Tuesday, April 05, 2005

It's time to choose. In 4 weeks.

So it is official.

A general election is upon us all and my poster is up already (My local MP delivered their letter to party members on Monday, clearly unpeturbed by the death of the pope. A nation may mourn but a candidate frets.)

On May the 5th I will be voting Labour. There may be some who are voting reluctantly, or begrudgingly or with a longing look to a radicalism that could have been. I'm not one of them. I've ended up somehow devoting this blog to that message. I wanted it to be much more like the sites run byWonkette or Guido Fawkes. I intended to be sly, cynical, witty. Yet I keep wanting to preach instead. I think I owe you an explanation for my fervour.

I grew up under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. I joined the Labour party thanks to a mixture of familial politics and youthful idealism. I wasn't an early moderniser. I voted for Prescott over Hattersley, Gould over Smith and Blair very begrudgingly over Beckett. I wanted a Labour Government that would re-make the country. There was something about the essence of pre-1997 New Labour that aggravated me. Looking back, this may have been the sense of New Labour not requiring me.

I remember going to a party meeting shortly after 1992 where a junior spokesman was to address us on the road to victory. He walked in, smart, well styled, groomed. He sat down at the table and placed his huge mobile phone and pager in front of him, where it proceeded to vibrate hypnotically throughout the meeting. It's quite possible I'd never seen a mobile phone in real life. The mobile phone was a signal. Technological, modern, instantaenous, efficient, even back then, envy inducing.

This was the future, but it wasn't my Labour party.

So in 1994 I voted for Blair reuctantly becuase I couldn't imagine any of the other candidates being elected.

I voted for the change to Clause Four with a heavy heart. Indeed, I may have even sat on my hands. I didn't want to derail the party but was desperately sad at the loss of rhetoric I loved.

In 1997, I campaigned hard, knocked on doors, delivered leaflets and even phoned up distant seats and always seemed to canvass the wife of the Labour candidate. Afterwards, despite the landslide, I felt curiously unimpressed. The rhetoric about a new day left me cold. It felt vainglorious, empty. I remember thinking how much better it would have been if we'd won in 1992.

I'd known the Labour party needed to attract people who hadn't been Labour. I knew it, intellectually, but hated the idea of adopting their style, their manners, their priorities, even, I suspected, their values.

So I should have been disillusioned long ago.

I don't know what turned me. It wasn't anything particular. Part of it might been because I wasn't caught up in the initial euphoria of 1997. Not having expected much, every piece of good news felt like a bonus. More money for inner cities? More money for the NHS? A massive programme of school rebuilding to stop temprary classrooms? They were sweeter as pleasant surprises. A pessimist is never disappointed.

Some of it might have been that I got burgled for the first time and that changed my attitude to all that tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime rhetoric that I'd hated as glib and meaningless.

Some of it might have been just seeing things I'd wanted for years finally happen. Unemployment falling as a deliberate policy objective. A minimum wage.

Then I began to see the reasons that had stopped people voting Labour weren't as selfish as I'd thought. A strong economy means being able to afford your home, means not losing your job, means being able to give your family a pretty decent start in life. These are things too important to risk screwing up with a government that couldn't manage the economy.

Finally I began to see the benefits of gradual change. In 1997 I'd longed for our government to govern as if it were 1945. I wanted 5 years of radical changes. I wasn't too clear on what that change should be, but I was definitely on the side of the radicals. I longed for a hundred days, a 1945 government, a 1906.

We could have done that in 1997, perhaps, but we might have wrecked the economy, outrun public opinion, damaged business confidence, and handed the Government back to the Conservatives four years later. Instead, eight years later, We are shocked if someone should suggest a thrd term Labour government of less than 50.

Oh, and we have a growing minimum wage, a huge new investment in education and child care, support for the poorest families put first, Tax credits to make low income families better off, a savings account for every child, and yes, and it warms my heart to say it, a mildly progressive tax policy that is taking more from the wealthiest and giving it to the poorest, both directly and through better services.

Each of these are achievements of Labour's second term. What might we do in our third?

I suppose I have to ask myself why I'm not outraged by Iraq, by civil liberties, by authoritarianism. I'm afraid it's the same sauce poured by better blogs and writers; the refrain of the Aaronovitch chorus. I don't see why opposing stalinism is right-wing. I don't have a huge issue with ID cards when I carry twenty pieces of ID every day, and yes, when I see a gang of youths on a street corner after dark, I like knowing that the police can take them home if they think they will cause trouble. In my heart of hearts, I even admit I like ASBO's, though I'll allow that my views here are shaped by the Evening Chronicles' reporting of the ASBO'd (here's one at random, 68 arrests in 9 years and at last an ASBO to prevent what he's doing).

Finally though, there's another reason to be delighted by this election. It's personal. This election feels like mine again. For the first time since it's inception New Labour needs my support. The fair friends of 1997 and 2001 have departed. Now, it's the rest of us who are needed to rally round. When Yasmin has gone, Damon Albarn has departed and Middle class women have fled. I and my ilk remain.

This election is about inspiring Labur supporters to vote. So this is my election. I'm a Labour supporter. I know why I want to vote, so the whole puropose of the election is to make other voters agree with me. I can't help but enjoy the fact that in this one small way, after all I've got wrong about New Labour, this election brings theparty back to me- asking for my help.

Trouble is, they've got me already. Bugger.

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