I went to Durham University to study languages. I wrote an essay on two Spanish pre-Civil War propaganda posters. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, their socio-political temperature had hurtled left to right to left to right: from a left-wing Republic to a right-wing dictatorship, to a second Republic, to a right-wing military coup, outbreak of war and forty years of Fascism under General Franco. It was a situation that later came to be known as ‘Dos Españas’: ‘Two Spains’. Two opposing viewpoints, reactionary polarisation and escalating violence on both sides, all with a total absence of productive dialogue.
In my final year, the UK had a referendum. There were two options: ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’. No prizes for guessing which way I went, having recently returned from a valuable, Erasmus-subsidised year abroad. I put a glib post on Facebook — “Brb, just voting to save my degree!”
I never thought there was the slightest chance we would actually vote to leave. Such is confirmation bias when you study on a European languages course. I woke up on the morning of 24th June 2016 in my then-boyfriend’s room and cried. I didn’t fully understand what either result would mean — I don’t pretend to be able to explain it. I just felt like something bad had happened.
Three days later, a mixed-race friend of mine up north got on a bus and someone said “we voted to get rid of your lot”. It felt like something had snapped. Like we were living through a situation that would later come to be known as ‘Dos Inglaterras’.
If my social media timelines are anything to go by, Labour are due a landslide victory. Such is confirmation bias when you work in the creative arts. People sharing memes of “Our Lord and Saviour JC” and posts from pages entitled “Nobody Likes a Tory”.
Except it turns out –
Some of my favourite people in the world are Conservative supporters, voters, members. They are also kind, generous and empathetic. Hell, one even saved my life when I was very sick. So I think part of my anxieties stem from this disconnect. I know MY friends aren’t like that, even if they vote Tory. But also — how can THESE people vote for THIS government?
Could it be because of two opposing viewpoints, reactionary polarisation, all with a total absence of productive dialogue?
The reality is that I am fortunate (read: rich) enough that I will survive another term of this government, and not so fortunate that I would lose a lot of money under Labour. This is something I have in common with almost all of my Conservative friends. There is a giant portion of our society, real people, who will not survive. I know it sounds dramatic and ridiculous, but it’s true.
I worry that many such friends are casting their vote for the current government in a reaction against Jeremy Corbyn, who they think is a madman who’s out to bankrupt the country. Maybe they’re right. But as it turns out, the old adage “you can’t trust Labour with the economy” isn’t true. I used to believe it, but it’s a blanket statement and lacks nuance. This article from The London Economic explains more than I ever could.
There’s another example that’s very close to my heart. Preston. Honestly, a few years ago it was a dump. A dead high street, rife with homelessness and unemployment, an underground crime network so huge that the Lancashire Evening Post did a whole series on exposing it. The ‘John Lewis’ redevelopment plan collapsed a year or two after that argument at our front door, and our council had to change tack. They got organisations like the local university and the Lancashire Constabulary to employ Preston-based companies rather than outsource to national firms and became the first employer in the north to pay the full living wage. And it worked. The money went to local people, who in turn spent the money locally on the high street and it transformed. £200 million more spent in Lancashire than before the change. It’s not perfect — but it was Britain’s most improved city in 2018, with “above average improvements for health, transport, work-life balance, and youth and adult skills”. It’s bloody lovely. The high street is thriving, the arts scene is on the up, crime is down and we even have a new French Bistro. A French Bistro! In Preston! The economic model has a nickname: Corbynomics.
Preston has also taught me that there is a fundamental problem with how we view paying taxes in this country. Paying tax is a privilege that allows us to live in a nicer country. This isn’t money taken from us to be given to scroungers; we are paying so we can be treated if we fall ill, so we can be rescued if our home sets alight, so we can feel safer walking down our streets without gang violence and people living homeless on every corner. I see it like…insurance. But nationwide. And there are examples of it working. Nordic countries, specifically Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, recently ranked highest on indexes of the world’s happiest countries AND for levels of personal income taxation.