During the Labour leadership elections of 2015 I was asked to contribute a poem for the Poets For Corbyn anthology. After looking at his voting record, I did so. This doesn’t mean I am comfortable with what the media and others have termed the Corbyn cult. I am not a fan of hero worship and have a feeling the leader of the opposition isn’t either. At an NHS Labour Rally I went to a week ago he shushed the chanting with his hands so he could continue speaking about policies. The poem featured in that anthology was entitled Austerity. It includes the line ‘a language devised by the high-born to parch the lips of those with less,’ which gives you an idea of my politics. I have lived in poverty. I regularly work with people who are still living in poverty and I will always vote against parties who widen the gap between rich and poor, especially when they impose appalling living conditions on people where they did not exist before. Austerity is about that growing gap between privilege and poverty and how austerity poisons those who inflict it as well as those it is inflicted on. Conservative-imposed austerity is one of the main reasons I’m voting for Labour. We keep hearing from the Conservative Party about how well the economy is doing, how people’s wages are going up. Yet almost everyone I know, whether they work in public or private sector, has taken a significant real-terms pay cut in the last ten years. As Matt Hughes, ONS deputy head of labour market statistics said ‘pay levels still have not returned to their pre-downturn peak’ (UK wage growth picks up to 11 year high). And if many people’s wages are down by 10-50%, whose have gone up? We can take a guess.
Along with most economists, I fear that austerity will only get worse after a hard Brexit. This is one of the reasons I support Labour’s resolve to take this vote back to the people with all they now know about the EU, the UK’s relationship with them, and the risks Brexit poses to the union of the U.K. and the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Labour plan to put in a range of costed measures to address poverty such as setting up Sure Start + Centres and introducing free personal care for all older people.
But back to what we know has happened over the last decade of Tory austerity. You have read the stories – a man who has been assessed as non-disabled dropping dead in the benefits queue, people committing suicide because their Universal credits haven’t been paid and they have no means to go on. You have seen the statistics with regards to the damage The Conservative Party has presided over. One in every three children living under the poverty line. Police forces cut. Libraries slashed. More food banks than McDonalds restaurants in the country. 320,000 homeless, 726 people of whom died in 2018 at an average age 44. The Institute for Public Policy Research estimated that in comparison with years in the previous decade, 130,000 deaths between 2012 and 2017 could have been prevented. With so many variables it is impossible to say definitively what these deaths were caused by but there is a distinct correlation between austerity policies and what ended these people’s lives. I could go on and on and on but that is more than enough to stomach for now.
One explanation that was deemed by Richard Fordham to be a likely link between a significant number of these deaths and austerity was the shortage of nurses in the NHS. ‘The NHS is haemorrhaging nurses more often than Boris Johnson haemorrhages lies,’ Danielle, a Leeds nurse warned the crowd at the NHS Labour rally. Danielle’s comments emphasise the need to properly fund the NHS and retain staff, something which Labour plan to do, partly by reintroducing bursaries for nurses (that were cut under the Tories) and axing student tuition fees as well as more investment in the NHS. Corbyn later referenced the redacted/unredacted document outlining the government’s talks with America about a trade deal post Brexit. He stated that ‘the first two red lines’ on the US trade deal with the UK were access to our public services and access to our health ‘market’ i.e. our NHS. The BBC supports this claim , saying the document states US concerns about the price of medicines in this country, which are kept low due to the negotiating power of the NHS. The US would look to extending patents thus making medicines here more expensive for longer. The cost of a private health care system such as that in the US is much more expensive than here overall not to mention that health insurance costs individuals around $403 a month. Most of us who have used the NHS over the last twenty years have seen for ourselves how strained our service is. Many of us have had treatment that has been farmed out to private providers (yes Blair’s government started this process). But most of us see the NHS as a jewel we want to keep. We can be confident that a socialist government would stop further privatisation.
Worryingly the US has also refused to acknowledge climate change in any US-UK trade agreement as it is a ‘lightning rod issue’. On 1st May this year Labour were successful in passing a motion to the Commons to declare a climate emergency and have made tackling climate change one of their key manifesto aims. Referencing the disproportionate effects of environmental pollution on those living in poverty both in the UK and globally, Corbyn spoke at the rally about how climate change is also a class issue. Labour’s proposal for a Green Industrial Revolution takes an exciting approach to investing in the future that is both environmental and economic and allows transition from polluting industries to green industries. Even pension providers now know that if they don’t consider climate change this will impact negatively on their funds. So it’s hard to imagine who but climate change deniers could have a problem with this policy.
One thing people do have a problem with is antiSemitisim in the Labour Party. I couldn’t write this blog without acknowledging the much-reported incidents of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. There is no excuse for anti-Semitism ever and these incidents should have been dealt with more effectively and in a more timely manner. I know I’m not the only one who has been unable to distinguish from the murk how much of the reported anti-Semitism is Tory-spun or Israeli-state propaganda, how much is lazy or ignorant language spoken out of identification with Palestinian people i.e. referring to Israel when criticising actions of the Israeli government and how much is out and out racism. This furore has been further inflamed since Labour questioned two of the IHRA’s examples of antisemitism i.e. ‘claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour’ and ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’. Jewish Voice For Labour* whose motto is ‘Always with the oppressed, never with the oppressor’ and the Jewish Socialists Group question many of the anti-Semitism accusations and say the full IHRA document which has now been taken up by Labour, to the disapproval of both of these groups, undermines free speech. They fear it could lead to people being unable to criticise the actions of the Israeli state (but really, why use the Nazis as an example?). The JC takes an opposing view, i.e. that the definition still allows for criticism of the state of Israel for racist actions (this has now been added as a specific clause in the Labour code).
What cannot be argued with is that the record of peace-prize winning Corbyn on anti-racism during most of his career has been strong. It includes organising defence of Jewish-populated Wood Green from a National Front rally, signing an early day motion demanding action against the increase in the dissemination of anti semitic and racist materials in the UK, against a holocaust-denying seminar. If prejudice is the reason you are not voting Labour then I suggest you look to the statements made by the Conservative Prime Minister who has shown disgusting prejudice in the derogatory comments he has made about just about any minority or oppressed group you can think of. To pick a few – ‘picaninnies’ – a sinister synonym for ‘boy’ with ‘watermelon smiles’(‘the best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers… scrambled once again in her direction’); ‘tank-topped bum boys’; Muslims looking like ‘letterboxes’ or bank robber[s] (‘Islam is the problem’), ‘blubbing blondes’, ‘wet otters’ with ‘natural fickleness’, ‘just pat her [Kimberly Quinn, the Spectator’s publisher] on the bottom and send her on her way’; ‘drunk, criminal, aimless, feckless and hopeless’ (working class men); children of single mothers (something he now knows more about since he has created an unknown number of them) as ‘ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate’ and victims of Hillsborough as ‘drunken fans… wallowing in victim status’.
But I’m not just voting against prejudice and discrimination. I am voting for positive policies. On this basis and at the risk of having my membership revoked, I have to say that ideally I wouldn’t want Labour to gain a majority in this election. What I’d really like for my birthday (12th December) is a Labour-Green coalition. But without proportional representation that isn’t likely to happen and yes, I acknowledge that proportional representation does come with its own dangers – Farage being one of them. When I take quizzes to see which parties’ policies my beliefs are more in line with I come up Green but Labour isn’t far behind. When taking such a poll two elections ago, the results were almost 100% Green. It isn’t my views that have dramatically altered. It is Labour’s policies.
I’m voting Labour is because I support their policies which I see as hopeful and realistic and which seek to tackle inequality. Corbyn commented at the rally that there is always something to learn, that good ideas can come from everyone you meet. He said he carries a notebook everywhere to document these ideas. That this Labour Party is prepared to listen to the voices of everyone in society, that it has a democratic approach, was demonstrated when they asked members to contribute to the manifesto. My friends tell me they have seen their suggestions for policies in the manifesto and much of what I sent back is broadly represented there. Labour are thinking hard and sensibly about the big issues but they are also thinking about the details. They even have a menopause policy, something I am interested in, as you may gather if you watch this slightly-silly poetry film.
It is clear that life in this country has worsened in many ways for many people over the last decade. But at the rally Jonathan Ashworth, the Shadow Health Secretary spoke with hope for the future. ‘If from the rubble, the carnage the austerity of the Second World War, Labour could build the NHS, imagine what we can do now.’ Even if you’re not a fan of Corbyn, do consider ‘holding your nose’ as a comedian recently put it and vote for whoever you see as the least worst option. I hope you vote against austerity, for green investment and for the under-represented. As Irvine Welsh tweeted in 2015 ‘when you’re not doing so well vote for a better life for yourself. If you are doing quite nicely, vote for a better life for others.’ It would make my birthday, the 12th December a really special one.
*JVL sprang up because many Jewish Labour members didn’t feel their views were being expressed by the Jewish Labour Movement who they describe as strongly pro-Zionist. I presume the organisation was inspired by Jewish Voice for Peace, an American organisation that campaigns to stop the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem