Putting Ourselves First In This Election

First Published in the Huffington Post

This election isn’t about the things it’s supposed to be about. It’s not about leaders, parties, candidates, rallies. It’s not about wall to wall news coverage, interviews, speeches and gaffes. It’s not about them. It’s about us. Specifically what we, the electorate, think of ourselves. Do we have self-respect? Do we care for ourselves? Or do we have such low self esteem that we’re willing to accept the worst? Are we, as a society, so depressed that we think things can’t be any better than they are now?

The current government has contempt for the British people. Firstly, it called an unnecessary election simply because it thought it could win a bigger majority. Secondly, the Prime Minister has refused to engage in televised debates. She considers them unnecessary – she is ahead so why take the risk? Thirdly, the Conservatives are determined to announce as few policies as possible. Trust us, they say. Only we can deliver strong and stable leadership. We will make the right choices, no need to worry yourselves with difficult questions about policy.

If the polls are correct we are fine with all this. We are fine with being taken for granted, of being laughed at. If the Conservatives can behave like this and be elected with a enlarged majority why would they be anything other than contemptuous of the British people

And then there is the legacy of the last seven years. A NHS funding crisis worse than we’ve seen for a generation, with primary care trusts on the verge of bankruptcy, and computer systems so out of date they can be taken over by hackers. School budgets being slashed and class sizes rising. Libraries shut by the hundreds. Hundreds of thousands of people forced to rely on foodbanks. Homelessness up 50%. Council budgets decimated, leading to huge cuts; to social care, to assistance for the disabled, to care for the elderly and to youth support and social housing.

If you read about a far away country where these things were happening you’d think things were pretty bad there. You’d assume the government would get kicked out at the next election by an angry population demanding change. But in Britain polls suggest we are about to re-elect the government with an increased majority

It’s not that we like the things the government is doing. Polls suggest that most people want properly funded public services and an NHS that is publicly owned, not run for the benefit of corporations. We want decent libraries, proper care for the elderly, effective public transport, free childcare. But when Labour promises to deliver all those things, by asking the wealthy and large companies to pay a little more we dismiss it out of hand. Impossible. Impractical. Incompetent.

We’ve come to dislike ourselves. We subconsciously feel that Britain is basically a bad country, that we don’t deserve better, that nothing can really change. The best we can get is leaders who call themselves strong while they preside over national decline and have contempt for us, the population. Just like prisoners who come to trust their captors and fear the outside world, we trust the Conservatives no matter what they do to us and fear change because we don’t think we deserve it.

All of this is connected to the question of leadership. A depressed, nervous and fearful people demands a ‘strong’ leader no matter how dangerous that leader’s policies may be. A people that is confident, healthy and self-assured is less concerned about displays of strength. It prefers a leader who listens and engaged with people, who will strengthen others rather than promote themself.

Can we begin to get our self-respect back? Can we start to see ourselves as people who deserve better? It’s not going to be easy. Britain has a history of being deferential to those in power, be they politicians, kings, banks or newspaper barons. For hundreds of years we’ve been treated as subjects rather than citizens and we’ve come to believe it ourselves.

But we can make a start now, by starting to take ourselves seriously. And starting to believe that Britain doesn’t have to be like this – that we deserve better. Let’s not? just accept what we’re given. It’s about us, not about them. Let’s make demands. Come up with our own policies and ask our local candidates if they will support them. Talk about politics with friends and neighbours. Stop relying on the media – read the manifestos ourselves. Vote against candidates and parties that take us for granted. Vote for visions of a better, fairer and more decent Britain. If we give ourselves some care and self respect we might even save our country in the process.