Today I am going to talk to you about politics.
No no, don’t do that face! I know it’s not an easy sell, politics these days. The usual response to a discussion about politics is anger or extreme apathy, which doesn’t make for the greatest dinner party conversations.
I guess politics is in my blood. My grandparents were Red Clydesiders, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Clydeside) involved in revolutionary actions to improve workers’ rights and against the war. Their son, my uncle, was a pacifist and conscientious objector, facing prosecution and condemnation for his radical anti-war views.
The best I can manage in following in their glorious footsteps is standing as a ‘paper’ (aka ‘no-hope’) candidate. (Oh go on, I bet you can guess which party, give it a wild stab in the dark).
I have done other things, too; some more ludicrous than others. Writing letters for charities, wearing badges and patches, giving money, boycotting.
I have tried to avoid purchasing products based on an ever-changing list of black listed countries and corporations – and that is no mean feat, when you get to my age, to keep track of who is In and who is Out. Are we still boycotting Barclays, for example? (I still hiss when I walk past their front door.) Are the French Out for what they did to the Rainbow Warrior or is there some sort of Statute of Limitations for sinking peacefully protesting ships and killing activists?
Being a leftie is, frankly, complicated and exhausting. There’s probably an app for it – EazyPinko? – but I’d always forget to update that too. Mostly, I try to follow the advice of my mother – buy everything from the Co-op and hide the Coke bottles and Macdonalds toys when your LeftierThanThou friends come round.
I have been on any number of marches, for sure. I love a march to be honest. I am looking forward to Marching against Gove in March. I hope he drops by. Though I tend to slip off just before any actual rioting starts.
(Unlike my Red Clydesider grandma, who was arrested for helping to roll over a bus during the General Strike. Now I have this information on very good authority, not only from her sons but also from the official files, disclosed to me during an interview for positive vetting. But honestly, wouldn’t it have been just dandy if someone had told me this when she was alive?? Wouldn’t have minded hearing that anecdote from the mouth of that sweet white-haired old lady who taught me to crochet.)
So my political views are usually pretty deep-seated, and yours too probably, mostly set in childhood and fairly early childhood too. What I was told, and what I saw, as a child is cut through me like letters through a stick of rock. The Miners’ Strike. The Poll Tax. The way the industrial decline in the 1980s ripped apart communities in the North and Midlands, leaving absolute devastation in its wake.
And also what I was told, from the older generation. What my grandmother told me about the way workers used to be treated on Clydeside before they came together to protect themselves, their pay and conditions. Her anger, white hot and passionate, about the young men who were sent in their hundreds and thousands and eventually their millions, to be slaughtered in WW1; a loss to their families and to their communities that was not only personal and tragic but also political too, and should still resonate today as a terrible warning of what happens when the political elite stop caring about individual lives because those lives are expendable. What happens when the majority are silent and powerless.
And I guess that’s the main reason why it’s hard to get most people interested in politics – we feel, many of us, powerless to change anything, especially on a national level. The expenses scandal didn’t help either, adding as it did to our collective prejudices of politicians as corrupt and greedy.
But it’s an illusion. We aren’t powerless at all. We are, individually and most of all collectively, powerful. When the buses run, whether the holes in the road get fixed, if that new playground gets built – this is our business and we can change it. Many things ARE out of our control, but not these things. We have money in our pockets and we can choose how to spend it and we have a vote.
In contrast to my grandmother, who got so angry about the consequences of her powerlessness that she got cross enough to roll a bus over, we have let the pervasive -and untrue – story of our own powerlessness roll us over and made us play dead.
I am not suggesting you all go out and roll over vehicles, or even that you give up your Starbucks with Hazelnut Meringue topping. Boycotts aren’t for everyone. But everyone can pass on what they believe, and why they believe it. Pass politics down the generations, so we don’t forget. It is less than a hundred years since all women and men who did not own property had no power in their government. My granny would be shocked we got so complacent, so quickly. Men and women fought and died for our right to vote, to join together and protest. Don’t let’s piss it away in a generation.
And – maybe – you could have a glance at those election leaflets that some poor beardy sweater-wearing type has schlepped up your madly long driveway to deliver, and see if you agree with them. Or not. Or what else you think they, or you, should do instead with your tax money.
Unless you’re thinking of voting UKIP. In which case take the advice of the 17 year old Junior Mayor of Newbury, delivered to a recent political meeting with all the passion of a young JFK: ‘Don’t vote UKIP. NEVER vote UKIP.’
Amen to that.