I joined a political party, which is something I thought I’d never do. I’ve always been pretty cynical about politics, and have always doubted if expending any time or effort on it was worth the trouble. Who’s going to listen to me anyway? Politicians don’t seem to listen to anyone, except (sometimes) each other.
But I’ve gone ahead and joined a party. And that’s not the most remarkable thing.
I joined Labour. That’s the thing that’s really got me in shock!
I grew up in a fairly conservative house - big and small ‘C’. I grew up in a time when Communist Russia was The Enemy, and Labour was seen (by some at least) as the left wing dupes who would allow the Communists and the Marxists to sneak into the country and take control. Trade Unions were hotbeds of left-wing militancy, and were out to bring the country down. When Margaret Thatcher came to power, the Iron Lady was the symbol of freedom, democracy and national pride.
I started off ambivalent about Blair. I was impressed by the energy which which his government tackled things when they came to power, but suspicious of their policies. When Iraq was invaded, I started off as a reluctant supporter of the war (though I respected Robin Cooke’s principled stand against it).
However, when it became obvious that the entire thing had been a huge mistake, based on dodgy intelligence, and the well organised war had led to a chaotic peace, then I felt that Blair and Labour had to be punished. His refusal to acknowledge the error infuriated me (still does!) and I wanted Labour to know that they couldn’t make mistakes of this magnitude and simply carry on as if nothing had happened.
Plus which, the Conservative message of Austerity made sense to me. It was clear that we were in trouble, and tightening the national belt, being frugal, taking a step back from excess - that made sense. I voted Tory.
Over the next five years, though, I changed completely – and it was the Tory government that did the most to change me.
The good idea of Austerity turned out to be a very bad idea for some people, and mostly it appeared that the hardest hit were the poorest. Of course, there were a lot of statistics tossed around to prove that we were all collectively doing better, but what really did it for me were the little things. The attack by Edwina Curry on food banks and those who use them, for example. It was not so much what was said, but the attitude it revealed – and the total lack of response from the Government indicated that the attitude was shared.
There were more such incidents. Not enormously significant in themselves, perhaps, but giving me an increasing sense that these were not the sort of people who should be put in charge of other people.
It was all about attitude. May's attitude to the Police, Gove's attitude to the Schools, Osbourne's attitude to – apparently – everybody who he might be able to get money out of.
Come the General Election again, and I was looking forward to all this being challenged. Labour would, I was sure, speak out strongly against the worst excesses of Austerity. They would, for example, point out the human costs involved – for example, the terrible treatment of people on benefits, the way the most vulnerable have been sanctioned and had payments stopped at the slightest excuse.
There was a deafening silence on the issue. On all the issues that I thought mattered, the things that I was concerned about. Of course, a great deal was said – but not about anything important.
The Greens did talk about some of these things, but they don't have the strength to form an opposition. The SNP talked about it, but they're the wrong side of the border for me.
In the end, I voted Labour, and hoped that in some sort of Labour coalition these issues would be addressed. But on the night, it all went pear-shaped, and so now we've got a Tory government who, secure in their majority, are already displaying their basic attitude problem even more strongly. (Refugees fleeing from horrific situations in their home countries are dismissed as 'swarms', and only the most extreme of public and political pressure moves Cameron to do something about it).
And then there's the election for a new Labour leader, and a line up of those who said nothing meaningful at the General Election, but who all assure us that they are the ones who can win the next one. Apart from Corbyn, who's the rank outsider, the wildly impractical left-wing extremist who's victory in this contest would apparently spell disaster for Labour. And five years ago, probably the last person I would ever have voted for.
But disaster has already been spelt for Labour. It was spelt out with a policy of 'Let's do the same as the Tory party, but do it nicer'. It was spelt out with the failure to attack the real weakness of the Government, their lack of basic human empathy.
So, somewhat to my own bemusement, I've joined Labour and have voted for Jeremy Corbyn. It is quite possibly a sign of my political naivete that I think this is a good idea. But it's a sign of my total disillusionment with the alternatives that I can't see that there's a better one.