Thursday, 2 February 2012

Why I Won't be Joining You for a Drink...

Dear Dad

I know you and mum have always voted Conservative (I don't think I ever met a Labour voter while I was growing up), and that we have, over the years, had our disagreements about politics. I also suspect you wonder where you went wrong with me - and no, it wasn't 

a) taking Sociology O level 
b) moving to Manchester; 
c) falling in love with a socialist 

that made me reject your politics. It was: 

a) working for 6 years for a Tory council (including during the Miners' Strike) 
b) getting away from the Home Counties and seeing how the rest of Britain fared under them
c) working for an inner city local authority

You may not have noticed it, but I had moved to the left before I left Maidstone. I was one of only 4 people of my acquaintance who admitted to voting Labour or Alliance (for tactical voting purposes) in '87. Presumably everyone else thought Anne Widdicombe was a better bet?

Despite our differences (and despite our family discussions sometimes resembling Til Death Us Do Part) we've always managed to agree to disagree. I know you're not comfortable in the north and don't really understand the culture (you think I don't notice that you get twitchy once you hit the M6?), but it's my spiritual home. I came here nearly 25 years ago, and it has felt like 'home' from Day 1. I guess we'll just chalk that up to us being different as well. You brought us up to take an interest in politics and the world around us, and to think for ourselves. Mum always reminded us that women fought and died to get us the vote and that simpering about "not understanding politics" was simply not on. That we eventually came to different conclusion proves that you both did your job as parents, and produced free-thinking individuals who took their politics seriously.

Of course, I should have been ripe New Labour fodder - left-leaning offspring of Tory parents (just like Tony Blair!), but the New Labour project didn't do much for me. Too relaxed about the filthy rich, too keen on bringing the private sector in (has it ever produced a better, cheaper public service? No.). But the nation became, for 13 years at least, a little less nasty, a little less judgemental, a little less selfish. 

Which brings me to the Coalition

And the Welfare Reform Bill.

Of all the ideologically-driven dismantling of the State that this shower are heaping on us, this really is the most venal.

This, dad, is a beautifully-written piece by a disability campaigner who has been trying desperately to prevent the atrocity played out in the House of Commons yesterday. 

She and others have put their own health at serious risk to do this on behalf of people like Sally and Megan (Sue Marsh was rushed to hospital last week, when the campaigning made her critically ill).

Corporate and personal tax avoidance/evasion accounts for far more than this legislation will save, so it will have a neglible effect on deficit-reduction. It's just an act of spite by an un-mandated coalition of those who couldn't get elected and those who came a poor third. None of these 'reforms' were in any party's manifesto and some of the provisions were actively voted against by the Liberal Democrats at their conference and yet their MPs meekly followed the Tories through the lobby to condemn thousands of the most vulnerable in our society to poverty, isolation and dependence on crumbs of goodwill. 

This has nothing to do with "fairness" or "ordinary, hard-working families" (many of whom will actually be clobbered by the changes to Housing Benefit in an unregulated private rental market). When they realised they couldn't win by fair means (by, say, getting their facts straight), they resorted to lying and cheating. The BBC, which you frequently tell me is so left wing? Currently running programmes like "Saints and Scroungers" (ooh, look, Dominic has his cross face on! And look - let's see who "deserves" support!), cementing the impression that fraud is rife (the fraud rate for DLA is 0.5% of total budget), and running news items about families with 7 children. The press and TV has been complicit on doing the Coalition's dirty work for it, by drip-feeding the impression that anyone who receives money from the state is a 'scrounger' (MP's expenses, anyone?). And it's working. Most "normal" people (to use IDS's charming phrase to distinguish them from disabled people) think "Look, they've got a telly. I don't have a telly like that. Why should they have a telly?"

The principle of "anyone who's got something I haven't" determining "unfairness" is becoming entrenched in public life. Just as white supremacists in the Southern US convinced poor whites (whose only 'superiority' came from pigmentation) that black people were out to get their jobs/wives, etc, so the Coalition of Millionaires is convincing people on low incomes that the shit wages they get paid by firms making millions and shunting profits offshore, allowing HM Govt to subsidise their low wages with tax credits, are OK, and that somehow those with no work are somehow getting one over on them. It's not that benefits are too high, it's that wages (for most of us) are pathetically low. Persuading the "dumped-on bottom" to vote against their own best interests is a neat piece of sleight of hand.

Here's another blog, from the excellent Sue Marsh (as above) about their tactics:

As I seem to remember you telling us as kids, life isn't fair. It's not fair that your granddaughter was born with a lifelong disability, or that your energetic, Morris-dancing, 'running two jobs and a family' daughter should be struck down with a debilitating condition in her mid-40s. But governments should be there to shield the most vulnerable from unfairness where they can, and yet the Coalition are happy to simply asset-strip the Welfare State in preparation for their mates in the US insurance industry to come in and make a killing (how likely do you think it is that Meg will be able to get medical insurance, by the way? Pre-existing and congenital conditions will usually rule you out (or they'll take your premiums and then refuse to pay out on a technicality).

You and mum have had long and productive lives, nurtured and supported by the state (rationing to keep you healthy in wartime, the NHS, secure employment, a long, comfortable retirement). You may not have had to call on unemployment benefits, or much other state support (although the Family Allowance was useful), but the State was there, indirectly, for "ordinary, hard-working families" for the whole of your adult lives.

Contrary to what Osborne (that great economic genius) would have you believe, Labour did NOT trash the economy. Certainly they made mistakes (trusting bankers to act honourably being the big one), and, even if they had, there is no excuse for the kinds of cuts the Coalition are making. No-one but an idiot believes that no cuts are necessary, but it's where you make them, and who you hurt the most, which counts. In this case, it seems to be "those least able to fight back." 

I love you both and wish you both continued health - the NHS may just about survive you, but its future doesn't look promising. Whether my generation, or your granddaughters', will ever know job security, secure healthcare or retirement, is looking distinctly unlikely at the moment. The secret appears now to be "be born wealthy."

I survived the Thatcher years and thought we would never again go through anything as bad again, but how wrong I was. Having seen the depths to which the Tories and their LibDem enablers will stoop, I will (to borrow a phrase) never forget and never forgive. 

And that is the reason why I won't ever be able to join you at The Conservative Club for a drink...

UPDATE: In the 4 years since this was published, things have moved on. We now have an even more hateful government than the coalition, for a start. I have occasionally had a drink in the Con Club with my folks (as their advancing age limited their desire to go further afield). Dad has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but we have managed to get him back to the Club for a drink before the morphine makes that kind of expedition impossible. It was a lovely session, with the whole family there (and possibly a record for the number of Socialists present - 4!).

Everything else I've said about the Tories remains valid.


  1. Thank you ... just Thank you for such wonderful words xxxx

  2. I am half northern half southern (my dad is from stockton-on-tees and my mum was from hackney) so I saw how the Thatcher years effected both ends of the country too. I'm constantly struck by how history seems to be repeating itself, only this time the social deprivation is going to hit the poor all over the country. I can't believe the country is letting this happen again but worse. There are no words to describe how we feel, you put it the best anyone can hope to in this post and I applaud you.

  3. Brilliant. And thank-you.

  4. Thank you. What more can I say? My parents much like yours!

  5. Thank you for your kind words. To be clear, I love and respect my folks, and they are good people. I think there are many like them who are still voting for a Conservative Party that no longer exists.