Three days days from now, the UK will go to the polls to elect a government in a general election. In a nation where voter turnout has plummeted since before the turn of the millennium and where celebrity commentators urge young people not to bother voting, I’d sincerely like to fair-mindedly trumpet the view that if you’re a legal UK resident, I don’t care how you vote, just that you vote.
But I would be lying.
Disinterest gets a lot of play as the ideal attitude toward politics. A cool head, agreeing to disagree, and ultimately when the votes are counted to cordially shake your opponent’s hand like a second-placer at the Olympics—this is admirable. Getting emotional or bitter is just not sporting.
But politics isn’t a cricket match or a college debate. Politics is whether or not your local hospital is shut down with the nearest one twenty miles away; whether or not the company you work for goes bust and your lose your job, and then whether or not you can receive unemployment benefits; whether or not you, a soldier, go to war in a foreign country to possibly die there; whether or not you, a refugee fleeing violence, find yourself incarcerated and abused, or even left to drown at sea.
Utterly without hyperbole, politics is life and death.
Just not for everyone. Many of us are privileged enough that, though the Westminster wheel of fortune turns and governments come and go, we’ll feel only a little pinch in times of trouble. For the public schooled sons of bankers and aristocrats, I can see how it would be easy to see politics as a game.
It’s harder to remain calm when you can directly trace your tribulations to government policy. Not only broadly through the legal and economic entrenchment of inequality across society, but from the Prime Minister’s mouth to your bank account, to your family argument, to your loneliness and desperation, your stress-related alopecia.
It is my opinion that, even supposedly mediated by Lib Dem influence, this de facto Tory government has been nothing more than a leech on the nation when we have been least able to afford it.
In a time of recession it has persecuted the ill and disabled. When companies were folding left and right, it was throwing the jobless off unemployment benefit. During this government’s term, the proportion of children living in poverty increased to one in four. The number of people using foodbanks has shot up during the past five years, with punitive sanctions on benefits claimants a significant and increasingly frequent cause.
And yet, there are now twice as many billionaires living in the UK as there were in 2010 when the current government came to power.
Last year, as incumbent politicians emphasised the urgent need to cut our public spending deficit, the East Coast Mainline was privatised, depriving the national purse of hundreds of millions of pounds a year.
Austerity measures in the UK and in Europe have made the poor poorer and contributed to a rise in intolerance towards immigrants and racial minorites, and despite five years in effect economic growth in the UK is still scarcely above zero and slowing again.
The danger the people of the UK face under another five years of Conservative rule is real and serious. Cameron has pledged to cut a further £8 billion from welfare spending while refusing to say exactly which benefits are going to suffer. Even more frighteningly, current Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May has promised to scrap the Human Rights Act should they return to power.
Labour are not the party they once were. Ed Miliband isn’t going to burst out singing The Red Flag from his podium at the Labour party conference, much as I would enjoy it. But neither does Ed Miliband work for his mates in the City, because if he did, he’d be a Tory. He depends instead on the people for his mandate, and so cannot moustache-twirl nakedly but must at least genuflect leftwards.
So I am voting Labour on May 7th. Not because I believe Labour will deliver the UK to the socialist utopia I dream of, but because I’m afraid of what an impoverished, corporatocratic, dog-eat-dog dystopia the Conservatives will sink us further towards if I don’t. I hope you will join me.