The more I watch the news or see people talking about politics on Twitter the more frustrated I feel. That’s not just a reaction to Brexit, Trump etc., it’s down to the reporting, or the tone of the conversation itself. I am sure if you are from the UK you are more than aware of the actions of our government over the past eight years: austerity, cuts, changes to the benefits system, sanctions for the sick and disabled and cuts to social care. There have been studies done linking the government’s actions to tens of thousands more deaths than would be expected over any other eight year period.
And you don’t have to look far online to find stories talking about the rise in crime, and the cuts in police funding, the changes to benefits that lead to disabled people not being able to leave their homes or afford food, the rise in food banks, and the fact that more working people are having to use food banks due to delays in getting their benefits of up to 12 weeks after being put on universal credit.
Over the past two years we have seen the UN issue a report that strongly condemns the UK governments treatment of disabled people this has lead to people saying the UK is going backwards in its treatment of disabled people.
There have also been reports of a humanitarian crisis in the NHS with patients being left for hours, and sometimes days on corridors without treatment.
Just last week UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston reported on the scale of poverty in the UK, being very clear a large part of the poverty he was seeing is a result of the governments cruel and unnecessary policies, and that if they wished to they could end those policies overnight, and improve the lives of millions.
In short it’s pretty clear to anyone looking in from the outside, or anyone living here who wants to see it, that in the past eight years the Tories have brought in a raft of totally unnecessary polices and cuts that have brought misery, and in some cases even death, to the sick, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. We have seen the impact of cuts across the country: domestic abuse centres have closed down leaving abused women and their children with nowhere to go, the sharp rise in food banks and the use of those food banks by people in work, cuts in mental health care that leave those in need with little or no help, cuts to benefits that leave disabled people unable to leave their homes or afford the help that they need to live a decent and dignified life.
There are benefit cuts linked to suicides, and a rise in mental health issues among claimants.
Cuts to the NHS, increasing privatisation, a hostile environment for disabled people and immigrants, the Windrush scandal, the list goes on and on.
And the steep increase in homelessness since 2010.
Every day you can see the misery this government is inflicting on its people, and you can see the lack of care, and the targeting of the most vulnerable. People who lived through the Thatcher years of the 1980s say that this is worse, and that it’s getting worse year on year. And yet even though you can see this with your own eyes it’s not always the sense you get when seeing people talk online, or watching the news. It’s not that they never speak about these things on the BBC, but there is no thread. There might be a piece one week that runs for a day about the increase in homelessness, where they will let experts say that government cuts and changes to benefits are driving the numbers up, and the next week there might be an segment on care homes that are having to close down due to lack of funding, but these things hardly ever run for more than a day, and never feel like a part of the same story. There is always someone from the government there to brush them off, and they are never linked. But in fact they are clearly part of the same story; if you are talking about cuts to policing then how can you not also link that to a story about cuts to mental health services by the same government? They clearly connect and are part of a bigger, overall story. Yet every crisis is reported on its own, as if they are all unconnected and just happen to be going on at the same time. The government is never challenged on them all at once, instead they are asked about each one on its own. The debate is broken up in to multiple debates, so the question will be asked “Can we really blame the government for X? or Y? or Z?” And not “Why has X,Y,Z and a dozen other things happened under the same government, at the same time?” This takes away from the real issue – the fact that this government has systematically made the lives of the sick, the poor, and the disabled worse with every new policy.
There is also the fact that whenever you see, or read a report on one of the issues mentioned above the government is given a chance to reply within the story. Now that’s not what I take issue with – my issue is the fact that the reply is always tacked on to the end of the story. Instead it should be looked at, checked against the facts, and talked about within the story. Let’s think about something else for a moment, say the anti-vax movement. We all know vaccines don’t cause autism, that’s just a fact. So if you run a story about that you don’t need to go and find someone who rants on Facebook about vaccines leading to autism, and give them a platform. You can find what they say and break down why it’s wrong, but you don’t need to make them sound legitimate. But if a story runs about how universal credit can lead to people having to use food banks, and you talk to people who say “I am using a food bank due to being put on universal credit.” and you talk to people who run food banks who show you the logs they have of all the people who have come to them after being put on universal credit, then just having someone from the government comment something along the lines of “That’s not true in fact we help….” is not very useful. It makes it look as if just saying “Nope” in the face of facts is a legitimate way of arguing a point. The government can say no if they want, but the point should be made that the facts are there, and they are just acting as if they are not instead of addressing the issue. Facts have to mean something. It’s fine to get the governments response to stories, but if they flat-out lie, try and tell you facts are not facts, or twist things up in a way that can be shown and proved, then it’s your duty as a journalist to show that, not just print what they say and leave it up to the public.
But talking of the public they also have a roll to play in this. Often I hear people saying things like “Things are bad, but you cant blame the government.” or “All politicians are the same.” To say things like this is both to turn your back on facts, and to absolve yourself of any responsibility. If it’s not the governments fault, and if every party is the same why do you need to vote? Why do you need to keep up to date with what’s going on? Why do you need to care if you can have no impact? Being cynical is an easy way out. To care is hard, to want to change things is hard, and to put your trust in a political party is hard. But here’s the thing, not all parties and all politicians are the same – if you ever hear anyone say that you know for a fact they don’t have a clue what they are talking about.
But even those who do have some understanding of politics and do care can frustrate me. The bottom line here is that the government we have is genuinely awful, the country is suffering, you can see the spread of misery and poverty. When I see people on Twitter saying things like “I hate the Conservatives, but I don’t think I can vote for Labour if they do/don’t do…” I just don’t know what to say. I am not someone who thinks the Labour party in any form is perfect. I can recall how angry I was over the Iraq war as a child, and there have been plenty of times I have disliked something Jeremy Corbyn has done, but at no point have I felt Labour under Corbyn would be anything you could even compare to the Tory government.
In politics in the UK you realistically get two options, then unless something dramatic happens you have to wait fives years to be given a chance to change the government you end up with. You don’t get the time to wait for the perfect party, the party that ticks all your boxes and leaves you with zero worries. No one ever gets that, you are not special so you don’t get it either.
If you can see the government we have now, see what the options are and say “Well yes this government is doing all that awful stuff, and a Labour government would not be anywhere near as bad but still….” then I think you have to take a good look at yourself. Voting is not about making yourself feel good, it’s about doing something for the good of the country as a whole. You might not love who you are voting for, but if you know they will do less harm to people than the party in power right now that’s all that should count. Right now the main focus has to be on getting the Conservatives out of power, and Labour is our best option for that. I like Corbyn, but while you might not you still have to admit that he would not proactively target the weakest and most vulnerable in society like the Tories have been doing. I have no problem with people taking issue with things Corbyn and Labour do, now or if they ever get in to power, as I say I do this myself. But what I do have an issue with is people acting as if they can in anyway be compared to the brutal, and targeted cruelty of a Tory government. Politics is not about perfection, it’s about doing the best you can for those who need it the most. This goes for politicians, but also the public; think about all the pain that comes with a Tory government, and then think about if your issue with Labour is really that big.
Over all what I am trying to say is that we need to be honest with ourselves about how things are. When you see things on the news or read about them on Twitter try and think, why are they happening? Who has the power to stop them? And what’s the common thread? The rise in food banks, homelessness, child poverty, cuts to the NHS, a crisis in mental health and social care services, cuts to the policing budget, benefit cuts resulting in suicides, ill health and homelessness, the demonization of the disabled and immigrants, schools unable to afford basic equipment, cuts to SEND services and a myriad of other cruel policies. These things might be reported out of context, as if one day they just happened and no one can tell why, but that’s not true. The truth is that they are all results of deliberate acts by the Conservative party. We live in an age that will be looked back on with sadness, and incomprehension by those lucky enough to have been born too late to live through it, in years to come. They will feel anger and sadness looking back the same way people my age look back on the Thatcher years. The truth is if you’re not angry now, if you’re not passionate now, then you never will be. If now is not the time you stand up, look at what is happening and say No, say I am better than this, I am more humane than this, then you will never do so. What is happening now is not accidental, it’s not unavoidable, and it’s not right. If you do not speak up, and speak out now then when will you?
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