In the immediate wake of the shock election result on Friday, there has, predictably, been a tsunami of commentary and debate, and I’m largely inclined to steer clear of it, not because I’m apolitical, but because I’m no political commentator. However, as a writer, I am an observer of people and social interaction, and politics, and perhaps this election more than ever, has shown that politics does affect everyone, whether they like it or not.
As such, my observations that politics in Britain is extremely divisive and extremely personal on individual levels may seem banal, but are nevertheless particularly important.
I live and work in the York Central constituency, a red spot in an ocean of blue, and so it’s perhaps not surprising that only one of my colleagues has openly aligned himself with the Conservatives. I might describe this guy in his early as a hipster, but given his ever-changing appearance, it would be more accurate to describe him as a fashion victim, and to hear him qualify his support of the party by citing Cameron’s ability to speak well in public and how he’s well-presented and professional-looking and less ‘freakish’ than any of the other contenders for the position of Prime Minister correspond with the chameleon-like fashion victim’s focus on style over content.
Friday morning saw the hipster swagger into the office with a jaunty step, and before long he was crowing about the emerging results. When pressed as to why he was so happy, he held forth with confidence: “We’ve got the best economy in the world, and I want more of that. We’ve got safe jobs, look, well, relatively safe anyway, I’m doing alright, get to go on holiday, buy stuff, why would I want to vote another party in who are going to stuff it all up when things are going good? They got us out of the trouble Labour left us in, it’s all good. Keep on with it, I say.”
Which, of course, is pretty much what Cameron’s been saying. Only surely a gullible idiot would swallow the slippery schmoozer’s fabrications or buy the fact that the Labour government were alone responsible for what was a global financial meltdown
The irony here is that we work for a major financial company, and this hipster deals with complaints about how poorly investments have been performing. His job involves explaining to disappointed investors how volatile stock markets worldwide have meant returns haven’t been so great, how the recession led to commercial property values and rental returns slumping. And yet he really seems to believe – or happy to regurgitate arguments churned out by the slick Tory propaganda machine, fronted by that slick, smooth-talking propagandist representing them – that somehow, this was all the fault of the previous government.
None of this sat too well with the woman who sits a few desks away from this trend-influenced lippy bozo: a mother of two children under 11, her husband recently lost his job. A family man who’s not workshy and has been in the same job for some eight years, he’s vowed to take any job going to pay the bills, but has so far been rejected by a cleaning company on the grounds that he’s male, and is being kept in suspense – three weeks and counting – over whether or not he’ll be entitled to any benefits. It doesn’t feel like the world’s best economy to her, it doesn’t feel like business is booming and that there are jobs readily available for those who are willing to take them.
Perhaps that’s because it’s all a myth. By making many benefits much harder to claim, meaning that many who would have previously received benefits illegible, and by making the process to stressful that people feel compelled to simply quit, or by declaring half the disabled populace fit for work and thus stripping them of benefits, the Conservatives have shown that it’s possible to slant the statistics and cut the welfare budget in one fell swoop. By farming out investigations into benefit claims to private, third-party companies (doubtless selected for their low-budget tenders rather than their efficiency and ability to operate fair and efficient systems of investigation, a process I’ve found myself on the wrong end of in recent months), they’re again able to cut costs and produce more favourable figures.
But people prefer to believe good news than bad. The fashion victim bozo has got it good: he’s young enough, doesn’t have any children and is in good health and a job that pays ok in relative terms. He’s also of the age to have parents who’ve done well out of the boom years, and probably bought their house for a tenth of its current value and retired at 55 on a final salary pension.
This microcosmic and extremely personal scene is emblematic of the contrasts between the haves and have nots are precisely the social divisions on which the election ran. The Conservative way, the espousal of laissez-faire capitalism and a privatisation is all about giving it all those who already have it, is great for big business and the wealthy.
Those at the lower end of the fiscal spectrum are hardly going to be leaping for joy at the prospect of the new government raising the threshold for inheritance tax to £1M, and when you’re looking at a family of four whose breadwinner has been tossed out of work because employers are downsizing and cutting costs to maximise profits (on which they’ll pay reduced tax under a Conservative government), it’s hard to see how raising the personal income tax threshold will help if they can’t claim any benefits (working tax credits and child tax credits for example require both parents to work at least 16 hours a week – and how is a parent supposed to apply for jobs and be available for interviews at limited to zero notice when they’re looking after a child?).
As the protests on the streets of London demonstrate, Britain is a nation divided, and a nation with an extremely flawed election process, one whereby a ‘majority’ government clearly does not represent the majority of voters (let alone those who didn’t vote, for whatever reason).
And yes, I am angry. I’m angry because I didn’t vote for this 9and let’s be clear, I most certainly did vote). And maybe I would still b angry even if we did have proportional representation: as much as I’m angry about the outcome of this election, I’m angry at the electorate. Because what the actual voting figures show is that we live in a country where half the population have empathy and a desire to support one another in times of need, to provide free healthcare and welfare, not just for the needy, but for all. Because they – we – understand that it’s i8mpossible to predict when you may need this support. Public transport, general public services, from libraries to road maintenance – benefit everyone, regardless of status.
We understand that immigration is a two-way street and that freedom of movement within the EU is a good thing, and appreciate that it’s the wealthy who usually retire to sunnier climes and accept that’s their prerogative. Because while they’re tanning themselves to leather in Spain having quite work at 55, the eastern Europeans who serve us excellent coffee and maintain the well-stocked, open-all-hours off-licence on the next street work had and provide excellent service. And pay their share of tax.
I’m angry that the selfish rule the country, not just in parliament, but in the street. And I’m angry that we live in a society where the idiots who don’t actually consider the ramifications of their selfish votes get to screw everyone else over. It’s the ‘I’m doing ok’ attitude that is precisely what seals I for the Tories: moreover, the attitude that as ‘I’m ding ok and I couldn’t care less about anyone else.’
And while the majority of the people I keep company with on social networking sites share my views (I chose my (virtual) friends carefully, this is exactly the spirit of the Facebook generation: the endless selfies, the snaps of your luxurious holiday, your plush house, pampered pooch and posh dinner, which say ‘my life is better than yours’ and shamelessly rub the noses of your friends in the shitness of their ordinary, poor and inferior existences.
Shame on you all. And I hope the beds provides by your private health plans are comfortable and that you enjoy long and prosperous retirements funded by your private pension plans and vast inheritances which also provide enough to pay off your childrens’ university debts, because otherwise we’ll have all endured this austerity agony for nothing.
And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk