Dear reader, if you come here to read light-hearted rants or about cool stuff I do outside, maybe turn around now on this one…
On paper I am the lowest hanging fruit of a left leaning undecided* voter who could be swayed towards voting for Labour. I favour left leaning policies. I think we should tax the rich and super-rich a lot more. Hell, tax me more too – I’m cool with it if it’s building a better society. I think we should collectively spend our money as a nation on building up all of our nation, starting with those who need the most help. I live in the North. I’m socially liberal. I voted Remain. My parents come from long lines of Labour voters who thought it was their tribal duty to vote for the local red rosette bearer**. My extended family run the gamut from NHS employees, retail workers, teachers, self-employed businesspeople, civil servants, dentists (private and public), and accountants. In the past I have swayed back and forth between the Green Party, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats (while in England). I absolutely abhor the Tory party and everything they stand for. I’m an (over)educated 30 year old working in insecure employment in academia. I’ve also worked in deeply insecure seasonal employment, retail, temping gigs, and wherever I could find work. I’ve been on Universal Credit. I use the NHS very regularly as an asthma sufferer. I’ve had a recent harsh experience of the costs of private dentistry and am very capable of extrapolating that to the horrifying prospect of a privatised NHS. I’m genuinely amenable to good faith discussion about any policy which will make this country, and world, better for all of us and those who come after us. I care deeply about the climate and think we’re continuing to sleepwalk into absolute disaster.
I am EXACTLY the kind of person who Labour think should be voting for them. This election season I have a serious decision to make between the Greens (vote for them even though they have no chance, make sure they keep their deposit), Liberal Democrats (sensible technocrats who’re not quite as socialist as I’d like and occasionally screw up) or Labour (Socially Liberal, economically left, but a party who alienate me at every turn).
So why do you think I can’t bring myself to do it?
The Lib Dems just announced a new policy as part of their campaign launch – a “skills wallet”. The details can be found here in this BBC article, but the gist of it is that it’s a training budget of £10K for every individual in the country spread out in 3 increments over thirty years. It’s costed to be paid for by restoring Corporation Tax to its pre-2016 levels. This is exactly the kind of technocratic socialist(ish) policy that I love. It has concrete benefits, it’s fully independently costed and I can see a tonne of benefits for a variety of individuals (hell, including myself – I can be selfish too). There are absolutely criticisms to be made of it. It’s limited in scope (only £10K), it’s not yet entirely clear exactly what’s eligible in FE or HE for this funding, it’s not particularly progressive (everyone gets it, no means testing). But for all that, it’s a policy that I can get excited about. Adult and continuing education is super important, we have serious training and skills gaps nationwide in a variety of subjects, and it’s potentially applicable to lots of people. £4000 at 25 lets a post-degree individual in an entry level job really beef up their CV to secure decent promotions or switch careers; it lets someone who “failed to launch” and falls into the NEET category make a new go at getting into a job or career; it lets someone at 40 or 55 (the 2nd and 3rd increments respectively) retrain into something new to replace a job that was outsourced, or automated, or has been slowly grinding them down for 20 years. Implemented right this could be an amazing benefit for a lot of people.
So naturally, I tweeted about it excitedly.
There’s a lot of potential to get excited about this policy (and that training course, phwoar). It hadn’t necessarily secured my vote for the Lib Dems, but it was another smart policy that made me lean towards them. Foolishly though, I had used #skillswallet and the twitter masses began circling.
So out of nowhere, someone I don’t follow and doesn’t follow me comes out of the woodwork to start ranting about how this is a bad thing, brings up that old trope of tuition fees (As an aside, I’ll never understand why the Lib Dems are the only party in this country who’ve ever been criticised for breaking a manifesto promise, literally every party does it. As someone in the Higher Education sector I’m not thrilled about tuition fees, I’d love universal free HE – but I’m not going to hold onto it forever as a grudge), talks about how it’s clearly a rip off of Labour’s (unfunded, FE/Apprenticeship only) “National Education Service“. They’ve now continued by tweeting me screenshots of Labour’s 2017 manifesto as if it somehow proves something.
And I’m just… What do you think this is going to accomplish? It’s not a fight. I’m willing to have a conversation about how best to implement a national policy promoting further education and skills training, hell – I’d love that. But that’s not what I’m getting here, I’m getting weird aggressive dunks about tuition fees as if I was somehow part of the Lib Dems (I’m not actually a member of any party, currently) or responsible for their unfortunate u-turn. This person’s central thesis seems to be that somehow this policy is bad because Labour floated a similar notion first. Well OK I guess. Labour’s policy isn’t a bad one per se, it’s perhaps a bit focused on FE/apprenticeships for my liking (I’m more in favour of something more flexible which can be applied to more individual training courses) and it’s certainly uncosted as far as I can see, but I wouldn’t be sad to see it implemented. It just bothers me that every conversation with someone promoting Labour is like this, it’s a fight. Nuance goes out the window instantly and it’s their way or the highway. But that’s not how reality works, the world has nuance and shades of grey, and people doing their best within the constraints they have. I know some of this comes out of the history and traditions of the Labour movement – yes, they were formed in conflict with the status quo. And I know some of it comes from lived experience, Labour does seem to have a harder time of it in the media. But it’s no way to have a productive conversation about how to make things better, it just turns it into a tribal conflict.
One random person blasting opinion on twitter wouldn’t usually phase me one way or the other. I’ve intentionally anonymised this person on here because I’m not writing this to gang up on them or attack them – I genuinely want to keep this a conversation about ideas rather than a fight. But here’s the punchline.
This person is (according to their twitter bio) the chair of their local (not my region, for the record) Labour Party.
And the above is how they come at people. I might have been quite interested to hear something along the lines of “I see you’re excited by that policy, you might be interested to hear about Labour’s similar existing policy which is better in XYZ respects”. Instead I’m treated to snide sarcasm about tuition fees. Well sorry, this on the fence voter just received another nudge in the opposite direction. I don’t want to single this person out, because it isn’t just them. This is against a backdrop of Labour activists demanding everyone else stand down to let them run opposed, but explicitly refuse to do the same. I’m seeing Labour members and activists blaming the SNP, Greens and Lib Dems for there being a Tory government at all. But here’s the thing. You don’t have a right to those votes, you can’t just demand them as if you’re the only game in town. You still need to earn them, and if you take them for granted and just expect people to vote for any red rosette because I dunno, tutition fees and Margaret Thatcher you’ll eventually lose people. That’s exactly what happened in Scotland. The centre-left to left has several parties which all have good policies and a spectrum of voters who’re waiting to be swayed one way or the other. Exciting innovative policies in Education, Climate and Land Reform are my electoral buttons which are ready and waiting to be pushed, but you have to actually persuade rather than reflexively attacking the people who are not already onboard. The Right don’t seem to have this problem, and if those of us who lean left spend all of our time on the attack against each other and alienating moderates the Right will cruise to victory.
So yeah, I’d like to vote for a left of centre, socialist, liberal party that has the best chance of winning. But maybe you should work for it and stop being an arsehole to everyone who isn’t as ideologically pure as you think they should be.
I’m going to vote for the Greens.
*For the duration of the time I continue to live in England.
**They seem to have gotten over that.