My whole life I have talked too much and been too open. If there's something I feel I need to say I just can't stop myself from saying it no matter how hard I do, at times, try to keep my trap shut. If I'm thinking something and it's important to me (even just in that moment) I'll say it. As a result I have spent a lot of my time worrying about having said too much, having said something I shouldn't or having said something to the wrong person. On a very regular basis I consider taking this blog offline, leaving Twitter and leaving Facebook. All because I think I have overshared or been too vocal and for one reason or another just want to quietly hide away from the world. If I keep quiet I won't annoy anyone. If I keep quiet I won't embarrass myself. If I keep quiet I won't upset anyone. If I keep quiet I won't get in to trouble. But it never lasts. As soon as there's something else I want to say, it's out there. I just can't help it.
A few days ago I was involved in an online discussion about the NHS and cancer care - and what the policies of the different parties were. A number of people had some really interesting insights to share - especially those who work within health and social care. A number of people were asking questions about the different political parties - where do they stand on this or that, what would the impact of their policies really be. I was speaking up in support of Labour pledges including repealing the Health and Social Care Act and capping the amount of profit private sector companies could make on NHS contracts. I shared a video which explained the impact of the steady privatisation of the NHS. Someone else (a Tory voter) responded with "Yawn." I shut up. I felt embarrassed and stupid. Should I have not said so much? I actually lost sleep over it. (Yes, I know, I need to become a lot more thick-skinned.)
Then last night I turned the TV on at 10pm to start watching the coverage of the election results. The first thing I saw were the shocking exit poll figures. I couldn't believe it. Today, the votes have been counted and the exit poll was pretty much spot on. We now have a Conservative majority government. And I realised... I've spent so much time worrying about talking too much when actually I have not been speaking up nearly enough.
The coalition government has been vindictive and cruel to the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society, and it is quickly dismantling vital public services. What has happened as a result over the last 5 years is disgraceful. I will give two examples...
Worsening, deepening poverty and over 1 million people needing emergency food and support from food banks
Welfare cuts since 2012 have increased poverty, pushing hundreds of thousands of people, including 300,000 children below the poverty line. New Policy Institute estimates that 29% of children are now living in poverty after housing costs. (Further info here). In 2011-12, 128,697 people needed emergency food and support from a food bank. In 2014-15, as a result of the coalition's austerity measures and welfare cuts this number increased to 1,084, 604. (Further info here)
The NHS is being sold off piece by piece to private companies in order to make a very small number of rich and powerful people even more rich and powerful
As a result of the coalition's Health and Social Care Act our NHS is rapidly becoming privatised. For example, private firms have been winning 40% of contracts that Clinical Commissioning Groups have put out to tender, worth a total of £2.3bn. That's £2.3bn of our National Insurance contributions being given to the private sector, instead of being invested into our National Health Service bodies. This is not about improving care or efficiency. It's about a minority of rich and powerful people becoming even more rich and powerful at the expense of the rest of us. 24 Conservative MPs and peers who backed health reforms have links to 15 private healthcare companies that won £1.5bn of NHS contracts in the two years following the Health and Social Care Act. (Further info here) These private companies exist to make profit for their owners. They do this by making cuts - cheaper hospital food, less staff, zero hours contracts for staff etc.
Those are just two examples and they are not even the tip of the iceberg.
And now voters have elected a Conservative government, which is apparently planning a further £12bn cuts to welfare* (Further info here). To give this some context, an estimated £119bn is lost in tax evasion each year and this figure is steadily rising (Further info here) - but instead of strengthening anti-avoidance tax laws, the government is more concerned with reducing support for people who are sick, disabled, homeless, full-time carers and so on. So this election result, which means another 5 years of Conservative government, is devastating news for the majority of people living in this country - although it seems that most of those people don't actually realise that.
(*immediately after posting this blog I saw this article - just hours after the election DWP releases document on cuts to disabled work access scheme - and so it begins.)
I fundamentally disagree with Conservative austerity - it is based on ideology not economics. So far I've been ok myself. I haven't needed to go to a food bank in order to eat. I haven't had to make a choice between eating or switching the heating on in the winter. I haven't had to depend on a loan shark company in order to pay a bill. But that's irrelevant. I know full well what is happening around me. I know people are suffering and being punished by a cruel government simply because they are the ones who do not have power, and do not have a voice. And this is set to continue for 5 more years.
I will not keep quiet. I want to speak up more, and do more.
I never, ever thought I would become a member of a political party. I never liked the idea of pledging any kind of allegiance to any political party. I've always voted on an election by election basis - whose policies do I agree with right now? I will vote for them. But I have come to two conclusions during this election campaign.
1. The left of centre vote is split between so many parties that no one of them could possibly win a general election. There is a lot that the Green Party stands for that I respect. I love the idea of the Women's Equality Party that Sandy Toksvig is setting up. But in reality neither of these parties are going to win the next election. We know that already.
2. I do largely agree with Labour policies and I have spent a fair bit of time recently talking to Labour MPs and Parliamentary Candidates. I've been impressed and moved by their passion for a fair, equal and caring society.
So, I decided to become a member of the Labour Party as of today. I want to speak up, be involved, and do whatever I can to help Labour win the next general election in 2020. And I'm not surprised at all that a number of my friends have made the same decision today as me. Because while we can feel gutted about this election result, we can all also play a part in making it different next time.
If you too want to join Labour you can do so quickly and easily here.