Thursday, 22 May 2014

My apology

In May 1997, I was 19. I'd grown up under Thatcher and saw what nasty divisive people in power could do to working families - and those who desperately wanted to be working. I was far too aware at far too young an age of what the Tories stood for - and against.

The Labour party under Neil Kinnock were still the party of the working majority. John Smith's leadership was all too brief though I think his ideas were very much still towards the left. People like us had someone to vote for during the champagne-swilling, porsche-driving, wad of cash-wielding, white collar and braces yuppie era.

But the Tories kept winning. They conned many of the older generation of working class - those who had fought in the war and rebuilt the country afterwards - that policies such as the 'right to buy' scheme were in their interests when really they were in the interests of the wealthy few and shrinking the state. In the 80s, the right wing had even more control over the media than they do now: we have the internet now; back then it was even easier to manipulate tabloid readers.

The BBC at the time used to keep a second personnel file for each employee which included security information collected by Special Branch and MI5. If a staff member was thought to harbour any kind of left-wing bias, their file was marked with a symbol which looked like a Christmas tree. This would, in most cases, leave them with no chance of a promotion or any key role in the corporation. The BBC also communicated with secret services to check the 'record' of any potential new employee. Of course, employees with links to the Tories would be treated entirely differently. With this level of bias at the BBC, plus the majority right-wing press, the Labour party didn't stand a chance.

And then came Blair. A Labour leader the right could get behind. Thatcher said in 2002 that her greatest achievement was Tony Blair and New Labour and that's one of few things she ever said that I agree with. The right-wing press went soft on Labour. In the run up to the 1997 election, the Sun switched allegiance and so did a lot of tabloid readers (compare that with now: Ed Milliband is constantly under vicious fire because the right-wing press wanted David Milliband - the most Blairite of the leadership candidates).

I voted for Labour in 1997 because all I knew was that I wanted the Tories out. John Major had been nothing like the destructive force that Thatcher had but they were still Tories: friends of the rich and powerful; architects of inequality. Despite the Iraq war, continuing to assist the rise of the few and the promotion of private sector involvement in public services, New Labour did do some things right and they were still the lesser of two evils - as we know all too well right now.

But the worst long-term legacy of that post-Thatcher, pre-Brown, Major-Blair era, for me, is the bullshit non-speak. We now have the benefit of the internet where we can find facts to prove or deny what we are told by politicians but when they don't speak their minds and if we can't tell what they really mean by what they say, how do people decide who to vote for? I spend a lot of time reading, listening, watching and learning what is going on and what parties are doing or might do and I know who I agree with. But for most people who have more pressing matters, such as trying to put food on the table, this is just not possible.

You know when you need to pay someone to fix something for you and they baffle you with things you don't understand until you pay them a lot of money? That's what most politicians do these days. If people can't decipher it, or they don't have enough background knowledge to know what parties are likely do if they get into power, they're unlikely to vote. This is how, plain-speaking, beer-guzzling, fag-smoking, hate-feeding UKIP make such surprising gains.

If Labour still represented the majority of working and non-working people in the UK, and they still told us what they thought rather than dithering in the centre ground, making sure they don't upset the racists, the people who hate benefits or the bankers, the differences would be clearer and I think voter turn out would be considerably higher. The Tories are just as bad, only instead of dithering, they just lie in their manifesto and then tear it up when they get into power and go about sneaking policies in - often whilst parliament is particularly quiet (did you know it's now easier for your employer to sack you? Do you know how busy parliament was when the gagging law was passed?).

So, I'm sorry. I apologise unreservedly for my part in bringing Blair and New Labour into power. I only hope as many protest votes go to the Greens as to the little Englanders in UKIP.