SPP is entirely apolitical and this blog is allied to no party. Just as well because our allegiance is to the target audience of Quids in! magazine – low income, largely social tenant, households. So from that standpoint alone, I look around and wonder ‘Exactly who represents their interests?’
As I write, I’m holed up in York, working on a book for the long-term unemployed. I thought it’d be fun to stay at the actual birthplace of Guy Fawkes – and the Guy Fawkes Inn is an amazing place, by the way – but now I’m here, (and by taking a few historical liberties like I did in the Let Them Eat Broadband piece), this blog kind of writes itself. For inspiration’s sake, let’s assume Fawkes was a pro-democracy campaigner, not a pro-Catholic regicidalist.
I keep asking myself, if Parliament isn’t representing the needs of the people we’re working for, then what’s the point of it? Low incomes are the one common denominator for us, making them the largest interest group in the country. Large and fragmented, though, into a bunch of different marginalised groups from workless people to workers on minimum wage, from disabled people to immigrants, but (along with right to buy home-owners) one group universally ignored by politicians.
Most pundits acknowledge the Coalition’s economic response has hit the worst off hardest. It stands to reason that a regime of cuts will hurt those with least to fall back on. The arguments are usually more about whether or not the poorest deserve to be protected. Increases to VAT hurt the poorest most. Cuts to services and welfare hurt the poorest most. A more punitive system for out of work benefits hurts the poorest most, even if this tough love may prompt some to respond by finding jobs as the economy recovers. It’s one economic response but it’s become the only one in town.
The Opposition, of all colours, (and the more progressive of the Coalition partners) have failed the poorest most. With virtually no-one standing up to say, ‘This is all simply unjust!’, the agenda has moved on and allowed an acceptance of withdrawing support for low income households to take root. It has become a given that resources must be diverted to the wealth-makers – in the hope there will at least be jobs for the unemployed in due course. Labour seems set to keep many of the cuts and may make more, if not quite as deeply as the conservatives threaten to.
New Labour was discredited for making a pragmatic pact with the Tory ideals of wealth creation but although Ed Miliband was supposed to be a reaction against that, he seems to have taken the party further away from its roots. It has become complicit in hurting the poorest most by not calling for another way. Reduce spending, yes, (through efficiencies?), raise taxes proportionately (clamping down on evasion at least at global and corporate levels), and if it still takes a little more to pump prime something like the Future Jobs Fund to create jobs without waiting for shareholders to have their fill first, so be it.
A key problem is real people cannot be successful politicians. The Camerons and Milibands have been groomed from birth and made sure no dirt on them could hit the fan when glory is within reach. Can you imagine someone with a history of years of unemployment making it in politics without being pilloried as some kind of patron saint of ‘scroungers’? Yet, who better to make sure the so-called undeserving jobless get what they need to get off their knees and into work?
The first I heard of the whistle blowing about the DWP’s burial of a damning report on Universal Credit on budget day was from the SNP. Maybe it has been too easy to dismiss them as a single issue party but, just when it matters, here’s an example of the parties operating slightly under the mainstream political radar (UK-wise, at least) being able to do some damage. Maybe they can start bringing the conversation back to one of social justice and the best interests of the poorest in the country.
It’s no surprise that there is huge political disaffection among the households Quids in! goes out to. It’s a catch-22 that low income households need to represent themselves in their millions on election day when there’s no-one who might actually represent them in Parliament. And the answer is not to abstain either. Sadly, judging by the arrogance of the largest parties, if only 20 people voted, the Government would still happily take power, if 7 people settled on them.
Which all brings me back to Guy Fawkes.
The branding for this hotel is the mask popularised in the film V for Vendetta. In it, a mass uprising against a totalitarian regime takes place, with thousands marching on Parliament in Guy Fawkes masks. (I’m not the only one to play fast and loose with historical fact.) It is a brilliant appropriation of a cultural icon. It has been picked by the Occupy movement who describe themselves as opposing the interests of the privileged few, in the name of the many: ‘We are the 99 Per Cent’. There would be worse imagery to use when marching on Parliament, calling for social justice and someone, anyone, to challenge the assumption that the poorest don’t deserve to be represented.