The darkness of austerity gathers all across Britain like the clouds of night while the Tory Party conference in Manchester celebrates its victory in May’s general election behind barbed wire, barricades and a phalanx of police and private security.
As champagne flows and touches the lips of corporate lobbyist party donors and apologists for the slowest economic recovery in Britain for over 300 years, nearly 100,000 children live on the cusp of homelessness and in the cold bosom of despair.
While the party faithful gladhand David Cameron and George Osborne for a job well done on giving tax breaks to our most affluent citizens, 4m people subsist below the poverty line.
The out-of-work, the out-of-luck and the ill or disabled of this country flit from foodbank to foodbank while the 1 per cent enjoy a standard of living unprecedented in the history of this country.
So there will be applause, standing ovations and cheers from the crowd at this conference for their good luck at being born wealthy and they will try to convince those of us who didn’t win the DNA lottery that the Tories are the working people’s party.
But we know that, from zero-hours contracts to pay-day loans, this government has rigged the game against ordinary working people.
We know from their trade union Bill which aims to destroy workers’ rights and the fundamental principles of a democratic society that the Tories’ contempt for those who labour in factories, on trains, in shops and in offices is pathological.
When the Tories gorge on food and drink at their conference while commending IDS for his efforts as DWP minister to demean, diminish and demonise our must vulnerable citizens, we know because they were our neighbours, friends, brothers, sisters, parents or children: all those thousands who were deemed fit for work but died miserable deaths.
When the prime minister addresses the conference and tells them about his compassion, his vision for a better world, we know uncountable numbers of war refugees have cried out for Britain’s humanity to save them from the pitiable life of the stateless person but have been ignored or dehumanised by this government.
We have not seen this type of anguish since the days of my boyhood in the 1930s. Hard times are everywhere, whether in the unaffordable, unattainable opulence of London, where only a banker’s wage can buy you financial security — and in Redcar, where proud steel workers sit idle, their hopes and careers eviscerated.
In the five years since Cameron became Prime Minister, wealth for the international corporations, the hedge funds and the 1 per cent has soared like Icarus to unimaginable heights while the taxes the elite pay on their bounty dwindles to a trickle that is incapable of quenching the thirst of the welfare state.
The country is parched for economic and social justice, but the Tories, instead of opening up the floodgates of compassion and prudence, mock the industriousness of ordinary worker by raising their minimum wage but cutting working benefits that entitled them to a better standard of living, therefore leaving them worse off.
I have trodden these bitter streets once before where hope was shuttered from me and millions of other citizens of Britain by want, hunger and the cruelty of a system that rewarded the few at the expense of the many.
Yet I remember that my generation, through its pain in the ’30s and its suffering in the ’40s said “no more,” and we returned our country to its rightful owners — the people.
It was a long hard battle that was fought on the shop floors, picket lines, in peaceful demonstrations, in university lecture halls, across the media, at local councils meetings and in Parliament, but we prevailed because we had faith in our cause, which was to ensure that all people have a right to proper housing, education, work and support if they are in need of assistance.
Now your generation takes up the standard of mine in Manchester to protest against the grave injustices this Conservative government has wrought to the people of Britain.
You — by your indomitable spirit to fight austerity, to preserve the NHS and protect workers’ rights — will overcome this unjust, cruel and out-of-touch Tory government because you have the same thirst for social justice as my generation did in 1945.
Harry Leslie Smith is author of Harry’s Last Stand and Love Among the Ruins (Icon Books). Join him on Twitter @Harryslaststand.
- This article first appeared in the Morning Star