Monday, 16 June 2014

With thanks to Laura Jones for making me think

I was bowled a curve ball earlier by old an friend of 25 years (I actually knew her parents when she was still at school). Laura is now is the armed forces serving with NATO. I haven't seen her for perhaps 8 years but have remained in touch through Facebook. Then tonight, out of the blue, she posted this question on my feed:

"Andrew you are the only person I know involved in politics so if I may I have always been quite intrigued to what you or your colleagues and fellow campaigners might say to me. I am 34, never voted in my life, grew up with a Conservative family, well educated, now in the armed forces, but I have never had the urge to vote as I think I have a similar (naive /negative) view, as the young population, of it all. I believe 'all the main parties are the same', they never listen to the public by sorting out health, education and immigration, we are penalised by cost (taxes) which only punishes the people who don't abuse it in the first place (items such as alcohol) and I am one person of many that are tempted to vote for UKIP as they seem to be saying all the things we want Con / Lab to do and I think I represent the UK massively. Can you convert me?"

Two hours ago I started wrriting my reply. I wanted to be honest and give her the full answer her thoughtful question deserved. But as I started to type, the words poured out. I soon realised that I was not only answering Laura's question; I was answering many of my own, too. Why am I a Conservative? Does it still matter? Does voting make a difference?

The words poured onto the page and at times I found myself "welling-up" as I relived all the injustice that Socialism imposed on my generation, growing up in council housing estates in 1970s Britian. Whole generations denied the chance to soar and fulfill their dreams due to the dead hand of cradle to the grave municpal and national socialist policies.

It's a bit lengthy and at times indulgent, but by God when I got to the end I had no doubts that I am as secure in my politics as I ever was. Once I finished I decided to just tidy up the spelling and grammar, not rewrite it. It was raw and I think a bit better for being so.  Don;t feel you have to read it - but if you do I hope it explains who I am. 

Andrew Kennedy Hi Laura Jones, talk about bowling me a curve ball, but I will do my best to answer you honestly and fully.

No party is all bad or all good. I once said that I was a Conservative because they were the least bad option. I still think that now. No party can get it right for everyone, all the time. If they did they would never lose an election. Society is at different levels and always will be; health, poverty, aspiration, ability. No party can look solely after one group or the other; there has to be balance.

Historically I believe that the pendulum has been roughly right - prolonged periods of Conservative government followed by short periods of redistributive Labour governments, which rebalanced society and thee tax base. I know it's a cliché, but I passionately believe that "you cannot make the weak strong but making the strong weak". You can only do that for so long before the wealth creators stop creating wealth, or move their money, jobs and taxes overseas. That is truer today with a global economy than ever.

It is a blunt truth that the overwhelming majority of people work hard to make themselves, their families and loved ones, perhaps even their friends, happier, more comfortably off and more secure. But in working hard they pay more taxes. By increasing their wealth they spend more money – and pay more VAT. This is the money the government needs to improve public services and spread equality of opportunity.

However, society depends on the creators of jobs and wealth, without them there would be no taxes, no social welfare, no safety net. And whilst we always have a responsibility for those who cannot look after themselves, we must reward enterprise and hard work.
In general terms I think the country has, more or less, made the right decisions, even though I have never voted anything other than Conservative. No-one could argue (with any integrity) that John Major should have won again in 1997 or that Gordon Brown deserved to be re-elected in 2010. Similarly, I genuinely believe a Conservative government deserves to be elected in 2015. I have not supported everything David Cameron or the coalition has done, but on balance he has done the best possible job given the parliamentary arithmetic and the state of his economic inheritance. And do you really think our country would be better government by Ed Miliband.

Apart from the economic arguments, I have never been happier to be a Conservative than when I review how we have moved on social issues. The Conservative Party has always been tolerant, but we did a magnificent job of pretending otherwise. The legislation on Same Sex Marriage (which, in fairness, was supported by Labour and the Lib Dems too) was a courageous, decent and good thing. David Cameron showed guts and true leadership, and for that alone I admire him greatly.
Unlike you, Laura, I was born in real poverty. My parents divorced when I was a young child and my mother moved back to Liverpool from Scotland, to be close to her mother and support networks. Apart from some limited financial support from my father’s family, they had nothing. My grandfather was a dock worker and my grandmother worked in a cotton mill. I was raised in a two bedroom  council flat in Wirral and educated at the local comprehensive. I was lucky. I had a mother who believed in hard work and self-reliance and a school which still retained its previous grammar school ethos, under a Head Master who believed in discipline, hard work and respect. The estate I grew up on was Labour to its core – unthinking, dependency-culture Labour. I saw from the earliest age what Socialism did to individuals. It created (indeed required) a client culture to survive. It removed hope by keeping people dependent for their jobs, benefits and houses. Comprehensive education rewarded mediocrity – no one failed but no-one excelled; the triumph of the lowest common denominator. You may think this odd, but for a young boy who had hopes and dreams, I hated Socialism and all it stood for. And I still do. Some theorists say it’s ‘fair’ – the only fairness is the equal sharing of misery. It is telling that hardly anyone in the upper echelons of the Labour Party grew up in poverty; had they done so they would never want to impose it on others. Many people were born into the Conservative Party; I didn’t. I chose it because I believed it offered me hope.

So what about UKIP.

As I have grown older I have become far more socially tolerant and liberal in my outlook, whilst remaining as free market and right wing on economic issues as I ever was. I don't see immigrants as a threat, I don’t look at every Muslim person and think they are a security risk. I believe that Britain has been enriched and enlivened by generation after generation of immigrants who come here for a better life and new hope. And who can blame them? Our High Streets are lined with Indian, Chinese, Italian, Mexican and Thai restaurants - all here because the UK has been home, opened businesses, provided jobs and paid taxes. Too often we dump our old and sick relatives in care homes staffed by care workers from the Philippines or West Indies. We cheer soldiers from the Brigade of Ghurkhas for their patriotism and we salute Indian and Polish soldiers and air crew who fought side by side with Britain in two World Wars. Are thee the immigrants Mr Farrage wants to send home" for as far as I am concerned they are home, and have as much right to be here as I do.

We live in a modern, open, tolerant and forward looking country. We are a more decent, egalitarian and open society than ever. Walk through any park, sit in any cafĂ© in any town or city and you will see that – we cannot turn back the clock even if we wanted to. Our High Streets are packed with black, Asian, oriental people who are friends, lovers and partners; this new generation don’t see race or creed – they see each other as individuals and equals. And I celebrate that too.
UKIP is not about the future, it’s about the past. It’s angry, intolerant and negative. Its doctrine is to spread fear and intolerance. I don’t believe their supporters are all mad or racist, far from it. But their leadership is happy to stir up racial tension and intolerance, exploiting fears for their own political ends. They do not represent the Britain I want to see or live in.

So why should you vote? You could argue that one vote doesn’t make a difference – and probably one vote won’t. But voting is not just about a cross on a ballot paper, it’s about engaging, reading, learning and deciding. It’s about being part of civil society. When you vote you will also discuss it with others and seek to influence their vote too. When you see thousands of brave Zimbabweans lining up for ten hours to vote, do you not feel a sense of wonder and pride in their dignity? Do you not feel the same sense of rage as I feel when they are cheated by corrupt governments fixing the outcome? This alone is enough reason to drive me to vote – regardless of all the issues I have listed above, in which I believe and wish to see succeed. Basically, you vote because it’s an expression of who you are, what you believe in and what type of country you wish to help create.

So there you are. I hope I have answered your questions as best I can. I have tried to explain not only why I vote Conservative, but why I cannot support Labour or UKIP.

Thank you for asking the question; writing this reply has really made me think about my politics and I have enjoyed this opportunity to write it down.

Andrew x

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