On June 20th, I went on my first protest march – the People’s Assembly Anti Austerity March in London. I have previously blogged about my concerns about the conservative party in the UK under Cameron, mainly in terms of the education system (I went to a school in Lincolnshire, one of then only two counties still operating under Thatcher’s 11+ system, with which I wholly disagree).
When Cameron was re-elected, I was both disappointed, and completely surprised. Part of that surprise may admittedly have come from the fact I now live in Bristol, a fairly left wing and liberal pocket where I hadn’t heard much support for the conservatives.
The planned cuts will not directly affect me in any desperate way, at least not immediately. However I worked my way to my current position though many, many, minimum wage, zero hours contracts and unpaid internships to gain the experience I needed to end up in a digital marketing role that pays me enough not to have to rely on the state for assistance.
I was also lucky enough to sign up for university in the last year before the fees doubled. I certainly couldn’t have afforded to attend otherwise. I’m still paying off student overdrafts I took out to make up for the badly paid pub jobs that funded the rest, and for that I’m aware the tories aren’t to blame.
No party in particular should shoulder soul responsibility. Selfish capitalist leadership that puts misunderstood faith in banks and lending markets beyond their control is the problem. That kind of leadership blindly advertises practicable ideologies that sell an unsustainable dream.
My first full-time job was at a fruit packing factory in Boston, Lincolnshire. Boston is a very woking class town, and much of the employment there is factory work. I was unsurprised to hear that Boston had become a UKIP stronghold, and that Lincolnshire is predominantly conservative.
Returning home a few years ago, the factory where I used to work was operating at half capacity, and most of the remaining workers were Polish. The old boys I had worked with, many of whom had been there most of their adult lives were now, presumably, out of a job. There has been rioting in Boston over the immigration issue, and even my mother, a Caribbean immigrant who came over to pursue a career in nursing in the 70’s was repeating the ‘they come over here, take our jobs’ rhetoric.
The real issue wasn’t being addressed. Polish workers were being exploited for cash in hand jobs that pay less than a decent living wage, and others were being put out of work to make way for them. The sad thing is, the political marketing propaganda had worked – no one I spoke to at home asked why this situation was allowed to happen; all opinions I heard blamed the immigrant workers. People in a bad situation are easier to persuade, and can be, understandably, quick to blame.
What really surprised and upset me though was the effect the Tory PR machine had on people my age, and in a more comfortable position – the ‘aspirational’ middle class.
It was conversations with colleagues in my current employment that made me aware of a different problem. The opinions that had been sold to them, both by political spin and aspirational lifestyle marketing (the kind I used to write, I just quit my job) were pervasive - marketing and the political agenda have become inseparable from each other.
One colleague in his mid-twenties and working in sales asked if I had ever ‘actually met anyone who has had to queue for a food bank’ and whether I was friends with any of ‘them’. The implication, quite clearly being, that it didn’t effect ‘us’, and therefore, why worry about it. Worse still, that ‘they’ probably deserved the position they were in.
Another colleague backed him up, spouting a deviation of the original American Dream, now rebranded by Cameron as the ‘aspiration nation’ that if ‘they’ worked hard, they’d be where ‘we’ are.
Both colleagues work very hard (and I am a great believer in working hard if you expect to get anywhere, guilt free) but this opinion came from people who were from a very comfortable background that meant they had never had to financially struggle, or to rely on the state for help. They had never had to work in unskilled and precarious employment.
The biggest worry for me is that I can understand both opinions – those of the factory workers, and those of the aspirational office workers. But only on a personal, individual level.
And that is where the political marketing spiel, whether Tory or New Labour, is really clever.
They aren’t selling politics that build a stronger national at all. They are creating policies that harm the more vulnerable people they should be democratically representing.
The current Tory policies market an unattainable lifestyle and selfish values in the same way that advertising does.
They appeal to individuals at the detriment of the majority, while (whether naively or deliberately) empowering market forces over whom neither they, or we, have any control or authority. That’s divisive, and it breeds a blame culture.
Divisive politics are dangerous. A strong Britain empowers everyone, from the bottom up.