In this article, Mary Evans explains her decision to vote Labour in tomorrow’s election. She writes that we have arrived at an increasingly narrow and authoritarian political vision over the past five years, in which bad things only happen to bad people and where there is a lack of recognition of how forms of social inequality affect people’s lives. Rejecting that view is one reason for voting Labour, she argues.
Let me say straight away that I’m going to vote Labour. That puts the last line first, but I’ll explain that choice. The explanation starts with what is happening to the world in a five mile radius of anybody’s home at the moment. In almost every local area there are school buildings that need urgent repair, individuals threatened with eviction because of the bedroom tax, old people visited for a few minutes by hurried ‘carers’, those same ‘carers’ manifestly unable to care for themselves because they are paid almost nothing for demanding work, libraries under threat of cuts and so the list goes on.
This is not the dramatic, terrifying suffering of Nepal and other parts of the world, but it is a set of circumstances in our own back yards for which there is no possible justification. That is the point of voting Labour, because what has happened to the social fabric in the past five years and to many vulnerable people through the policies of the coalition government have been nothing short of a national disgrace.
But more needs to be said about voting Labour, and indeed is already being said. There are very powerful arguments being made about the continuing complicity of the Labour party with those powerful interests (both national and global) which have no demonstrable commitment to the welfare of any population other than that of the availability of a competent work force. In the months before the election, the Labour party was repeatedly encouraged to find a ‘vision’ but since, for many of us, nothing approaching a vision emerged we are left with a negative vision (and arguably the emerging social reality) of Fritz Lang’s 1927 vision in Metropolis: a world in which a great many people work for the benefit of the few.
Interrupting that reality and putting forward a programme for a society which does not embrace the equally noxious narratives of mourning for a fictional lost world (the world of UKIP) or the ruthless account of the good and the bad citizen (a Conservative account of the world which seems to be largely derived from ideas about moral references for a servant class) is surely not all that difficult: there are a number of quite simple sentences which could be constructed around words and themes such as the value of equality of access to public services that are run for those using them and not for profit, the responsibility of the state to control (and if necessary sanction) various markets, for example that of housing and to communicate to the electorate that we all have needs, real and potential, that only the state can adequately meet.
Catastrophically for English politics, the ideas of that proportion of very wealthy people who assume that the bubble of privilege in which they live will always protect them against any kind of vulnerability seem to have taken hold more generally. It is an urgent task that we ask where the political rhetoric is that might counter what might be claimed as the ‘privilege slip’ of mainstream English politics. This is not the much cited abandonnment of ‘old’ Labour but the confidence trick inherited in part from the Labour governments of 1997-2010 and then much enhanced by the Coalition. ‘Privilege Slip’ is the creation of the ideal citizen as the healthy, employed, upstanding citizen who assumes that they will always be able to provide adequately for themselves. We are encouraged to inhabit this space and in doing so, and in ways much encouraged by aspects of the media and many business interests, to create a vision of ourselves as autonomous individuals with democratic access to all kinds of once exclusive spaces. In every budget presented in the past five years this citizen has a central role, endlessly praised and for the purposes of the budget speech encouraged to assume that they occupy the same space as the wealthy; that working hard and making ‘choices’ are somehow unattached from material rewards and conditions.
Part of this shift towards the refusal of the recognition that forms of social inequality make to people’s lives now has a long history. When we all became ‘middle class’ (whatever that means), what followed all too rapidly from that fiction was the idea that anyone outside that world was there because of personal failings. And so we arrived at the increasingly narrow and authoritarian political vision of the past five years, in which bad things only happen to bad people. Rejecting that view is one reason for voting Labour, in the hope that a Labour government will recognise both shared needs and the different and endlessly changing circumstances in which we all live.
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Mary Evans is a Centennial Professor at the LSE, based at the Gender Institute. She has written on various aspects of gender and women’s studies and many of those publications have crossed disciplinary lines between the social sciences and the humanities. She was a founding editor of the European Journal of Women’s Studies and is presently working on a study of narratives – and continuities – of class and gender. Her latest edited book is Gender (Routledge, 2010).