The Cost of Ideological Purity
The Cost of Ideological Purity
I have a memory of school from when I was about 9.
The school kitchens were closed for two weeks in May but I can’t remember why.
It meant that mum had to bring all 3 of us home at lunchtimes.
I remember on one particular occasion that I noticed mum wasn’t eating lunch – I don’t recall her eating lunch at any point during those 2 weeks – and asked why.
She said she was fasting. As a child I accepted the explanation and carried on eating and chatting away as one does at that age.
It was only years later that I recalled the memory and realised that her explanation was a lie.
Sikhs don’t fast. It is not part of the religion at all.
So then maybe culturally? Sikhs, having originated from Hindu’s, do still sometimes observe cultural rituals that are the same. Some women may indeed fast for cultural reasons – except this particular type of fasting only lasts a few days and is in October.
So what then?
Mum had lost her job, as the people she worked for closed down their textiles factory, one of many who did so during the 1980s.
The hacking away at entitlement to benefits by the Conservative Government meant that as a family we were expected to live on my fathers low wage. Mum’s previous entitlement to benefits had been cut as she was unfortunate enough to be married, so therefore my dad’s income was taken into account when she applied.
Nevermind that she has paid her NI for 20 years. Nevermind that this left us on the poverty line.
Mum didn’t eat lunch because we didn’t have enough money for food for all us. The school kitchen closing had sent us over the edge for those weeks.
Even when she did get another job, there was a further blow to our family finances. She could no longer claim during summer months (as previously seasonal workers had been able to do).Textiles factories were specialised and therefore the choice she had was between working for a company that did winter wear (no work in the summer) or leisure wear (no work in the winter).
She tried to work during the summer months, even learning how to use different types of machines in her own time, but if she did, the overlap in months meant that she would have lost her permanent role.It was not the choice she wanted to make but one that the circumstances dictated. Neither is it a choice a parent of 3 children is going to take lightly.
So each summer of each year of the 1980s and early 1990s, we hovered on the poverty line, despite my father working all year and mum working for most of the year. (This was before the minimum wage and its easy for people to forget quite how low wages were for manual workers, how few could save anything at all, especially families with children.)
Yet we were fortunate, as there were independent shops selling food run by Indians, who understood the situation and would let us buy food on credit during those months.
It only hit me when I went to get some shopping with a friend at 13. She was surprised that they had stuck the bill on the tab and asked about why we did it. It was then that I realised this situation, which was normalised for me, was not at all normal and I wondered what others did who were not Indian and had no recourse to informal credit in this way.
Those who point at the Blairites and call them Tories might wish to consider that it is thanks to them that the minimum wage was introduced. Finally, as I went to University, my parents were able to get a half decent wage as a guarantee and buying food on credit was a thing of the past.
It meant my parents (including my dad who is still working now) were at least able to earn more in the 40s and 50s than they did in their 20s and 30s. Which was a real boon for them as they were getting older and the manual work was taking its toll.
I’ve studied history, politics and political science from secondary school to my Masters level so I am realistic about it. All governments do things that benefit some people more than others, all mess up, all do things that the electorate did not vote for and all disappoint more than they please.
My parents voted Labour in every single election since they started living in Britain. They didn’t deserve 18 years of Conservative rule under Thatcher and Major.
They deserved a Labour Party that was more committed to governing than ideological purity.
A Labour Party that improved their circumstances in power instead of shouting about it from the opposition benches. Or worse, shouting at each other over points of principle which ring hollow in the face of the Conservatives destruction of the working class communities.
A Labour Party that put real people above ideals and ideology.
I doubt I can convince any Corbyn supporters but know this much Benn may have stuck to his principles but his principles did not put food in our cupboards or on the plate of my mother.
Those principles did not create jobs. They did not increase wages. They did not put money in my mum’s purse to buy food with or allow them to have savings they could draw on, however small, when we needed it most.
Those who are drawn to Corbyn are entitled to their opinions and to vote as they see fit.
What I do wish is that they would stop pretending they are doing so for people like my parents and families like the one I grew up in.
They support him because it makes them feel good, radical, daring and different. Wearing the cloak of ideological purity and idealism shields them from the real world of politics and compromises.
And from where I am standing, I feel like one of the creatures in Animal Farm who:
“… looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Because in the end it will be the poorest who pay the cost. Be it that of the Conservative ideological commitment to austerity or Corbyn’s ideological commitment to socialism which will keep the Labour Party in opposition.