Wednesday 2 May 2007

Faites vos jeux

I’m going to make a shocking confession: I’ve been a member of the Conservative Party for 35 years. In the early 1970s, I went tramping around council estates in Benton shoving Tory leaflets through letterboxes. I felt like an antelope delivering Vegetarian Society propaganda to a pride of lions. Though in reality, Ted Heath was a dangerous leftie by the standards of Tony Blair.

I agreed with most of what Margaret Thatcher did in the 1980s: privatisation, selling council houses and generally rolling back the frontiers of the State. After her, everything seemed to get mired in mismanagement and sleaze, though I don’t remember John Major’s closest advisers actually having their collars felt by the police.

Even to me, it seemed reasonable to let the other lot have a go ten years ago today. But what was it all for? Look at the new Sunday Times Rich List, and you find that the ultra-wealthy have a far bigger slice of the cake than they did in 1997, while the poor are still poor. The mass of us in the middle are supposed to be more than twice as well off, but it’s all about house prices: wealth we can never realise unless we fancy living in a tent.

I can’t help feeling that immigration might have some slight bearing on all this. At the top, most of Britain’s billionaires are foreigners who like living here because we don’t make them pay tax. That’s “good for the economy” because they spend lots of money, inflating our asset values. While at the bottom, people who are willing to work hard for next to nothing are “good for the economy”, too. But aren’t they driving down wages? And isn’t that a strange argument to be hearing from the Labour Party? (Though no stranger, it’s true, than their advocacy of 24-hour drinking and the proliferation of casinos.)

My leader won’t talk about anything that’s deemed to be “racist”, so it’s all “Vote Blue, Go Green”. But Green to me means self-righteous, puritanical and totalitarian. It’s where communists have found refuge since their party got a bit of a bad name from Russia’s 70 years of poverty, corruption, incompetence and mass murder.

The French will turn out in force for their Presidential election on Sunday because they believe they have a real and important choice to make. Here, both major parties ignore their traditional supporters in pursuit of “floating voters” in the same Green, capitalist, pro-European middle ground. How can our democracy survive if the majority continues to respond by not bothering to vote at all?

Keith Hann is a sometime PR consultant:

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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