I understand the rhetoric of the Conservative party. They want people to go out and work, pay taxes and be decent citizens of the United Kingdom. And George Osborne says there will always be a safety net to prevent those unlucky or unfortunate enough falling through the cracks. But apparently this doesn’t apply to anyone under 25. Why? I’m presuming because anyone under the age of 25 shouldn’t be unfortunate enough to need benefits. Or perhaps it’s because the under 25s are an easy group to target. They vote in far fewer numbers than other age groups, they hold far less power and influence, and others are far less likely to protest in their support. If you’re under 25 the Conservatives expect you to be either working or in education. And if you’re not, then you are left to your own devices. But you won’t get any help from the State. This seems unreasonably callous for an age group that are often struggling to find their way in life.
My experience of claiming benefits was as follows. I had just graduated from University and was trying to find a job. I probably could have returned home to live with my parents but I thought that it would be far easier to find a job in the affluent city of Norwich than my impoverished rural home in Cornwall. The benefits provided a short term safety net for me for four months until I got a temping job at Norwich Union. That the was the one and only time I claimed housing benefit and I really needed it then. Admittedly I was lucky enough to have parents that would be willing to put me up for a bit but not everyone is this fortunate. What of the 21 year old who has been in full time education his whole life but who is unable to find work as soon as he graduates? If he doesn’t have a family that will support him, and won’t get any help from the State, that education may come to nothing if he ends up homeless and on the familiar downward spiral that it often becomes.
Sometimes I find myself warming to the Conservative party. Sometimes, I feel that they have left the callous days of New Right Thatcherism behind them. And then they come up with a heartless policy like this and any thoughts I might have of voting for them evaporates. It is an easy target but that doesn’t make it a good one.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to keep up with the party conferences. I’m not a member of any political party although have been a member of the Liberal Democrats in the past. To be honest, I left after Nick Clegg became leader. I have met Nick in person and he seemed like a genuinely good guy. But he certainly hasn’t convinced me on the national stage. He seems slightly too egotistical and there is far too much rhetoric coming out of his mouth. In contrast, Vince Cable appears knowledgable, eloquent, honest and has a genuine desire to provide solutions rather than simply scoring political points.
I feel sorry for the Labour party as they seem to be fighting an inevitable battle against historical precedent. Britain seems to get fed up with Governments relatively quickly and despite the Conservatives eighteen years in power in the 80s and 90s, they were certainly going to be ousted sooner or later by a disillusioned electorate. It goes without saying that Governments of whatever colour are never going to solve all the problems they are faced with so their reign will always come to an end. I don’t dislike Gordon Brown. Again, I think he’s in politics for the right reasons and I find his seeming discomfort in the media spotlight quite an endearing quality. Although I’ve never voted Labour, I thought about all the good changes that have happened since they came to office (minimum wage, civil partnerships, investment in schools and hospitals) and I believe they genuinely want to create a more equal and fair society (okay, so in some respects they’ve failed miserably but I think this is more to do with the financial clout of big businesses and their lobbyists). I remember what life was like under eighteen years of Conservative government and I feel sick at the thought of returning to it.
Which brings me on to the Conservative party conference. There are characters in the Conservative party that I really like; David Davis and Ken Clarke for instance. But David Cameron really worries me. I’m currently writing a book on critical thinking and yesterday was writing a section on assessing the credibility of a source. One of the criteria was background experience and knowledge. I’m thinking in relation to Cameron’s experience and knowledge of what it is like to be the average citizen of this country, to have had to take out student loans, work for a low wage, and provide for a family on it. When his world view is so fundamentally different to that of the ‘average’ person, how can he possibly make decisions that will benefit them rather than big businesses and their rich directors. What really incensed me this week was that the Conservatives are aiming to cut the wages of public sector workers in response to the immense damage caused by the greed of investment bankers which was bailed out by the taxpayer and these public sector workers. This, more than anything else, seems totally unfair and unjustifiable. It might be possible to argue that Governments only really have control over their own employees, but for the Conservatives to capitulate to multi-national corporations and banks and punish the public sector instead is very troubling indeed.
There’s part of me that thinks no-one could possibly vote for the Conservatives next year and I wonder who is making up all these polls saying they’ve got a double points lead. But then I remember that at least two of my housemates say they’d vote Conservative and a good friend of mine has recently joined the Party so perhaps it’s me that’s out of sync with the general mood.