The problem with ‘career’ politicians

Does politics make you angry?

It enrages me.

I’m angry about the bedroom tax and tax cuts for the rich. I’m disgusted by benefit sanctions and the resulting growth of food banks. I’m horrified by flawed ATOS assessments and the subsequent deaths of wrongly reassessed claimants – some through suicide. I’m appalled by cuts to public services. I’m outraged by rising inequality, and incensed by tax avoidance and the ‘one law for us, one law for them’ society we are living in. Most of all, I am enraged by the thought that the Tories now seem to feel that they have a mandate to intensify their assault on the welfare state we all rely on.

This inequality and injustice infuriates me, and I get even angrier every time I hear a Tory politician trying to justify it. It is anger at this injustice that made me join the Labour Party- along with a fierce desire for a less cruel and more humane society. Isn’t that what motivates and drives all of us on the left?

Anger is a powerful motivator, but it is also a useful lens through which to study our political representatives. Ed Miliband’s move back towards ‘old’ Labour values and a focus on social justice was really pleasing and reflects what I believe most of us want the Labour Party to be. However, this shift back towards a more traditional version of the Labour Party was missing one vital ingredient- anger.

Ever since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, I have become increasingly frustrated at the ineffectual responses of many Labour politicians to the pronouncements and policies of the Tories. Time and time again, I heard Tory policies which are ruining people’s lives being discussed in a calm, intellectual, dispassionate manner. I heard phrases such as ‘this is unacceptable’, or, ‘under a Labour government we would seek to find savings elsewhere’. To the people whose lives are drastically affected by cruel and unfair Tory policies, would this have seemed like an adequate response?

Many people are angry about our increasingly unfair and unjust society- about increasing poverty and decreasing opportunity, as well as decreasing support for those who are vulnerable and in-need. They’re angry, why aren’t our politicians?

Our biggest problem in politics today is voter disillusionment and disengagement. People are turning away from politics because politicians are increasingly seen to be all the same: upper middle-class, Oxbridge educated, career politicians, who are only in it for themselves and who just don’t ‘get it’.

The most recent example of this is Harriett Harman’s decision not to oppose Tory proposals to cut tax credits, which will unfortunately be seen as another example of an out-of -touch politician.

This is a much bigger problem for Labour than for the Conservatives. The failure of Labour politicians to show that they ‘get it’ is one of the main reasons that many of our core voters are abandoning politics, or being lured away by UKIP. Had all our ‘natural’ supporters voted Labour, the election result may have significantly different. When Labour politicians like Harriett Harman choose not to oppose policies that will severely affect working-class lives, it will always be seen as proof that Labour have lost their way and abandoned their core principles. Although we can understand Harman’s reasoning; that Labour needs to repair its damaged reputation, this will be seen as putting the Party and its politicians, before those whom the Party is supposed to represent. If the Labour Party wants any chance at winning again, then Labour needs politicians who can win back working-class voters, by showing genuine understanding and concern for their plight.

To address this, we should consider the example of some of our most revered former Labour politicians; Kinnock, Bevan, and Hardie- all known for their oratory skills, for their ability to rouse an audience and ‘rally the troops’. Their impassioned denouncement of inequality and injustice came from their first-hand experience of these things. Their experience of hardship and poverty was the well-spring of their passion. Quite simply, they obviously did ‘get it’, which is why they were successful. Nye Bevan didn’t hide his anger, famously stating: “No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin”. Can you imagine any contemporary politicians saying anything similar? I can’t, and that’s the problem.

The policies of the Conservatives and their attitudes towards the poorest and most vulnerable would seem to deserve that kind of response, and if you ask anyone who is affected by these things, that is the response you get.

If the Labour Party wants to connect with and represent our core voters, instead of losing them to either UKIP or fatalistic apathy, we need to start speaking their language and showing that we really get it. Unfortunately, to really get it, you have to feel it; you have to have experienced it. We have many talented middle class MPs, with great intellectual gifts, but they lack the passion that comes from first-hand experience of poverty, deprivation, inequality and injustice. Therefore we must get more working class MPs, like the Labour titans of old. In the same way that the under-representation of women has been addressed, we need to positively discriminate in favour of working class candidates.

We must find our new people’s champions, who can rouse the troops with their righteous anger, revive people’s faith in politics and lead them back to the voting booths. Only then, will we once again be the party of ‘the people’.

Brian Back

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