Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Reflections at Christmastide 2016

It's that time of the year again when you wear a swing dress to hide the few extra pounds put on by snacking on sugarytastic mince pies, buttery shortbread and piecemeal finely wrapped choccie coins and Santa figures. What a year of seismic changes it has been. Last year, everything seemed to have an air of stale certainty about it. I'd voted Conservative at the General Election and was patiently racking up my online research on EU directives and its possible future direction ready to decide which way to swing in the Referendum. Being a working class trans woman was seen as edgy as opposed to now being thrust under some drab, poorly defined "liberal elite" label used by irate non-graduate ultra Brexiteers  (that's thankfully only about 15% of the population who believe in Brexit with no bad consequences in mind to deter them) intent on humiliating anyone who has the audacity to point out the flaws in spouting vacuous platitudes on demand that can't be coloured red, white and blue....besides I'd prefer a Brexit coloured red, gold and green one as per the Boy's ironic but aptly titled 1983 hit, "Karma Chameleon". I'd never have thought that Mr Smug fake Eco-warrior himself David Cameron would be utterly thrashed and trashed by Bobo, Fartage and Co and then have the brass neck to stand aside rather than face up to his responsibilities (after all, it was him who decided to have an EU Referendum pledge in his party's manifesto and to call the Referendum for 2016, the year of questionable decision making). I didn't believe that the Conservative party that had been brave enough to bring in same sex marriage would end up being led by a woman who makes Maggie May sound vaguely inspiring like Winston Churchill, rhetorically speaking. I didn't think the Government would be so willing to veer to the jingoistic, fearmongering extreme right when I voted to keep my MP Karl McCartney in his plum job after forgiving him for his anti-same-sex marriage booboo stance. I didn't think that Mrs May would revert back to Thatcherite type on education issues (going Gaga for grammar school expansion but totes ignoring the need to improve funding for SEN students in mainstream schools) and undermining striking trade unionists (whose pay and conditions haven't improved despite the apparent "Post Brexit boom" we're now meant to be experiencing). The actions of my new nemesis Philip Dumbfounding Davies after being elected to the Women and Equalities Committee were reminiscent of a jumped up miserly type Mr Charles Dickens warned us about when he wrote "Hard Times" and "A Christmas Carol".  And let's just not mention Mr Cheeto Jesus aka Orange Felicia's election in November. I'm still having major psychotherapy to get over that momentously idiotic decision! At least I can say that none of my American buddies ended up voting for him....small consolation but I'll grab it by the coattails.

So who have I turned to in times of such gut-wrenching crisis? A surprise to myself....The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. Most people in Lincolnshire will probably think I'm crazy....that I've become far too idealistic and sentimental in my early middle age. Believe me, I'm no firebrand Corbynista intent on bringing down the Royal Family or going hard against the Trident missile system. I'm a pacifist but I understand the public mood and most voters do feel that the Trident system acts as an effective deterrent that may be needed now more than ever with the dawn of the Trump Administration and a possible new Cold War Arms Race fuelled by sado masochistic desire slash "tiny hand" syndrome than any genuine desire to bolster defences.  I've dealt with Labour's challenge in Lincolnshire in an earlier blogpost: After writing the blogpost I discovered that Corbyn has ideas that could given half the chance. There's the usual Labour spin line policies...more money for the NHS, the guarantee of a £9 National Living Wage, scrapping the much hated bedroom tax, yada yada yada BUT there are some policies that are worth some consideration but rarely get much coverage. The Arts Premium proposed for primary school pupils in England and Wales and the automatic guarantee for EU citizens to remain in the UK and maintain the employment rights and in-work benefits that they currently enjoy are important to liberal independent voters such as myself. There needs to be far more discussion of the benefits of renationalisation of public transport systems, especially with regards to the establishing of a municipal bus system that would allow rural councils to run subsided services during peak travel times for an affordable fare. Labour have already committed to protecting the Triple lock on Pensions and I doubt that they would consider taking away the Heat and Fuel Allowance or free bus passes from working class or rural pensioners. These policies are good news for those who traditionally turn out to vote at a General Election and haven't yet been talked about in much depth by the Conservatives...they seem too hooked up on Brexit to care about domestic policies or chronic underfunding of local services and as for engaging in a sophisticated debate over renationalisation, you can forget it. Tory grandees are more likely to filibuster a debate on the Istanbul Convention and we all know how hideous an action that was. Filibustering has to end as a Commons practice and I hope that Labour MPs will try and introduce such a ban soon enough!

There has also been more of a pivot towards offering support to Millennials. House prices remain stiflingly unaffordable for most working class people with young families; some rogue landlords still provide shockingly shoddy rental properties for young adult workers that wouldn't even be deemed suitable for laboratory rats and funding is being pulled unapologetically from arts community projects and charities across the UK who provide services that benefit predominately teenagers and young adults. That's why I am pleased to see that Corbyn has raised the issue of youth homelessness, with John Healey, Labour's shadow housing minister promising to earmark 4000 additional housing association homes for rough sleepers (reviving the Rough Sleepers Initiative). Corbyn promises to build a million homes within the first five years of a Labour Government by investing £500bn into the UK economy. 500,000 of those homes would be council houses. Right to Buy would be ended (which leaves me with mixed feelings but would at least maintain a decent council housing stock for families most in need). Labour want to bring in a "Tenants' Rights Charter" which aims to offer greater protection for Generation Renters, with secure tenancies, outlawing letting agents administration charges; strengthening renters' rights so they can be better protected from unfair evictions and to bring rented houses up to a decent national standard. I'd say that most voters would agree that these policies, if implemented, would help, rather than hinder them.

I am pleased that Corbyn is considering scrapping tuition fees and ensuring the reinstatement of the Educational Maintenance Grant for sixth form college attendees. I also believe that Diane Abbott was right to point out back in July that Labour must reinstate bursaries for hard working nursing students. These policies are part of Corbyn's overarching desire to create a National Education Service (NES) that will allow a person to learn from the cradle to the grave. I hope this means that community learning classes will be made more accessible to working class people to attend and include everything from Cake Decoration to Functional Skills and IT training. Job Centre Plus advisors would also be able to send claimants on courses that would actually help to make them more employable in the local jobs market whilst fitting with the claimant's aspirations for the future. There's no point sending an IT graduate on a ECDL Advanced course or an English graduate on a Functional Skills English course. Immigrants who need to improve their English skills would also be able to do so with the funding of ESOL courses around the UK, helping improve integration within communities that have experienced high levels of immigration. The NES would be transformative and yet entirely affordable, only adding 2% to UK corporation tax. We shouldn't be cutting corporation tax as May suggests; businesses should shoulder their fair share of responsibility towards funding public services and because there is a greater need for funding, we should be increasing it. That decision alone would provide more funding for the adult skills budget which has fallen 40% since 2010. Such bold policy decision making would pretty much secure my vote at the next General Election.

Corbyn also hasn't totally abandoned New Labour youth policies much to my great pleasure. It's fantastic that Labour are still promising an end to exploitative zero-hours contracts; the disgraceful HR practices in the workhouse style warehouses at JD Sports and Sports Direct show that decisive action needs to be taken to strengthen Health and Safety and employment legislation so that managers know exactly what is lawful behaviour and what could lead to their dismissal/arrest. I also applaud Labour's repeated commitment to backing the Votes at 16 legislation and hope that Conservative MPs such as my own can be persuaded to back it. Citizenship education needs to be strengthened to ensure that young people have the knowledge and skills needed to make an informed decision at the voting booth.

The Liberal Democrats have also been strong on my political radar recently, especially after the stunning victory pulled off in Richmond Park and the increased percentage and number of votes in Sleaford and North Hykeham. I remain a Remainer at heart and believe that we should still maintain strong diplomatic and economic ties with the EU despite our Brexit process. I'm in favour of there being a 2nd referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal sourced by the Tory Government and if that wasn't possible, a General Election should be called prior to acceptance of the deal. I didn't vote for a right-wing led Brexit process in 2015, so I could not countenance voting for the Conservative party as it currently stands. I imagine there are a few independent voters who voted Conservative and Remain considering which party to vote for should a General Election happen next year and I know one of my goals for my blog is to continue exploring Lib Dem policies and see how they differ from Labour, other than on Brexit. A party's Brexit approach is important to my decision making as a voter and as already mentioned, guaranteeing EU Citizens the Right to Stay in the UK is an absolute must for me. The Lib Dems do have some interesting policies: for example, giving British Sign Language (BSL) official status in the UK, which I'm 100% for and ensuring all learn emergency First Aid skills in their classrooms. The call for £4bn of emergency funding for the NHS for 2017/18, including £1.3bn for social care was a bold move by the Lib Dems and asking for the cap to be lifted on public sector pay so that nurses and teachers can get a pay rise sits well with me. Yes for some the Lib Dems will be seen as the party that reversed its policy on tuition fees or the party that only looks after middle class Remainers but I look forward to reading more about their policy ideas in 2017 and decide whether they offer a credible alternative to Labour.

Whichever side of the political fence you happen to be on, one thing is quite clear; Millennials can no longer be apathetic about politics. When we don't take an interest in helping to develop our communities by supporting measures and policies designed to improve quality of life prospects for working class kids, when we don't bother to turn up to polling stations to exercise our hard-fought right to vote in local and national elections and referenda, can we really be surprised at not getting the result we wanted or needed? I hear plenty of friends complain about declining rural bus services, reduction in funding for local mental health charities or closure of local community centres and swimming pools. I hear friends hark on about the dangers of leaving the EU and handing the Tories apparent absolute power over maintenance of our employment legislation and funding local government services. It's too late to make a difference to the outcome of the EU Referendum (it looks like we're going to leave the EU by the end of 2019/20 and probably leave the Single Market acrimoniously to boot) but that doesn't mean it's time to crawl back under our duvets, watching Breaking Bad box sets and thinking that our voices and our votes will not matter:
  • Watch the news, keep up to date with key bills/policy on social media and research them a little to find out what changes they may make to your life as a Millennial voter.
  • Start following your local MP on Twitter and ask them whether they are going to vote on any key bills that you consider essential for them to back.
  • Ask your friends what they think about their local services and what they feel needs improving and whether they trust Theresa May's Government to fund local services any better next year.
  • Consider joining a political party, any political party or decide to stay independent like me and shadow each political party to see what they could offer Millennial voters policy wise.
  • Write blog posts, articles or create podcasts and Vlogs to get your unique voice out there into the wide world. Don't be afraid to critique Government policy/politics in general in a sensible, non-threatening way. I can guarantee you that you'd have at least one follower, even if they happen to based all the way in Russia!
  • Consider becoming a local councillor if you feel you can make a difference to your community. You can help get more funding for arts projects or to keep the street lights on!
  • Best of all, remember that local charities and voluntary organisations will need the help of Millennials now more than ever, whether it be fundraising over the phone, sorting out accounting records or providing advice and support on the frontline, either through administering First Aid or listening to a young homeless trans person tell you their heartbreaking story about surviving domestic violence and abuse at the hands of their fundamentalist Christian father.
I've learned a lot this year. I guess my favourite quote comes from Aphra Behn and is a pertinent reminder for me: "Variety is the soul of pleasure". There's nothing wrong with taking an interest in a number of different causes and projects; I recognise that my status as a trans, dyspraxic, feminist lady who has knowledge of HR and political issues gives me plenty to write about. Being intersectional means addressing each layer of my identity whilst not privileging one over the other or trying to speak for a whole community or group in an article. I have my own unique voice and I am now no longer afraid to use it. So when I talk about the need for everyone to help address rape culture, issues of domestic violence and abuse and to establish appropriate Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) for all UK students, I know that my interest in those issues come from a genuinely deep-seated desire to see instances of rape, domestic violence and abuse fall in the UK with SRE leading the way in this. I'm kinda glad at the end of this wretched year I've found out from Jess Phillips and Sarah Champion that SRE will be made part of the National Curriculum. It doesn't mean that it's time for me to stop talking about it. On the contrary, I'd love to see LGBTQIA issues and relationships covered under SRE, so that students never have to feel ashamed about lacking sex drive or wanting to change their gender identity. So yes, I'll carry on talking about SRE, about politics and putting my voice out there. Not to try and get more followers on Twitter but to hopefully let others in my situation know that they can do the same!

2017 will bring its fair share of challenges. Trump's presidency may yet plunge us into an Arms Race that ends with us all being blown to smithereens before All Hallows Eve and Brexit may lead to further divisions within UK society. However 2017 will also bring hope and change. The Alt-Right ideologies can be defeated...after all its pretty much white supremacy ponced up for a social media age. There are alternatives to populist nationalism but we must be brave enough to speak out and offer an aspirational, inclusive vision for the future. Working with charities and voluntary organisations to help people on the frontline of Conservative austerity cuts is just as important as writing blogs and challenging xenophobic rhetoric. Brexit may be happening but we Millennial leaning Remainers are not so powerless when it comes to trying to shape the future of the UK. We can make sure that voters choose to maintain an open, friendly, inclusive style of governance. So let's roll up our sleeves, keep positive, get involved in our local communities, talk proactively about politics and revel in the diversity of our amazing country. That's what I'll be doing anyways!