Sunday, 11 November 2012

Backgrounds, localness and classism in Medway politics

A local constituency for Local people!
 Last night, whilst browsing the twittersphere contemplating an early night I chanced upon an exchange between activists about candidates backgrounds and where they grew up.

This basically came down to criticising Tristan Osborne for living in a particularly nice area of Rochester, having well off parents, being privately educated but still playing the "my constituents" card and the poor vs. the rich position when discussing Chatham & Aylesford. (I'll come to that in a minute.)

The return fire was basically stating that at least he'd been open about his background than the Conservatives own.

The big thing is... Does it really matter?

Politics is about issues and how they were handled by the elected representative. It should not matter one iota whether Tracey grew up in Ashford, Folkestone, Berlin or the moon. The simple fact is she's lived in Aylesford for quite some time I believe so she's a constituent and just as able to represent the area as much as anyone else.

The same is true for Tristan.

Neither candidate has been "parachuted" in and it does seem like a bit of "I'm more local than you"

I, personally don't think this should have a bearing on politics or a candidate's suitability, providing they haven't been "parachuted" in and have no links or idea about the area they've been elected to though sometimes that pays off to as they're open minded and not mired by years of local politics.

I didn't grow up in Gillingham, I was born here, I have family here and visited very regularly but lived and was educated in Maidstone and Marden. I went to university in Winchester and lived there for 8 years. I've now lived in Gillingham for five years, I was married here, my kids have been born here and Sophie goes to the local nursery. Does the fact that I didn't grow up here mean I couldn't represent Gillingham & Rainham or Gillingham South ward? Does my rural upbringing impair me some how despite my five years of residency?

It should be about issues. Now, should Tristan and Medway Labour back Boris Island (they clearly don't) or Tracey backed a scheme that would see the return of Prison hulks on the Medway marshes ( again, a fictitious example) then there are grounds for attack and let the electorate decide - That's what it should be about.

The same is true of social class.

I personally have no time for champagne socialism. I don't mind people with more money than me identifying and highlighting the problems that average families like mine face. What I dislike, ney detest is someone telling me how hard "we" have it when they have no worries about money at all - can afford posh wine or Starbucks coffee and I can't afford to look at Starbucks.

Classism is definitely a thing and it is something that Labour are beating the Tories with at the moment - though I think that is rich, excuse the pun, coming from the Labour front benches as none of them are exactly scraping the barrel!

It is true that some of the cuts to social funding and projects have, as I've said before, been done by a drunk headsman rather than with the deft hand of a surgeon which is what is needed. It is true that some of that has come with a lack of understanding from what real families face. It is a fair criticism in these cases. I think George Osborne is out of touch and his background has not helped.

However, to use class as a broad brush stroke is ridiculous. Take a look back through the last century and a bit of social reform and who has kicked it along; Rowntree (yep of the chocolate fame), Asquith (Liberal PM who over saw pensions and social reform), Lloyd George (his chancellor), Beverage ( who identified the four evils of society that needed reform that helped birth the welfare state) - all of them came from rich backgrounds. Even Nick Clegg, who comes from a more than comfortable background as well as his own money, has fought to get the poorer in society a fairer deal with money off income tax, free pre-school places, pupil premium and crusading against the glass ceilings that rivet our society.

The difference is, Nick hasn't stood on Gillingham station telling me how "we" can't afford the fares.

Politics is about the issues, the actions and beliefs of the candidate. Where they grew up or were educated has no bearing on their ability to represent or to do the job until proven otherwise - so let us all drop the under the waterline attacks and concentrate on each other's policies and actions.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose the background to all this is how Tristan and the other Labour people here (and elsewhere) behave in regard to this question of background.

    If they didn't do that (and routinely/frequently!) there'd be no trigger to make others think along those particular lines. I certainly never did in those early years when I started off in this business of local politics, some twelve years or so ago now.

    It has become a clear enough case of 'cause and effect', and it was Labour (especially the likes of Tristan) who made this into an issue, where it didn't need to be.

    Their obsession with creating 'dividing lines' and their equal obsession with the Class War were bound to have this effect.

    I was able to see a Twitter exchange related to this topic only yesterday evening – some held in public (so I can point you to a link if you are that interested) and then in private (but copied to me and now on file in its entirety).

    Again, this was a known local Labour activist trying to elicit information in pursuance of exactly the same agenda, and pressuring someone who is not yet able to fully defend/protect himself.

    In the final analysis, the correct approach is exactly as you have put it here – but facts will not be allowed to stand in the way of a purely party political agenda by the unscrupulous, and that is precisely what we are currently witnessing, and probably always will, unfortunately.