We are just four days away from Election Day [ in the UK ] and it will not surprise anyone to learn that the media, 90% of which openly supports The Conservatives, is predicting a win for David Cameron and they may well be right. However, if they are proved correct then it will be a very bad result for those of us who have not got millions in the bank to fall back on during hard times or a rich daddy to bail us out when the mortgage needs paying. I’m not saying this as an anti- Tory because I believe that there has been some outstanding Conservative governments in the past, many more than Labour or The Liberals but this current lot are vastly different to what has gone before. My fears and the reasons why I believe that anyone who has not yet decided on who to vote for should share at least some of them are expressed below. However, why should you take any notice of me? Well, I am one of those hard working people that Cameron and Miliband like to mention, always paid my taxes, never abused the NHS, drives carefully, put my kids [ and myself ] through university, been in a loving relationship for over forty years, recycles my rubbish etc. etc. In other words, I am an ordinary guy who wants to live in a fairer society and is more than willing to help pay for it. The rub is that I do not believe that a vote for the current Tory party will help towards making my family or my community more secure or “better off” in fact it will do the exact opposite and they have already demonstrated how grossly unfair they can be i.e. The Bedroom Tax, Benefit Sanctions, tax cuts for the rich etc.
So, lets start with the only thing that Cameron and his cronies can rely upon to get people on their side, The Economy. Apparently, although I don’t believe it for one second, a member of the outgoing Labour administration in 2010 left a note behind stating that There was no money left. Oh dear, what a start for a new government to arrive all fresh and ready to commence their plans only to find that someone had robbed the petty cash – The thieving bastards! This is simply rubbish. When have governments not been in debt? We destroyed the German economy along with many of its cities towards the end of WW2 but then we, along with our allies, loaned them the money to rebuild, which they did quite successfully thank you very much. However, the Conservatives are now claiming that not only are we experiencing the biggest economic growth in Europe but that they are the only government able to sustain this growth. The truth is that whilst we are seeing our economy grow modestly, two thirds of it is coming from the service sector which is not known for creating secure, well paid employment which is why the majority of us have not reaped any real benefit from an improved situation but at least, we have more coffee shops and restaurants on our high streets. Talking of which, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room – the growing number of Charity Shops out there, why do you think this is? I used to love going into the charity shops looking for cheap books and records but you can’t move in them nowadays for people trying on clothes and if I did bend down to rummage through a box of LPs then I would probably get crushed by the stampeding horde heading towards the recently arrived rack of new donations. Seriously though, as much as I want people to donate to charities we still need to question why there are so many charities out there and having had the experience of working for a few well known charities, I can assure you that they share the exact same ethos as any top 100 company.
Still on the economy theme, I want to mention employment and in particular, Youth Employment and Zero Hours Contracts. I was an employer for approximately twenty five years before I decided to change direction and retrain as a social worker which is what I was doing when I retired. However, when I was in a position to employ people and especially young people, I was familiar with all the many government training schemes designed to take people off of the unemployment register. Most employers I knew, would take full advantage of such schemes and employ as many people as they could have, for as long as the government paid their wages before then letting them go. I refused to follow their example and would only take on the number of people that I could envisage being able to offer a full-time paid position to at the end of their training. I admit to being idealistic but I was a good manager too and in almost every case those young people who came to me on any kind of Youth Training Scheme ended up with a good job at the end of it and some of them went on to become managers themselves. Looking back, I believe that my generation failed the young by not being more idealistic, by not making openings for them in the workplace and by simply using them as a means to an end. In other words, viewing people who are in a vulnerable situation as cheap labour and nothing else. We see the same problem today with young people either unemployed or on university courses that will not automatically lead to a well paid job, as they used to. Many of them will probably find themselves, both graduates and non graduates, working in low paid jobs on a zero hours contract. I know this, I have worked alongside newly qualified Social Workers who are on them and being paid a much lower salary than my own for doing the same job. Why do people accept them? Because in some areas of the country, there’s nothing else on offer. Now, I have heard some employers say that people actually like zero hours contracts or that they could not run their businesses without them to which I reply that a. People don’t like them, they simply tolerate them and b. If a business can only operate on zero hours contracts then it needs to shut up shop. Don’t believe the hype that business leaders don’t trust Labour either. The nation’s favourite business man, Sir Alan Sugar and many others support Labour and they pay their taxes.
The question of Benefits should follow any discussion on employment because in a changing world where we have moved, not very successfully in my opinion, from the post-industrial age [The Modern Age] into the Post Modern Age, employment has become a much scarcer commodity and Welfare Benefits have become more relevant to a greater majority. However, we must bear in mind that both Out of Work Benefits and In Work Benefits consume only a part of the entire budget for Welfare Benefits. You have to consider the importance of Housing Benefit, Child Allowance, Pensions etc. to families as well. The Conservatives however, would have you believe that those amongst us without employment are parasites, leeching the blood from your hard working bodies as you struggle to support your families. I heard a young person on a recent TV debate show question why she [it was a she, I’m not being sexist] should pay for another generations mistakes? Well, like it or not, that’s the way democracy works but if you don’t like it … sorry, I digress. In the early part of the Nineteenth Century the then Conservative government abolished The Poor Law and introduced Welfare Benefits which they believed would improve civil society for everyone. The Tories argued that if more people became destitute, then unpleasant things like crime and public disorder would simply ensue. They weren’t far wrong. However, their concerns did not arrive from any humanitarian or socialist ideology, they were simply being pragmatic and the benefits that were introduced were not particularly generous. The Welfare State that we have today is a huge and expensive undertaking funded by the taxpayer but administered by a largely unelected body. However, in effect, the electorate transfers supreme power to whoever it puts into government so we only have ourselves to blame if unpopular cuts in welfare spending lead to an impoverished civil society. For example, if you find the sight of homeless people sleeping in shop doorways unpleasant then ask your local MP why the government is not building enough homes for everybody. You might also want to ask him or her why something as fundamentally essential to the preservation of life such as housing is viewed as a private matter rather than a social need. They might reply that some people chose to sleep rough, it’s just like those zero hours contracts, some people love it! It has nothing to do with the fact that there is a desperate need to build social housing in this fair land of ours, no, not much it isn’t!
I could bore you for the next few days with real life experiences of how utterly reprehensible this present government has been with regards to how it treats benefit claimants. Alternatively, I could inform you about certain things which the Department for Work and Pensions would not want to be made public but I won’t because I don’t fancy being whisked away in the middle of the night in an unmarked car. What I will say though, is that if you think that Ian Duncan Smith [ for it is he ] has gone as far as he possibly can in reducing the Welfare Bill or has exhausted his imagination as to how the various formulas that make up the eligibility criteria for assistance could be rewritten, then think again. The first thing I learnt as a politics student was that every newly elected government operates on the basis that it will introduce most, if not all, of its’ most unpopular policies within the first eighteen months of office. The following twelve months would be spent evaluating how well those policies had gone down with the electorate and then further months of adjustment before settling down and maybe, offering a few sweeteners to the taxpayers . The final eighteen months of the government would be spent trying to gain support from the public in preparation for the next general election. So you can rest assured that if David Cameron remains in office after the 7th of May, we will all be exposed to the most savage cuts in public spending ever. Absolutely, no question about it. These cuts will have a damaging effect on every single one of us apart from the very rich who are exempt from all of this and don’t require public services anyway. However, they do use our doctors, educated and trained by the taxpayer, our railways, paid for by the taxpayer, our roads, paid for by the taxpayer and so on. The Rich eh? What are they like!
I just mentioned doctors, so like a well rehearsed Stand up routine I will move on to my final and possibly, most important concern, our National Health Service. The NHS is supposedly the envy of the world. However, having traveled a bit around Europe, not America because they’re not British over there are they? I’ve found that most countries have good things to say about their own NHS so I suspect that we are simply Biggin’ it up so to speak. That’s okay though, it’s understandable for people to be proud of something that they have fought hard for but if we are going to make claims such as We are the envy of the world then those claims need to be true. I have had more experience of the NHS than anyone could ever wish for but not as a patient I must add. However, my dealings with the NHS have left me feeling very negative about it. The first thing to consider is whether we actually do have a national health service by which I mean, do you get the same level of service throughout the UK? The answer is, no you don’t, it varies considerably across the country. My own local NHS trust operates one of the worst services in the country but has some excellent people working within it. Another NHS trust that I am familiar with operates one of the very best services in the country with the same mix of staff as my local trust. If we were discussing national service providers in another field such as McDonalds, Nandos or Pizza Express then we would expect each outlet wherever it is, to perform to the same level of service set by the standard underpinning the organisation’s philosophy. NICE, the National Institution for Clinical Excellence sets the standard for the NHS and yet those standards are not being adhered to as consistently and conscientiously as say, the standards maintained by the manager of your local McDonalds. I sound harsh but you will just have to take my word for it that my feelings are based on first hand experiences over the past few years. A period when the NHS has gone through a great number of changes under the Tory government and will undoubtedly undergo more changes should they remain in power after the 7th of May. Labour are being sensible and have not said that they will revoke those changes should they win the election only that they will review them and where possible, adjust them so that they work better for patients.
In conclusion, I believe that we have a clear choice in this election despite the fact that each of the other parties have put forward excellent reasons as to why people should vote for them rather than the main two parties, Conservative and Labour. I especially admired Natalie Bennett’s performance throughout the campaign and hope that her party gains a few more seats. However, it is possible to hold “Green Values” as well as “Socialist” ones so I don’t feel in any way conflicted by my view on who best to vote for. I appreciate that younger voters who have been denied the thrill of voting for Labour icons such as Harold Wilson or Tony Blair won’t feel the same way about voting for Ed Miliband as I do. However, what I say to them is to forget the media-driven personality contest and vote for what you believe is best for the country. If you are happy to see further cuts in public services, even harsher treatment of the vulnerable in our society and the privatisation of the NHS then vote for David Cameron. On the other hand, you might view such things as not being good for the country or you might want to envisage yourself being in a position where you relied upon properly funded public services and a well run National Health Service and vote for Ed Miliband. It’s your choice. As I said at the beginning, we live in a democracy and you have the right to vote for what you believe in regardless of what I or anyone else believes. The final thing I want to say though is this, forget Cameron and Osborne’s warnings on the fecklessness of Labour, it simply isn’t true. When Labour left office in 2010, the deficit was coming down but it has gone up to a record high since then. However, the main problem facing us is not debt nor will it ever be whilst Britain has such rich resources at its’ disposal, none more valuable than its’ citizens. Ed Miliband tried at one point in the campaign although he soon dropped it, to evoke the memory of Benjamin Disraili when he talked about One Nation politics but I want to take this further and remind people that The true wealth of a nation can only be seen in the health of that nation. I don’t want to walk around Leeds, for example, stepping over the homeless people sleeping on the pavements or looking away from the smiles of women who are obviously selling their personal services everywhere I turn, as I did in Madrid recently. I want to live in a country where people pay their taxes fairly and proportionately and know that my children will be cared for and have the same opportunities that I had, at the very least.