my favourite word for you!) and succinctly put across many of my thoughts on the topic. I will still be labour, but with all the parties coming closer and closer together in politics I am saddened somewhat to see Labour slip inevitably right-wards.

    I was relieved to here that library cards can now be used nationwide, meaning any member has access to books around the UK!

    That said, however, cake every day would be lovely...


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