I have been a political activist my entire life, though not always necessarily in the party sense. I have been deeply interested in every Westminster election since 1974, campaigned hard in many of them and indeed stood for parliament myself twice, markedly unsuccessfully. But I do not think I have ever been so emotionally invested in any election so much as this one. I really care about this.
Why is that? It is not connected with Scottish Independence, because I am entirely confident we shall get that shortly, whatever happens on Thursday. No, it is more that I care deeply about what is happening in England and Wales. I was born there, and am after all half English.
But England is no longer the country I grew up in. It has become nasty and intolerant, turning its back on the world, of which the deeply harmful decision to leave the EU is but a symptom. Racism has become commonplace. It should not be forgotten that Enoch Powell was marginalised politically for his views on immigration, but he would be comfortably within the Tory mainstream today.
Britain has turned its back on the United Nations. Ministers claim openly that consent of the Security Council for military intervention is no longer needed, because Russia can veto – ignoring the scores of vetoes exercised by the UK and US, especially on behalf of Israel. The judgement of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is simply brushed aside as Britain did not like it, when historically we have pressed other countries to follow the rulings in hundreds of cases. It has also become a major aim of government to leave the jurisdiction of the excellent European Court of Justice, which Britain led the way in founding. Britain is effectively repudiating the very concept of international law.
Added to this extreme xenophobia and loss of identification with the whole world of mankind who are not “us”, we have the abandonment of empathy and social solidarity at home. Government spending plans will reduce state spending over the next three years to below 35% of GNP. Which would be the lowest in the EU, except we will no longer be in the EU. Yet as our NHS shivers as it is starved of cash, as schools tout for funds from parents, as the disabled and dying are denied benefits unless they haul themselves into work, the country still spends £220 billion on Trident missiles to stoke a collective militarist ego.
The massive cost of Trident is best illustrated by this figure. At constant 2016 values, the total net UK contribution to the EU budget over 44 years 1973-2017 was £157 billion. Compared to £225 billion to renew Trident. That is a measure of how irrational the UK has become.
Wealth inequality has grown to astounding levels. An entire generation of young people are going to spend their lives paying rent to make the landlord class still more wealthy. The generation which got their education for free – Thatcher’s children – have forced those coming after to pay, pulling up the ladder behind themselves.
Finally, we have massive state surveillance, and an extraordinarily biased state propaganda machine and mainstream media, not just during the election, but all day and every day. This morning, on BBC Radio 4 a dreadful person named Andrew O’Hagan was allowed a ten minute unquestioned diatribe on the need for government to employ “battalions of thousands of people” to scrutinise and censor the entire internet. Amber Rudd was saying something similar shortly afterwards. And as I pointed out, the essentials of the Tory manifesto are extraordinarily similar to the BNP manifesto of 2005.
So continued Tory rule represents a political direction which appals me. This government is far to the right of Thatcher. The battles of the 1980’s represented a fight for survival of industrial communities, but this has a still more desperate feel. It is a fight for the very concept of public sector provision.
In Scotland we have the SNP to defend the values of basic communal decency. Now in England we have Jeremy Corbyn, a man alongside whom I have spoken and who gives the first real chance in a generation to voters in England and Wales to reject neo-liberalism.
This is why this election matters more than any other. The ultra-wealthy elite had succeeded in diverting the popular discontent at the wealth gap and falling standards of living for many, into xenophobia. Immigrants have successfully been scapegoated. The establishment have kept people sufficiently ill-educated, and sufficiently misled by the mainstream media, for this ploy to work.
The great question is whether the anti-establishment mood in the country has been irretrievably captured by populist xenophobia masking the intentions of the neo-liberals, or whether a return to an older tradition of genuine social radicalism under Corbyn can halt this trend. So on both sides of the equation this election is pivotal. Britain will become a nasty, uncaring, closed country to an extent I would never have believed possible. Or it will adopt policies of communal solidarity and public provision which I had almost lost hope people would have a chance to vote for again.
This is not any election. This one matters more than ever. This time, we should all really care.