I am frightened. Not personally physically threatened, but frightened for the grandchildren. Worried about the Care mum needs every day just to remember to get dressed. Knowing how tough it will be for big grandson to find a job that pays soon. For that ‘economic statement’ the chancellor just produced make the choice in 2015 so much clearer.
The shudder as I heard the scale of the cuts is something I experienced once before, with an announcement before the 2010 election. ‘There is such a thing as society’ Tories said ‘is just not the same thing as the state.’ They are at it again. This is no longer an election about who can balance the books. It is a fight for the very future of public services.
I pondered that as I sat in a (subsidised) Kirklees concert last night. Along with the local music school, museums and libraries Kirklees will be struggling to find funds for them next year. Someone in row behind me thought she had heard something saying they might be cut. It wasn’t, she thought, much money in the scale of things. ‘Such a shame to lose them’. How could I explain to her what ‘the scale of things’ really is? Especially when George Osborne just increased the scale ten fold. There was a Tory council leader somewhere on telly last night talking about how they still have to cut the biggest spenders – like the social care my mum relies on – underpaid Care Workers on dubious contracts dashing around fifteen minute slots. How can Tories even think about cuts in those services?
When the Tories started attacking the State again in 2010, that pet phrase was around the ‘Big Society’. I have seen some commentators since say the Big Society project is dead. It isn’t. Spending cuts are forcing folks to take it on. In the Tory image of the State, the privatised probation service will follow the same pattern as our train services, run by big business. Who will pick up the pieces when one of them decides the contract won’t make much profit? Who will notice when the company is sold on? Meanwhile, in the Tory vision of public service, Parish Councillors clean the local loos, whilst super-swish (mainly male) executive mayors dish out my taxes to commercial companies intent on keeping the profit driven private sector on the right road. Low wages, lousy contracts but falling unemployment. A super city just like London here in the North.
So that’s why I have decided this is going to be a ‘them and us’ election. If the Tories are going to talk about ideology so must we. Standing up for working people isn’t just about challenging low wages and the increasing inequality, important though that is. It is also about being proud of public services – and proud of the democracies that share them out in a fairer way than any commercial company ever could. Principles of fairness and equality can only be achieved by investing in a planned way in local communities alongside standards set by valued national institutions like the NHS. That needs a different shape state, but not one driven by the Tory dogma to shrink it in favour of commercial companies.
So if anyone out there is writing the copy for our next newsletter, or sharing a sentence about the campaign on Twitter, can we please have another headline: ‘Proud of local Public Services and prepared to fund them’. Classical concert and Care services included.