Thursday, 12 June 2014

Short-termism drags us back to the 1900s.

We need our own home. Sadly, we're unable to buy one simply because of our age: we're the mid-30s of the mid 2010s.

We just missed out on being in the slightly older bracket of late 30s-early 40s. If we were a few years older, we'd have been ok: we'd have bought a long-term home just before the crash. But we bought a flat; a reasonably-priced one at that.

The area has improved since we bought it. There's new employment locally, new public transport and so many nice shops and cafe bars that BBC Breakfast can be there about once a week, asking the contented, cultured, middle-class residents the lifestyle question of the day without anyone realising it's the same small area every time. So why can't we sell it?

Whilst we're trying to find a buyer for our flat, houses are getting further and further out of reach, even though we're looking at areas that are considerably more affordable than the affluent, sought-after area we live in now. The economic crash robbed us of the income that had enabled us to get on the property ladder and we've only just now caught up to where we were 7 or 8 years ago. But despite all of the local improvements (and some improvements to the flat itself), our flat has been on the market for four months and nobody is willing to pay the amount we need to raise enough deposit to buy a house. And the longer it takes, the more expensive houses get.

Short-termism is an every-parliament problem. Why would a government invest in the future so that the next reaps the rewards? And can you imagine a government minister, or the media for that matter, letting a member of the shadow cabinet claim credit for an improving economy, or improving Schools, or an easing of the housing crisis? The opposition don't have a voice. And even if they did, the majority of the electorate wouldn't be listening and when they're fine with how things are, they either don't vote, or vote for the status quo. So no party in power would ever make short-term losses, and in doing so risk being seen as a failure, and let their successors claim the credit.

But this government have got short-termism in their blood; it's like an addiction. Scrapping green levies that were intended to pay for greener and cleaner energy in the future to bring bills down now. Cutting income tax and cutting spending on infrastructure that will mean more critical need and higher costs at a later date. Cutting benefits and care for people who need it now and ignoring the longer term costs of doing so.

This government is only too happy to let house prices spiral up and up and up again, boosting the economy in the short term, gambling that in the next parliament, the fall-out won't be their problem. What is happening now is putting people with quite healthy incomes in situations similar to how quite low income families would have been 100 years ago. We're faced with cramming our future into a scruffy two-up two-down with only a yard for any children we might have to play in. And even a property like that would be pushing the limits of our finances.

We should be able to afford a family home. But many people like us are putting off having children because we just can't.

Monday, 9 June 2014

In the mind of one UKIP voter.

I had a bit of a shock after work recently. Conversation over a couple of congratulatory drinks turned to people's attitude towards homosexuality and a young colleague said that "people of my generation don't even think about it." My response was that that is great but added a note of caution, mentioning recent EU elections where right wing parties made large gains across most of the continent. Then I said the fateful words:

"A lot of people are voting for parties like UKIP."

What followed could have turned very nasty. Another colleague (fortunately someone I don't work with often), who henceforth shall be referred to as 'bile-man' erupted into a seething monster, burning red and spitting uncontrollable vitriol. It was incomprehensible, though his point was clear. He voted UKIP at the recent elections and hate cannot describe his feelings towards anyone who disagrees with what he thinks is right.

I didn't want an argument. If he had reacted more calmly I would have happily engaged in a heated debate about Europe, immigration, the economy, welfare etc but this turned nasty in a split second and it was obvious bile-man was not going to discuss the issue in anything like a measured way. I tried to calm things down by saying "I understand why you don't want to vote for the main parties - I voted green." This didn't help - "THE GREENS ARE THE WORST!" How anyone could think the Green party are less likeable than one of the main parties, I have no idea. Even if you hate the idea that we should all be treated equally and don't think that we should be compassionate or look after the planet, you can't deny that they're probably the nicest party. 

I suddenly felt the need to go to the gents. When I returned, a friend who had had a bit more to drink than me had somehow managed to wade into this situation and yet also calm it down a little. I was trying not to get involved. I feel equally as strongly as bile-man about this topic but the shock of his ridiculous reaction had left me on edge and I didn't want to erupt too. I finished my drink and made my excuses. 

It really affected me though and I went over the earlier discussions again and again on the way home and again in quieter moments over the weekend, wondering why it is someone I had otherwise quite liked could be so angry. I recalled an earlier conversation: a colleague had mentioned the 'no more page 3' campaign and bile-man had proudly stated that he reads the sun and likes it very much. He'd also mentioned that he was from the baby-boomer generation, although I can't remember why that came up exactly. 

I woke very early the next morning and immediately began thinking about this all. Why is he so aggressively anti-socialist (I like that term; I think I'll use it again)? I looked at the facts:

Baby boomer
Formerly in the private sector, now a low-paid public sector worker.
Sun reader
UKIP voter

I came to the following conclusion, which may be almost as reactionary as bile-man himself but I'll share it anyway:

As a young baby-boomer (approximately 60), he didn't witness the difficulties of war-time Britain or the immediate aftermath when people helped each other and helped the country to recover. He is young enough to have always had the NHS and the welfare state to support him and anyone he cares about although he has rarely needed it, if ever. Before he was born, all adults had the vote. By the time he started work, the Unions had sorted out fairer working hours and better working conditions. He will have been in his 'prime' during the difficult late Labour-Union years in the 1970s when the right wing press (owned and paid for by the rich, of course) made people believe all Unionists were scum, and/or Trotskyite revolutionaries and that the Tories, Capitalism and Thatcher, were the only positive choices for an empire punching below its weight. 

He's a public sector worker who doesn't earn very much and probably earned a better salary in the 1980s and early 90s when he worked in a private sector industry until that failed and spat him out when times got tough. He likes golf: a man's sport where men often talk about work and business and moan about 'er indoors'. He becomes older and less tolerant to change as he sees his prosperity worsen and thinks back to when life was better for him. He didn't see many people from different countries at work back then. The Sun tells him other working and non-working people are to blame for him being worse off. 

So he's learned from Thatcher's Tories that he has to fight for himself and during that time, he was doing ok. Now the only fight left in him is directed at those he feels are taking something that he feels belongs to him. 

He fails to consider that of our ancestors were immigrants and we have all benefited from the changing culture in this country. He doesn't realise that our country's wealth was built on taking land from other nations and plundering their resources; using the poor to make profits; bringing in cheap foreign labour when the home-grown workers started to become too expensive, or were fighting in wars; and our prosperity is still reliant on using cheap overseas labour to increase profits in the retail sector which our economy is now so reliant on. 

The UK has used other countries to make its wealth and we still need them. At the moment, the UK is producing less than 60% of the food we need. We are not self-sufficient. Bringing in cheap food from overseas means that some countries have to produce more than they consume and when there's a short-fall, it won't be the UK that goes hungry.

But bile-man won't care. He's one of the special original good people of Great Britain, and anybody else can **** off.