This is quite a different sort of blog from last year’s travel writing, but I’ll hope you’ll indulge my little foray into another issue which is quite dear to my heart. Some of it is probably patently obvious to you, but it’s been quite a journey for me, so I hope you’ll read it.
A little precociously, I joined the Conservative Party at the age of 12. My parents are Conservatives, my grandparents were Conservatives, and so on, and so forth. This no doubt played a role in my developing political inclinations, but from the election of David Cameron as leader in 2005, I truly believed in his vision for our country. I believed that hard work would lift us out of the slump caused by the 2008 Economic crisis, I thought that fastening the national belt and slashing services was necessary in what I thought then was a country with a bloated welfare state which desperately needed a political revolution.
In retrospect, it is quite a startling viewpoint to hold for someone who has never had to rely on the welfare state – someone who essentially has never wanted for anything. Far from being ‘average’, I’ve come to realise that I benefited from an extremely privileged upbringing. Growing up in leafy Buckinghamshire, the prospects I had as a child were considerably better than someone growing up on a council estate in Salford or a rural community in the Welsh Valleys. Of course, I’ve use the NHS, and I’ve always been incredibly proud of it as an institution. But there are so many other services I never needed – my mother was a stay-at-home housewife, so no childcare; I went to a prep school, so didn’t experience life in a state primary, and then I went to a grammar school, which became an academy, and which, though a state school, is surely not representative of the situation in many comprehensives in this country. I think I’ve worked damn hard so far in life, but that hard work has been topped off with more than just a dash of luck.
It’s mainly through coming into contact with other people that I’ve realised my views of the world were not entirely correct. Friends at Oxford from all over the country told me stories I couldn’t believe about childhood in the inner city, underfunded schools, waiting weeks for doctors’ appointments and months for life-saving operations. At a certain point, the same old arguments about hard work lifting you out of poverty just didn’t cut it anymore. Far from ‘spending beyond our means’, this country’s welfare state has been supporting millions of people who could not, and still cannot, live without it. Hard work is one thing, but it is not enough to lift individuals and their entire regions out of a prolonged post-industrial slump, especially after another economic crisis. The region I grew up in is fundamentally structurally favoured, to the detriment of every other part of our country. For proof of this, you only need see that our government is considering building a corporate garden bridge before it has even finished electrifying major railway lines which connect some of our largest Northern cities.
This pandering to the needs of Big Business above the majority of the people of this country is indicative of a greater political movement. That we are on out way out of the economic crisis but continue to slash services is a clear signal that what has been explained as budgetary rebalancing is now purely ideological. It is a dangerous ideology. It is more than just fiscal responsibility. It is pure zealotry, an attempt to slowly destroy the institutions we rely on by slowly underfunding them and then slowly privatising them or shutting them down. The number of deaths and suicides linked to this zealotry, and the burden this places on friends and families, is absolutely revolting and inexcusable.
I think that there is a solution, but I don’t believe it lies in the increasingly far-right wing rhetoric Conservative Party or the Radical Left solutions of Jeremy Corbyn and his new incarnation of the Labour Party. Indeed, I don’t think it’s going to come from above. There is, deep down, a common thread that runs through the British people. There are things we just don’t stand for. Our society is built on finding ways of living together, despite our differences. Therein lies our fantastic capacity to adapt, to take on new things, the things that lead us to be so dynamic and so tolerant. This is why I find it so morally repugnant that the UK political scene is continuing to use hatred and fear of the other – immigrants, Europeans, refugees – to tear us apart, to the point that this country will now leave the European Union. I think it goes against the very fibre of our national identity.
I think the real strength of our country is our people and our fantastic diversity. If someone as stubborn as me can have an epiphany and change my long-held views, then I don’t doubt that we all can. We might have doubts about our political system – whether its the value of our individual vote or greater structural issues – but I still think it is true that if we shout loudly enough, we will be heard. This is why it is so important that we stand up and be counted. If you, like me, find the current state of British politics and the onset of a one party state deplorable, you must do something about it. I don’t mean you should go and run for Parliament – though if it takes your fancy, go ahead. But if you, like me, support common decency, diversity, tolerance, well-funded institutions, and a society that works for all of us, we’ll have to fight for it. I’ve decided to join the Liberal Democrats, because I believe they are the party that truly stands for these values, but don’t let me pressure you. Research our parties – I mean really read what they stand for, what they have voted for, and what direction they want to take our country in. Don’t do what I did and support something because that’s what your family has always done. Don’t let other people pull the wool over your eyes and tell you who you should vote for. Very importantly, get out there and vote. Most importantly, don’t let those who run this country get away with lying to us. The whole case of Brexit is a farce, based on lies and deliberate misinformation. If it angers you, write, tweet, post on Facebook, sing, shout, make a placard, write a poem, protest, do whatever you have to do to make yourself heard. Don’t be afraid of being political, because those who are tearing our society apart certainly aren’t. I honestly think we can still turn this ship around. We might Brexit, but what happens after is still yet to be decided. We all bear the responsibility to speak up for the future of our democratic society, and our country. The world is watching, and some of them probably aren’t massively positively inclined towards us at this point in time. I can’t blame them. But let’s prove them wrong, once again, like we have over and over again in our history. Let’s show them how tolerant, how forward-thinking, how hard-working and cooperative we can be, and how much our country and its place in the world matters to us. (If any of you have got this far, thanks for reading.)