Let’s start with a controversial statement. There is no such thing as not being interested in politics. Not being interested in politics does not stop you paying taxes or having those taxes spent on covering up police brutality. Looking away just makes you ignorant and vulnerable to manipulation from anyone who wants to take advantage of you. In America we have seen the most divisive president ever unleash tear gas – a war crime level chemical weapon – on peaceful protesters. This is a fact. You should have an opinion on this. Backed by those more loyal to their career and news organisations that care only about their ratings rather than their impact in the world, the blind loyalists decided not even to hear the evidence against Trump in his impeachment indictment. American citizens have been unforgivably and comprehensibly failed. In their wilful inability to hold the highest office in the land to account, they are complicit in the atrocities that happened in lieu of the reform protesters sought.
Across the pond in the UK, we have seen previously vociferous “champions of democracy” when attacking the European Union circumventing common sense and reason in pursuing unnecessary physical meetings for parliament instead of excellent socially distant options. There are rumours that this is for the political theatre of braying MPs to support Johnson’s decades-long bumbling charade being crushed by calm and clear questions he is incapable of answering, after getting annihilated by Yvette Cooper on the liaison committee. Others suggest that Johnson’s latest flagrant disrespect for democracy is based on the fact that bullying MPs into betraying their consciences and constituents is harder to implement when they are in their constituencies, far away from the Westminster bubble and threats of career ending consequences. It appears it could be due to a desire to push for a no deal Brexit that Johnson is unambiguously on the record as opposing. Whatever the cause, every citizen of this country should be aware and very concerned of the impact of this undermining of democracy regardless of which party or political figure they support.
Human beings naturally tend towards tribal groups. We are a species with an innate need for connection and our connections form a large part of our identity. Friends, family, and football teams are just some of the ways we experience this connection. Once the connections are formed and firm, we do not want to hinder the work of the group we are connected to. But with our politicians we cannot allow inherent cognitive biases to ruin the important task of governance. It is the duty of every voting citizen to hold their public officials to the highest account in matters of integrity and strategy. Those who say, “All politicians are rubbish!” Are not only factually incorrect (and making a completely unverifiable claim,) but are in fact normalising corrosive ineptitude in those we must trust to lead our country. To be blindly loyal to any political figure or party is incredibly naive. Citizens and politicians alike can be expected to do better.
The Brexit debate has left our country utterly divided. But the role of the Prime Minister is to bring the nation together in compromise. To listen to both sides, and create a plan that leaves as few people bereft as can possibly be achieved. I voted to remain, but following the referendum knew we had to respect democracy and follow through. Political trust is hard to earn, harder still to maintain and very easily lost. As we lose political trust there is real human cost – radical groups such as fascists, terrorist groups and antivaxxers are bolstered by the spectre of a cold, uncaring and morbidly narcissistic government that decent people have no ability to control. But this too is a lie. Anyone who has thrown themselves into local politics knows that the system is flawed but malleable. Getting involved does further your cause, as those that pulled a statue down can attest to. Delivering on the referendum promises to retain access to the common market, while ensuring those who love Europe can have visas fast tracked and discounted, could have brought us all together and proved that the opinion of the people mattered. To pursue a no deal Brexit after continuously denying it would ever happen is the ultimate betrayal.
Beyond that, the government has shown themselves to be utterly callous in both their pandemic response and press briefings. Filmed advocating for letting the virus “move through the population”, before being strong armed into lockdown by France threatening to implement a travel ban, Johnson declared that his government was following the science. Except, as we have heard this week, the science declared that lockdown was advised to be implemented two weeks before action was taken, a failure that cost an estimated 25,000 lives. In pursuing the relaxation of lockdown, the science is again ignored, scientists removed from daily briefings and sacked for refusing to back Dominic Cummings after he flagrantly broke the rules he helped author. But like the unelected bureaucrats that were a key component of the Brexit arguments, when the public outcry reached a staunch 66% supporting his dismissal, Johnson again let the country down. He responded by sending all his cabinet members out to treat us like unruly schoolchildren questioning a wise teacher and told everyone to “Move on.” It became clear that the public’s opinion did not matter, and the disingenuous Brexit narrative of citizens “Doing the country down.” was repeated. With a depressing efficiency of political strategy for Johnson, he pretty much used the “Move on” dismissal against Black Lives Matter too, while staying conspicuously silent on criticising the horrific police brutality happening in America. We are too weak to even secure a halfway competent trade deal even without criticising the narcissist in chief: those representing us in negotiations are poised to accept a deal that lets them veto any other trade deal we do.
The Labour party, who I am a longstanding member of, is not guiltless in the arena of blind loyalty. Factionalism and intersectional marginalisation are the biggest internal issues we face. There is an ongoing investigation by the European Equality and Human Rights Commission, the evidence to which the party submitted is not up to the standards we should demand. It declares that no party official has any Antisemitic views, or any issue with the discussion of Antisemitic views, and that the recent changes in party procedure ensure no marginalisation of any group can ever happen again. This is hopelessly naive, especially as they centre their counter argument on factionalism and accuse officials (several pending lawsuits) of playing political football instead with Antisemitic complaints rather than addressing them. They then go on to spend 800+ pages doing the exact same thing by focusing on factionalism and ignoring Antisemitism. Anyone who would do such an action would have to have a horrific disregard for Antisemitic concerns, and would be committing heinously Antisemitic acts. Any party member pursuing these factional goals at the expense of marginalised members needs to be expelled. But those in charge of the report could not make this link as they had no idea what they were looking for. The evolving discourse of the last few weeks shows us that intersectional implicit biases and systemic injustice are crucial barriers to an inclusive society. We can and must do better. The spreading of lies claiming that all moderates are plotting to scupper Jeremy was exactly the sort of nonsense that made moderates lose interest in aiding the cause.
It baffles me that those who spoke out most fervently and angrily about “Blairite scum” needing to “get behind our leader” now call for active disruption of Party efforts. It is hypocrisy of the highest order, and leads to some incredibly influential voices for equality actively aiding the hopeless Conservative party that hold office today by spending their energy on relentless in-party criticism, often without any evidence. On the day of the #allstatuesmatter protests I saw a tweet blaming James O’Brien for the far-right protests turning violent, due to his lack of support of Jeremy Corbyn. These ridiculous arguments do not hold up and act as apologists for the prominent politicians and influencers who fanned the flames of nationalism, and I told him as much. They are putting their identity, tied fast to Corbyn’s flag, above the ideals that led them to his politics. I beseech you to call this out wherever you see it with the same energy that you counter horrific racism apologists. We must not forget what is at stake solely as a result of losing the previous election. The leadership of any group must be accountable for the performance when it mattered most, whether that was years of failing Antisemitism complainants or in the consecutive electoral defeats.
Our education system has spent eight years gasping for air under austerity politics – unable to convince teachers to complete the job our country desperately needs them to do with eight years of missed recruitment targets. Burnt out by higher demands than almost any other country’s education system, our best teachers leave and are replaced by those the government bribes into education with tens of thousands of pounds worth of bursaries. I know this because I’ve received that money this year. I have no obligation to ever return to a classroom. Several people I know have directed anger at me for suggesting I do not want to teach full time. They direct their anger at me instead of the awful government policies, promoted by a government they still blindly support.
But education is not the only area struggling to breathe after the financial austerity chokehold. The health system is also hamstrung by recruitment issues amplified by Brexit policy and a six month wait for mental health appointments that those waiting can ill afford to have delayed. I know this because I have had to endure that wait with horrific personal consequences. Our country’s systems of justice have also been mishandled; our court proceedings are an expensive adversarial relic that needs to be updated with an investigative system of fair representation instead of the destructive legal aid changes we have seen. Justice is failed again on the beat where there are fewer police, and many are tarnished with systemic failings in accountability in dealing with marginalised groups. Even the economy, that we have been repeatedly informed was safe in Conservative hands, seems to be heading into the most extreme recession after failing to ever really recover from the global downturn in 2008 (that the conservatives maliciously and dishonestly blamed Gordon Brown for at the same time he was receiving global awards for his handling of.) There has never been a more important time to rally behind those who can hold the government to account and encourage conservative MPs to serve their consciences and constituents.
Everyone has an opinion on these issues. Everyone has a stake in the political process. We know that failing to educate increases crime and forces people to seek benefits. After World War 2 we had lost so many lives and faced a brutal recession. But we followed Keynesian economics and built our way out. Our public services, like education, are investments. They pay off for every single child who gets the best education they can have. Parents who have had to home school during this pandemic have a newfound appreciation for quite how hard but important these societal roles are. But that was not all we did to survive World War 2. We declared “Never again” and created the organisation that would become the European Union. It sought to irreversibly force France and Germany’s economies together so that they could not ever war again. We must say never again to having our public services be so weak and underfunded during a period of economic growth, that directly twisted the knife in the wounds caused by the pandemic. We must look at how we can enshrine a firm declaration of political integrity, opportunity, and equality into our political system forever.
As a party we must acknowledge that whatever caused the many, many failings found in the reporting system from 2014-2018, the job of most vital importance is to take solid action against intersectional marginalisation and introduce a strong code of ethics that governs interactions at every level of the party. We cannot denounce inequality, thuggery and bullying without working towards better handling of these issues ourselves. In demonstrating our commitment to these ideals now we show clearly what the public can expect from us in office – a party that listens, serves all and ensures a better future for every citizen in the country we all love enough, to want to improve.
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