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Ian Wellens - 04 Dec 2019


**Warning: this posts contains traces of politics and a skinny teenager**

I've waited forty years for this

No, honestly: I have. I've waited forty years. And that - as these photos of me aged about nineteen show - is a long, long LONG time. So, what have I been waiting for? A proper haircut? A good meal? Read on.

I first voted in 1979. The fateful election in which Margaret Thatcher got in (not because of anything I did, obvs!). Thatcher, a lifelong disciple of Friedrich Hayek - one of the patron saints of what we now call neoliberalism - proceeded to drag politics off to the right. She and fellow True Believers like Keith Joseph had been arguing for years that the country needed to take a turn away from public services and towards the free market, and now she had her chance. So began a great programme of privatisation, deregulation and outsourcing. The entire public sector was bad, inefficient, wasteful - everything possible needed to be turned over to private business - but there was something more. For national or local government to do anything (at all) was morally wrong: because this required taxation, and taxation represented money that private citizens were no longer free to spend as they chose. The proper job of government was to de-govern.

Ideally, Thatcher and followers believed, the state would be pared down and down and down until it consisted of little more than police, courts, prisons and an army. The job of government was to keep order and allow 'unshackled' private firms to get on with everything else; the state had no business trying to achieve anything or to solve problems. 

There was no such thing as society, Thatcher said, just men and women and their families. Whatever happened in the country would be the net result of their decisions. If people need housing, companies would build them. Good wages, good jobs would automatically appear ... as long as government just got out of the way. And if there was pollution, if the environment was damaged ... well, this would be because consumers had, by their spending decisions, chosen for these things to occur. It would be what they wanted. And so be it.

This became the core ideology of the Conservative Party, and it still is. More so, in fact, with ultra hard-line free marketeers like Raab, Patel and Safid Javid. Javid said, I think, that his favourite book was Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead", and that he reads it once a year. Rand was at the nutty far-out far end of all this, believing that all altruism, charity, generosity and any sense of social purpose were wrong. Not only did people naturally 'look out for Number One'; this was what they should do, and only this.

And what have we seen in these 40 years? Ever-increasing poverty and inequality. Four people begging in a couple of hundred yards of street in prosperous Exeter. The mushrooming of precarious employment on low wages. A housing disaster made up of sky-high prices, a shrivelled council house sector and the growth of a horrible private landlord industry. Social and health problems on every side - knife crime, mental illness, obesity, anxiety, addiction - suggesting a country where people are ever more troubled and unhappy. Shattered public services with private businesses creaming off profit wherever they can. Key areas with enough public support to worry the Tories - schools, health - still just about exist but are being privatised by stealth. The final result of de-regulation, privatisation and out-sourcing was seen in the horror of Grenfell Tower. 

And as we look forward to a climate-threatened future, the Tories literally cannot act to prevent it. Their ideology prevents them from acting. To conclude that the state should shape, limit, encourage, subsidize, curtail, regulate, PLAN - this would go against everything they believe in. So they're not going to do it. They'll do either nothing or the bare minimum.

Tony Blair said that his job wasn't to roll back Thatcherism but to build on it. I didn't vote for Blair in '97 or thereafter. Or for Brown. The party never seemed to be bold enough. Too often Labour seemed like a pallid, slightly watered-town version of the Tories with a bit of social liberalism on top. You knew the membership were frustrated and wanted a more radical approach, but the lid was clamped tightly down by the Party's leaders and managers.

But now ... now I've got what I waited forty years for. A Labour manifesto that seeks to set the country on a new, healthier path. A sea-change. An approach where government could actually set out to address and solve our many problems, rather than just assuming they would solve themselves. Recognising that as the fifth wealthiest country in the world ... It Doesn't Have To Be Like This. Bringing back the idea of things being run out of a sense of pubic service and for the benefit of the public, not the shareholders. Keeping a respectful arms' length from the US and refusing the temptation to go and bomb more brown people on another continent. Building an ethical foreign policy were we aren't cosying up to the Saudi head-loppers or the Israeli ethnic-cleansers. Working for a more peaceful and co-operative world. No longer indulging in fantasies about our exceptionalism, our importance - banging on about being GREAT BRITAIN, DAMMIT - and recognising we're just one small country. And most of all ... most of all ... understanding that the climate and nature crises are everything and we need to change radically. Labour's only got this recently, sure, but they HAVE got it and I think they'll go further, with a building wave of public and world support at their backs. 

In some ways, of course, Labour's programme is NOT that radical. It merely calls for things that one can find in many other countries, whether it's rent controls, social housing, worker representation on the boards of companies, higher public spending or nationalised utilities. It would have lower public spending than the Scandinavian countries, Belgium or France. It only seems radical because we've been been dragged so far off to the right, and we've got used to it. 

In my lifetime there's never been a more important election. We can look forward, start trying to create a happier, better-functioning country and strain every sinew to save the world ... or face a feral future of social extremes with spiralling climate and nature problems. The most important election is also the most brutal, the most shameful and the dirtiest. If there's a bigger group of hardcore, dyed-in-the wool anti-racists than the Labour Party membership I would like to know where, and yet they are every day - every day - smeared as racist ("Hey - that's me!" I think, when I hear this stuff). We should see this for what it is: the desperation to stop real change from happening. The other side will say anything, do anything to prevent that.


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