The Enlightened Pensioner.

I guess I have always been politically aware.

As young as seven, I remember asking mum why Hitler killed Jews. She was not really sure. But she was furious with her German penfriend for not standing up to Hitler…. as if?

At ten, I was asking my Grandpa about the war. He had been gassed in the trenches in WWI. He was quite an angry man, but was always gentle with me.

My uncle, much to my pleasure when I found out 50 years on, was a Conscientious Objector in WWII. He stood on Hyde Park Corner,  speaking against violence. It is only now that I realise how really courageous that was.

At 18, I realised that I could never go out with a racist and did not want to be rich. I worried that being rich would make me less aware. I liked the idea of working weekends for a month just to buy one Biba dress.

I spent a lot of my life campaigning against animal cruelty and for children.  I was unlucky enough to have  suffered financially under Thatcher’s pay freezes. There is a difference between not wanting to be rich and not having enough for a bus fare into town.

It was not until 1990 that I got really politically aware in the full sense. The Falklands War had bothered me. I felt that the sinking of the Belgrano was wrong. But it was Desert Storm that really upset me. I remember standing in Kew Gardens feeling that a black cloud had  descended. I knew this war was very bad for our future. No idea why. I just knew.

Fast forward to 1997. Blair had just got in and I was hoping for new beginnings. I was dismayed at some of the policies which did not seem very fair to me. That very year, I wrote a poem comparing Blair to Macbeth. Blair was murdering peace and had started to dismantle the welfare state. This did not seem like social justice or fairness to me.

I was studying for a BA in English and history. I learned  a huge amount in just one semester. I found myself questioning a lot of what I thought to be true. Why did we join in WWI? Why did we not close down the Concentration Camps in WWII. Why did we not know that socialists, communists, the disabled and mentally ill  and gypsies were also victims. Why did Hitler call his party socialists when they were fascists…… Why, why why?

I did an MA in International Relations and  got great insight. Not clear why Britain is still a member of The Security Council. Not sure why there are no seats for  Asia, Africa or the Middle East. I got my mum to remember her socialist past and her activities as a supporter of The Leage of Nations. She wasn’t sure either.

We chatted about social justice etc. She told me how bad it was before the birth of the NHS: How her auntie died because money was short.

I dropped the English as it suddenly seemed uninspiring and concentrated on political history including politics, economics and ethics and did a huge amount of reading. I ended with a PhD aged 61 –  a very enlightened pensioner. I had in the previous 12 years marched in a Peace walk and learned to listen to both sides of an argument. I studied, Ireland, South Africa, Palestine and Afghanistan and then Iraq. I was at last really politically aware. As a friend had said years back ‘Everything is Politics’. I now realised how right she was.

During this time I voted Lib Dem and never missed an election. I interviewed Jeremy Thorpe and really liked him. He was for social justice and a great supporter of civil rights and was against apartheid.  I could not vote Blair or Major. Although I did not like the leadership or my MP, Lib Dem was just about okay.

Fast forward to 2015.  I had felt disenfranchised due to Clegg’s move to the right but did not feel that Ed was determined enough to force change. So I voted Green. Uni fees, pay freezes, NHS privatisation, loss of bobbies on the beat and now the loss of The Royal Mail worried me a lot.  And why did Labour abstain on the welfare bill?

If you remember I have never been a leftie. I just got more aware of  pay differentials. I had not known how startlingly low pay was for our most important workers: Doctors, nurses, teachers, police and civil servants. I did not know who was collecting taxes with Inland Revenue Offices closed. I did not understand why Corporation tax was being cut when many companies don’t actually pay it. I did not understand why the 10% rate for poorer employees had been cut when it is all computerised now and easy to adjust. I did not know why my winter fuel tax has been cut and why I get no interest on my savings. And I did not know that many families have to feed themselves on around £25 a week! Most of all, I did not understand why the Tories thought it was fair or just or actually wise to cut tax credits and how they thought they could force employers to pay the minimum wage.

So here I am now, a member of a political party for the first time in my life at the grand age of 67.

Why did I join Labour? Because Jeremy was the first leader I had trusted enough to support with funding and time in order to get political change.  Because, I feel that talking forcefully instead of making threats is the best way of getting our point over to MPs and the electorate.

When JC does get in, the changes will not help me much. But, that is not my point. I don’t approve of TTIP so will vote to come out of the EU. I don’t want to pay billions of pounds for Trident when China is now our best buddy. I don’t approve of the Chinese building our nuclear power station… who does? And I am worried about the quality of their steel…. I am simply not convinced.  I don’t support bombing Syria especially in view of Cameron’s  views on refugees. I accept Israel but want a Palestinian state.

However, most of all, I want a fairer Britain. I want to keep our NHS and end private deals. I want my Royal Mail back. I want a fairer taxation system. I want to protect British steel. I want free Uni education for all. I want fair pay for all public employees.  I want to retain tax credits. I want an end to child poverty. And that’s just a few of my wants…..

I can only hope. But in the end it is up to the electorate to get more politically aware and to remember that politicians serve us – we don’t serve them. And if we vote for the wrong party or fail to vote, we are the losers.

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