Sunday, 3 May 2015

Never let politics get in the way of a good giggle!

The evening was going fairly well until the subject of food banks came up. Considering the blue sky Spring evening outside, there were a surprising number of potential voters in the hall of Stanmore Community College.

I was born in Stanmore and my family have a huge connection to the place. My sister has her shop there, my brother took his A levels in this very college, while I misspent my entire youth in the place.

Politics has always been a subject central to our family, so excited and intrigued by this most unusual of UK elections, it’s natural that my mum and I attend the local hustings while I’m staying with her in London.

Raised by a brace of dedicated Conservatives, my brother introduced me to socialism at the tender age of 13 and despite endless heated debates (I gather non-Jewish people call them ‘rows’) little has changed in my family’s political outlook.

Contrary to the endlessly patronising assurances I endured from adults throughout my teenage years, my views have not changed as I’ve grown up. My sense of social justice is as strong today as four decades ago.

It all comes down to housing, health and education.

Until everyone has a safe home, access to healthcare at all levels and an education that not only prepares us for life but instils within us the desire to continue learning, I will continue to agree with Mahatma Gandhi. When asked what he thought of Western civilisation he replied:

“I think it would be a good idea.”

So far these hustings of England’s Harrow East constituency have felt quite convivial and good-tempered. Upon on the stage sit five candidates with a variety of skin colour that implies a civilised society. Proceedings might be running slightly smoother if there were microphones available, but although it’s impossible to hear questions asked by anyone sitting in front of you, the politicians’ answers are so predictable, we manage to deduce the questions.

This constituency is a key marginal, with the distinction of being the only Conservative-held seat in the country with a majority of ethnic minorities. The polls suggest that Labour might take it, and their young candidate, Uma Kumaran, is doing an excellent job tonight. 

Gradually the candidates descend into their familiar trenches, each party representative trying to outdo the other. The incumbent Tory MP Bob Blackman claims that unemployment in Harrow is “ a thing of the past.”

If so, I’m impressed, yet somehow I doubt it.

He promises the Conservatives will build 88,000 houses. 
Uma then claims Labour will build 200,000 houses. 
Emma Wallace, the slightly ineffectual Green Party Candidate, who sometimes seems unsure exactly what her party’s policy is, refers once again to her notes and perkily pipes up to announce the Greens will build 500,000 homes.

With the greatest respect Emma, I’m as likely to form the next UK government as you are, so if voted into power I promise to build everyone a home, and send the bill to that fella in Nigeria who keeps trying to send me money by email.

The most energetic and likeable of the bunch is Ross Barlow, of the Liberal Democrats. Looking barely old enough to vote, he's amiable and at ease, attracting a laugh from the crowd by hoping that if he’s elected, it’s because people have voted for the party they like the most, not just the one they hate the least.

The Chairman rambles on far too long inbetween each candidate, and for some reason he seems to think it’s okay for him to disagree with certain candidates, even though he is meant to appear neutral.
Rumbles of discontent start to rise from the floor about the Chairman’s rambling. 

A whiff of the Vicar of Dibley threatens to disturb proceedings. The atmosphere starts to change, just slightly and still comically, as people turn to tell others to stop talking because they can’t hear what’s being said. Then the others explain back that all they were saying was that they can’t hear what’s being said either, and why is the Chairman rambling on?

Then someone has a go at my 86 year-old mum and I have a go back at him. Again, for the umpteenth time in my life, I remember how we English exist so close to aggression; how it affects me; why I love life in the West of Ireland so much.

At which point, quite unexpectedly, things turn very nasty.

A woman asks the panel why, in sixth richest nation in the world, the number of food bank users has risen from 61,000 in 2011 to over 913,000 in 2014?

Bob Blackman invents a response that immediately reminds me why I loathe the Conservative Party. Wilfully ignoring the question, he complains how awful it is that some people abuse the food banks, taking stuff they don’t need.

Given an evident failure of modern society, he manages to dredge Daily Mail blame culture from human tragedy. As Aneurin Bevan so aptly described them in 1948, the Tories truly are “Lower that vermin.”

This despicable attitude is the reason why I’d still vote Labour, despite the fact that these days they are little more than Tory-lite.

The woman who asked the question is outraged, as am I and we both shout our disgust. Suddenly the previously relaxed man sitting next to my mother growls fiercely and disrespectfully at the woman for expressing her feelings. These are hustings, for goodness sake! We’re all meant to be heard. That’s why we’re here.

Back at my mum’s later, we rerun the events of the night over a cup of tea.

“I was impressed by Nana Asante.” she says. “She made a lot of sense.”

Then I point out to my life-long Tory mother that Asante is the candidate for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and we have a good laugh together.

Love and laughter are the stuff of life. Politics should never get in the way of a good giggle.

© Charlie Adley

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