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Time to take a chance

Submitted by on June 7, 2017 – 11:30 pmNo Comment

Vote NHS

Author Selina Todd, who wrote critically acclaimed The People: The Rise and Fall of The Working Class, tells AFL why she’s voting Labour…

I am no diehard Labour voter. I left the country before the 1997 election because I could not bear to see Blair smarm his way into No.10 on the back of the Daily Mail. But on Thursday I will be campaigning for Labour and here is why.

I was brought up a socialist. My dad, who left a secondary modern school at 15, became a leftwing (some would say “hard left”, most of them work for the Today programme) councillor in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1979 and he is still there today.

Against all the bullshit about the Labour left being interested only in in-fighting and abstract theory, my dad is a hardworking ward councillor, and if anything, his life and work in a working-class area that has become increasingly multiracial over the years has only made him more radical – he is now a committed environmentalist as a result of seeing what pollution and a lack of investment in public services has done to the streets and parks in his neighbourhood.

Unlike some, he didn’t send his kids to a school in a more salubrious area, because he and my mum, a committed socialist and feminist, would never have thought that anyone deserved special treatment. Those of us who have to work for a living should stick together.

My dad is one of many, and among those many is Jeremy Corbyn, and many members of his Shadow Cabinet. To anyone who says Jeremy Corbyn is not a strong leader, I’d ask them to remember, if they can, the 1980s. Which politicians were out there defending communities against the National Front when the Tories were whipping up hatred against immigrants?

corbyn

Who was brave enough to stand up and demand that Northern Irish Republicans be given their democratic voice, at a time when Thatcher refused to let them broadcast on the British media? Leftwing Labour politicians, that’s who. It is difficult to remember, sometimes, how violent the NF were, and how much secret service and police involvement there was in monitoring the true opponents to Thatcherism. It took courage to stand up and be counted.

When people tell me I should vote because of the suffragettes, I don’t take much notice – to me, democracy exists when there are two sides to choose between, and no party has been presenting an alternative to neoliberalism recently. But that has now changed. I’ll be voting Labour on Thursday, not in memory of suffragettes, but with the thought of the voters of 1945 in my mind. In 1945 the stakes were high, and no one knew how it will turn out. The media was in favour of the status quo. The only party backing the new idea of a welfare state was Labour.

Clement Attlee was a public-school educated liberal, so he got an easier ride than JC has had. But we have something that the Labour Party back then did not possess. Something that makes what those voters did in 1945 very brave.

They did not know what cradle to grave welfare would bring. The Tories told them it would spell economic disaster at a time when the country was on its knees and a new terror threat (the USSR) was growing. No one could really argue too much with that logic, because Labour’s proposals had never been tried before. No country had an NHS. The voters took a chance, believing that, after a huge war and massive loss of life, looking after each other and future generations – us – was worth a step into the unknown.

Labours NHS

We have a huge advantage. We do know what a welfare state looks like. We know free education meant millions of us getting to college and university and into apprenticeships – and, being blunt, spending years reading and debating rather than working for someone else. We know that the NHS reduced infant mortality rates. We know that council housing gave people a security they relished. And we also know that, on this foundation, people created dreams of true equality – leading to the huge strikes led by workers, tenants and school and university students in the late 1960s and 1970s, demanding more control over their lives: real democracy.

A vote for Labour doesn’t mean equality overnight, but it does mean laying the foundation on which we can start that fight.

On Thursday we aren’t voting to bring back that past because history never repeats itself, and there were lots of things wrong with those postwar years. Grammar schools and secondary moderns for one – the proportion of working-class kids staying on at school only started to rise once parents demanded comprehensives for all.

But we’re voting for a future that we know we can build, because our grandparents did it before. They took a chance on us. Now it’s our turn to make a difference.

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