With only a few hours to go until the polls open I suspect that you, like many people I know are starting to make a decision on who to vote for. As readers of my blog will know, I have made my call and am looking forward to putting a cross in the box of Andrew Dakers, the local Lib-Dem candidate tomorrow. Feeling like I should have the courage of my convictions I also spent a few hours delivering leaflets around the streets where I live and, once this election is over, I am going to go to a few meetings and get a bit more involved in my local constituency.
None of this means that I suddenly hate the Labour party – there seems little doubt that the country is a better place than it was in 1997. The minimum wage, new schools and hospitals, cuts in waiting lists, child tax credits, the huge leap forward for equalities are just a few of the achievements that all Labour members should be proud of. For all its faults the Labour party believes in an empowering state, a state that protects the most vulnerable, a state that nurtures all, regardless of where they were born, or to who. In short the Labour party, like the Lib-Dems, are a party of progressives – and here lies the real battle for this election. The battle, in the most part, is not between Labour and the Lib-Dems it is between the forces of progress and the Conservatives.
The Conservative Party for all it’s repackaging is a party that dislikes and distrusts the state, it is a party for which cutting the size of the state is not a pragmatic response to the current economic crisis but something to be pursued with ideological zeal. Whatever Cameron might encourage you to think they are not compassionate and they are not on the side of the most needy in society. Don’t believe me? Then ask them to explain how they can propose cuts to sure-start centres and child tax credit whilst also giving a tax-break to the 3,000 wealthiest estates in the land?
I know that many people will think that I am just dredging up old stereotypes and we should give Cameron and his pals a chance, after all surely it is their turn? Well, let me introduce you to an excellent article by Johann Hari in today’s Independent. It tells the story of Conservative controlled Hammersmith and Fulham council – a council that both David Cameron and George Osborne hold aloft as a ‘model of compassionate conservatism’ and a blueprint for a future Conservative Government. The first act of this all new compassionate Conservative council? The selling off of 12 homeless shelters within the borough, leading to a heavily pregnant woman, scared to go home because of her abusive partner, refused refuge and ending up sleeping on a park bench. I will not re-write the whole article here (but do read it) suffice to say that it gets worse. It is not just the selling off and downgrading of essential services that are so abhorrent, it is the attitude that goes with it – In the story above the BBC offered temporary space over the Christmas period to ensure that homeless people in the borough had somewhere to go, the council refused permission stating that homeless people were ‘a law and order’ issue and that ‘it would encourage undesirables into the area. If these ‘New Conservatives’ are OK with pregnant, battered women sleeping on the streets then they are not going to bat an eyelid before closing youth centres, sure-start groups, even schools or hospitals.
Tomorrow hopefully you will be one of the lucky few that can vote for who you believe in without any fear of accidently letting the Tories in by splitting the progressive vote. For a lot of you though, this will not be an option, if so then think about who you are voting for and whether they are best placed to beat the Tories in your area. It is horrible to have to vote for your ‘compromise’ candidate and, once this election is over, we can start to deal with the unfairness of the electoral system. But only, I repeat, only if progressives are in power.
I’ll leave you with the words of Neil Kinnock, spoken in the dying days of the 1983 election campaign:
If (the Tories) are re-elected on Thursday, I warn you. I warn you that you will have pain – when healing and relief depend upon payment. I warn you that you will have ignorance – when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right. I warn you that you will have poverty – when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay
I warn you that you must not expect work – when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies. I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light. I warn you that you will be quiet – when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.
You have been warned