Politics: what do you know?

When I was 4 there were some things that I knew.

I knew 1+1 = 2. I knew living in an intergenerational family set up behind the sweet shop that we ran was awesome. I knew Father Christmas existed. I knew the Tories were evil. I knew that you all knew this too.

I wasn’t actually sure what ” the Tories” was. I knew what it looked like: Margaret Thatcher. I knew that the Tories wanted to quash the spirit of all humankind, and probably Father Christmas, and it would be likely to steal my sweets given half a chance. I had a vague notion that people who hung around the periphery of the Royal Family, and people who had barths rather than baths were also somehow involved in this dastardly plot.

In 1992, one thing we all knew was that Labour would win the General Election. Humankind had finally found the strength, the courage to rise up, and so would begin the end of all of our woes.

But then Labour did not win. And in that eerily quiet day in our school, as my class mates and I tried to come to terms with a disappointment more desolate and desperate than I can possibly explain here, my perception of the world changed forever.

A group of us trundled along to our A Level Theatre Studies class and I recall vividly that the lesson was run more like a group bereavement session. We sat around a table and I asked the teacher, with innocent honesty “But how did they win? Nobody voted for them.”

He replied, in a voice that had hints of ‘barth’ rather than ‘bath’, “That’s why I moved here Abby: because nobody here believes the Tories are right”.

I knew the Tories were evil. But you knew they weren’t. WTF.

It was then that I questioned absolutely everything I thought I knew. It was an event that shaped my life and no doubt contributed to the fact that one year later I’d applied to study philosophy at Reading.

When I moved down South to pursue my studies, I met lots of people at university who also knew lots of things. What all of them all seemed to know was that, as a northerner, I was definitely going to be super friendly. I could say quite outrageous things and people wouldn’t shun me. Instead they’d comment favourably upon what a down-to-earth, call a spade-a-spade funny lass I was. I never even had to say who I voted for – it was written all over my vowels.

After I graduated I worked all over the UK and then settled down to have my family. Along the way I have been at times pretty poor and at times very well off. My accent has faded but my friendship group has grown bigger and stronger.

Some of my closest friends now vote Conservative. I suspect some of them vote UKIP, but given my 6-month Farage barage on Facebook, we’ve silently agreed to not mention this. None of them try to quash my spirit, or steal my sweets. In fact most of them are very generous in every way possible.

Now I am 38, I still know that 1+1 = 2. I remain in constant bemusement that inter generational living is seen as a tragedy. I suspect it’s a good thing that my kids don’t live anywhere near a sweet shop. I know Father Christmas doesn’t exist, but I kind of wish he did.

I know this time last week we were guaranteed to be welcoming in a hung parliament. I know the Conservatives now govern us under a majority.

I know the anger and the fury that the outcome of the election has raised in some quarters. But, despite the fact that I did not vote Conservative, I don’t feel this anger or fury. Neither do I feel the desolation or despair of 1992.

Instead I feel that last week something hugely important happened within politics. Not so much the outcome, but the thought process that led to that outcome.

I know that for many of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s, our political affiiations were almost programmed into our DNA, and now this is just not the case. Now, more than ever, we want to think for ourselves.

I cannot predict how I might vote at the next election, let alone how my children might vote in future. Does this matter? Is this important? Do I have a role to play in helping my kids think through what they think about politics?

I think it does matter. I think it is important. I think I have a key role and that

we need to start talking to our children now, not about what to think about politics but how to think about politics.

You might disagree.

But then, when you think about it, what do you know?

Kids’ cogitations: brotherly love

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The 3 boys have been arguing lately. Lots.

Yelling, shouting, screaming, hitting, not sharing. The usual type of behaviour for three little ones with only 39 months between eldest and youngest. Normal as it may be, it’s still wearing.

It culminated yesterday. A turf war over hand-mi-down Peppa Pig toys led to the confiscation of 2 and a half toy camper vans, Mrs Rabbit, and 3 small George pigs. Oh, and a bitten nipple. Not mine, I hasten to add.

It’s been getting so bad it’s started to impact my sleep. What am I doing wrong?

I thought to myself,

“There is a lot going on at the moment. Builders in, planning a couple of big events, some volunteer work at school. Perhaps I haven’t been giving them enough attention. Perhaps I’ve been snapping at them. Perhaps I’m setting a bad example.

I’ve always had quite a short fuse. Perhaps, no matter how I act, that temper of mine is already genetically programmed into their innocent looking heads.

And they are boys, they’ll be bigger than me when grown. And stronger. And full of testosterone.

What if the arguing gets worse? What if they start to hate each other? And it’s all my fault? And I can’t do anything about it? Because I’m doing something wrong but I don’t know what?

But maybe they do know what I’m doing wrong, but they just can’t articulate it. But the seed of resentment towards me has already been planted. And when they are grown, pitched against each other, angry, they might start to feel animosity towards me.

And then they’ll find comfort and love in a partner. And confide in that partner. And then that partner will see me for the rubbish mother I am. And all chances to redeem myself with the grandkids will be screwed.

Christmases are going to be hell on earth.

Where even can me and the husband, and three boys and their partners and their three kids each sit together to enjoy Christmas together.

God, Christmas is so stressful.

I HHAAAAAATTTTEEEEEE CHRRRIISSSSTTMMAAASSSS.”

After the above thought processes concluded, about 4 seconds after it started, I took a deep breath.

I remembered to have a little more faith in myself and the kids.

I asked the 6 year old if he knew why him and the two others had been arguing so much.

He laughed. Rolled his eyes.

“Because we’re brothers Mummy.”

Pause.

I love my brothers Mummy“.

Me too, little man.

Me too.

A story that illustrates how you are told you live in a free country, but you don’t really, and you realise you are pretty glad about this.

This morning when I awoke, I was still feeling a little tired, and the kids were acting a little wired. To take the edge off, I sprinkled a little hash on top of their Weetabix and I snorted a line of cocaine.

Once breakfast was complete, with the kids chilled out and me pumped up and ready to go, we got to work. The 6 year old got to work cleaning the gun cupboard while I paid the pimp and said goodbye to the whores who had entertained myself and the husband so pleasurably last night.

Jobs complete, we dressed and headed out to the shops. Cars sped down our narrow streets at 90 mph so I kept the kids as far away from the road as I could. Although it was hard to keep them in a straight line, what with them being stoned and my being off my face.

We passed a group of naked teenagers, chatting about whether or not they were going to choose to turn up to their exams. Big decisions for 14 year olds but it was up to them, ultimately.

When we got to the shops there was not much in – some big blokes had got there before me and taken as much as they could carry, without spending a penny. I found a tin of beans and chided myself for not getting their sooner.

We took our cold beans and sat by the water, watching the boats come in. We waved to the immigrants who came and went as they chose across the free boarders of our free country, to jobs which may pay well or may not – it was all down to luck really.

The houses by the water overspilled with people crammed in, 10 to a room with poor sanitation. The landlord round here chose profit over compassion, as was his right. I told a couple about the nicer landlord 20 miles from here. They contemplated my advice. Sure their elderly relatives lived around here and depended upon them for care, but why should that stop them?

A woman wandered up to me and punched me in the face. She was just having a bad day I guess and we all know what that feels like.

A bigger, stronger woman was fortunately walking past at the same time. She sent my assailant on her way. A lucky day for Abby Boid! What if she hadn’t been there? Survival of the fittest, I guess. Really, it would be my own fault for not getting down the gym more often.

A local election was coming up. I’d heard of a radical new party who wanted to put a few rules in place, rules that would perhaps limit us a little in what we were allowed to do, but that might make all us a little less fearful and feel a little more empowered in this society.

I pondered how with some agreed restrictions on the actions on the stronger, we could all of us, paradoxically, be a little less constrained.

But on balance, I’m not sure I’d vote for a party like that

As the papers say, it is a free country after all. And what is more important than that?

Voting: back to basics

The kids have been asking questions about the elections. With so much hot air and hype out there, it’s hard to find a way to explain how I decide who to vote for.

It’s made harder still because I still haven’t quite decided who I am going to vote for. The clock is ticking!

I’ve read the manifestos, listened to the TV debates, and watched Newsround with the 6 year old. So many words, opinions, and commenters. It’s clouded my thinking. So today, I am going back to basic principles.

As far as I can see, the cornerstones of modern democracy in the West are Freedom, Equality, and Community. Think the French Revolution motto “Liberte, egalite, fraterinte”.

We are lucky, in many ways, that all political parties are mindful of these values that the vast majority of us hold dear. Some of them lean more towards Freedom, some Equality, and some Community to achieve the overall aim of making the UK as good as it can be.

When the Conservatives think of freedom, they think of freedom to make and spend money as you wish.  They believe equality will come naturally if you give people this financial freedom – the wealth will cascade down, benefitting all of us.

Historically, Conservatives have had quite a strict interpretation of what makes a good community, especially with regard to family structure. You are free to spend your money as you want, but we’d rather you were married and straight while you spent it. Over the years, the Conservatives have made efforts to move away from this image and now we are left to interpret what they mean when instead they refer to “British Values”.

Labour’s primary driver is equality. They may restrict freedoms on making and spending money in order to facilitate redistributing wealth. By their own admission, one of New Labour’s failings when they were last in government was moving away from this core principle and granting the Banking Industry too much freedom, via the wrong type of regulation.

Historically, Labour have been so keen for us to all be treated as equals, that many believe their policies around issues such as immigration and integration has undermined the sense of community, of what it means to be British. Look at cases such as Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, for the problems that many perceive that this has contributed to.

The Greens, UKIP, and SNP are strongly focussed upon community. All have very strong views on how individuals should live their lives in order to make the world (Greens) or their small part of the world (UKIP and SNP) a better place. Personal freedoms will need to be restricted to achieve their vision. Perhaps you think this is worth it, to achieve the aims of a greener, more English, or more Scottish part of the world.

When it comes to attitudes towards economic freedom, I see Greens and SNP more left than labour (regulation and higher taxes is no bad thing if it serves the purpose of redistributing wealth), and UKIP as more right than the Conservatives (If i work hard to earn my money, I should be able to spend it as I see fit. If I don’t have any money, I’m not working hard enough).

Lib Dems are somewhere in the middle of all of this.

All of these approaches have strengths. All have weaknesses.

For me, the trick is going to be remembering those basic principles that I hold most dear, and those that I cannot abide when it comes to achieving a free, fair society with a healthy sense of community.

Writing this has helped clarify who I will vote for.

At 3.10pm, I’ll be casting my vote on the way back from the school run. The kids will be with me, and then I’ll be explaining to the kids how I voted, using words along the lines of what I have written here.

What else should I be telling them?

Kids’ Cogitations: To infinity, and beyond, and then just round that corner

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The 5 year old: Mummy, is infinity for real life?

Me: Well, it’s a real concept. But it is a very hard thing for humans to understand [or at least for this human here!]

The 5 year old: Why Mummy?

Me: Well, er, it’s really difficult when you are a human being to really understand something and to explain something that never ever ends.

The 5 year old: I think the universe has an end Mummy.

Me: Ooh. That’s interesting. How does it end? Is there a wall?

The 5 year old: Hmmm. Maybe there’s another universe and then another universe and another universe until it ends.

Me: I wonder what’s behind the last universe?

The 5 year old: Hmmm.

Me: Hmmm.

The 3 AND A HALF year old: I know where the universe ends Mummy.

Me and the 5 year old: Where?

The 3 AND A HALF year old: just up round that road.

PAUSE

Yep.

PAUSE

It’s a short cut Mummy.

An Open Letter in Response To An Open Letter From Big Business About The General Election

Dear Sirs (and Madams, one assumes)

We are the electorate in the UK. We believe this Conservative-led Government, and any other Government who may come into power, should stop this sickening love-in with Big Business. 

It was most interesting to be informed via a letter from 103 people in the Daily Telegraph, that David Cameron and George Osborne’s flagship policy of progressively lowering Corporation Tax to 20% has been important in showing the UK is open for business. It has, no doubt, been a key part of the coalition’s economic plan. However doesn’t this define ‘economic plan’ in the narrowest of terms? 

If our economy is growing and more jobs are being created, that sounds pretty good to us. A sincere thank you to the entrepreneurs and keen business minds who keep many of us in employment. But please, when writing letters that are going to be used by the politicians and the Press to influence our votes, be mindful of questions such as these:

  • As the economy grows, is the wealth divide reducing?
  • As more jobs are created, are more people being encouraged to leave their desks on time, to get paid for the overtime they tend to give for free, to flourish at work not succumb to stress related illnesses?
  • Do all the new jobs created pay a living wage?
  • Does the average income allow the average family to afford a home based upon average house prices?
  • Is this progress coming on the back of child labour oversees or on UK based staff forever fearful of losing their job unfairly?
  • Are we using this greater wealth to make this Country great for all, via a wonderful health, education, local community and transport infrastructure? Or do all roads (and train lines) really just lead to an elite few in central London?
  • Are you using the power that you have responsibly? Is it right to use your position in society to attempt to influence the outcome of an election?

Because really, there can be employment for all and growth going through the roof, but if politicians perceive the support of big business leaders as more important than the support of the rest of us, democracy is going to break. We will all be a little poorer for that.

We believe a change in course in how politicians deal with big business, such as putting the majority of the electorate first, rather than running around like headless chickens licking the backside of the 103 people who are encouraged to believe that their opinions matter more than most, that this would be a step in the right direction.

 This would send a positive message about Britain and the election campaign that we are all monitoring eagerly.

Yours

Just an undecided voter, and a (Cogito Ergo) Mum