Saturday, 26 March 2011

Why I'm Marching (Virtually) Today

I was 16 and taking my O Levels in a Home Counties grammar school when the Conservatives last came to power in their own right. I left school two years later in the middle of a major recession. I was lucky - with 2 A levels I was able to get a succession of temporary jobs and, eventually, a permanent post with a local authority. It didn't pay well, but the work was interesting and, at eighteen, I got the public service bug.

I was the product of a One-Nation Tory household, and worked for a Tory council. The funny thing is that over the course of the six years I spent there, I came to realise that the Conservatives did not have the answers to the problems of the age. Two things happened:

During the miners's strike, a miners' wife applied to me for a uniform grant for her 12 year old son. These grants were only payable when the child moved from primary to secondary school, so I approached my supervisor to see if an exception could be made due to their financial hardship. "No", came the reply (from an otherwise decent human being, for whom I had great respect), "It's his father's choice to be on strike." The Kent coalfield (an area where I had family; my dad's cousin was a Bevin Boy) is now long gone, of course, and who knows what happened to that woman, her husband and her son - I doubt any of them benefitted from the 'economic miracle' of the Yuppie era.

In 1985, I happened to be off sick during the week of the Labour Party conference and happened to be watching the TV coverage of 'that speech' from my sofa. Wrapped in a blanket, and downing Lemsip, I suddenly realised that what he was saying made more sense to me than the conservative values I'd been brought up with. 

A couple of years later, I realised that I probably should have gone to university after all, and took the decision to leave my local authority job and return to full-time education. I moved to Manchester and found, to my delight, that I felt 'at home' in a way I no longer did in the south east.  As a mature student, I was eligible to receive a full grant. I had a part-time job while I was a student, which helped a bit, but I was able to live well, if frugally, on a student grant and left more or less debt free in 1991, emerging back into the workforce in the middle of another Tory-fuelled recession!

At this point, young (ish), and with a good degree from a decent university, I could have headed for the private sector, but I chose to return to local authority work. I spent the next 17 years working to improve the education and life chances of Manchester children. I went in at a fairly low level (this was before the days of graduate recruitment schemes) and it took a while to work my way up the career ladder, but I was proud of the organisation I worked for and that I was giving something back to the city I love. Slowly, my partner and I built quiet, unassuming careers in local government, had children (one of whom is on the autistic spectrum and therefore has a lifetime of misunderstanding and discrimination to overcome in addition to the difficulties her generation will suffer). Life was pretty good from 1997 onwards. We weren't wealthy, but we were finally comfortable (and not having to check every outgoing expense to make sure we weren't overdrawn), our children benefitted from good local authority-run nursery provision and excellent state schools

Nearly two years ago, my career was whipped out from under me like the tablecloth under a full-laid dining table in that rather cheesy Variety trick. The government project I'd been working on was put out to tender, a national contract so large that Manchester City Council was unable to bid for it and it went (inevitably) to one of those faceless BPO's who run so many of our back-office 'public' functions these days. So I, and about 50 colleagues with 200+ years of accumulated experience, were outsourced (and subsequently laid off). And this, it pains to to say, from the New Labour government who were just as blinded by the "private always more efficient" mantra that the Tories trot out. Having now worked in both sectors, the most charitable description I can come up with is that the private sector isn't more effective, it's just differently ineffective.

Nearly a quarter of a century after I first arrived in Manchester, I'm still here, still loving it and desperate about what's being done to it by the current, mandate-less coalition government. I was in local government when George Osborne was doing his (short) stint in Selfridges; I was working for local people when no-one had heard of Nick Clegg (actually, that doesn't give it much age, does it?). For how this government is affecting our family, see my post Incandescent elsewhere on this blog

Only an idiot would claim that no cuts were necessary - thanks to the mess we inherited from an under-regulated banking sector - but I am furious at being labelled a 'deficit denier'. I know that there's a deficit, I acknowledge it needs to be brought down. What I do not accept is that it needs to be brought down at the speed proposed by the coalition, at the expense of growth and by targeting those least able to defend themselves from the impact of the cuts. There is also no way that the un-mandated 'reform' of the NHS or Michael Gove's education policies will bring the deficit down - quite the reverse. They should be seen for what they are - the means by which this morally-bankrupt administration can feather the nests of its shadowy, neocon supporters in the health, education and BPO companies all currently snuffling around the trough.

So, I am not marching today - despite the fact that it's their future we're marching for, I don't want to subject the kids to the tender mercies of the Met, and it would not be fair to subject an autistic child to the level of (good) noise and crowds. I did, though, run my partner into the city centre at 6.30am so he could pick up the Unison coach, and will be doing what I can from a computer.

There is an Alternative, and we should insist on it before George Osborne's ineptitude wrecks the country completely.

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