It must be really easy to be right wing and reactionary. Toss a subject at a committed Tory and they’ve got an instant, knee-jerk answer that they didn’t even need to think about. Immigrants? Coming over here to do jobs white people aren’t prepared to do – send them back! Gays? They’re just trying to make their unnatural sodomy as acceptable as my heterosexual sodomy. The poor? Why do they expect handouts – can’t they pull themselves up like I did with my free education, free university and free healthcare? Taxes? Why should I pay a portion of the salary I earn in my job in insurance into a system that I probably will never claim from?
Being left wing and progressive is far harder. With every issue, you have to sit down and actually expend mental calories on deciding what the best course of action is, weighing the greater social good against your own upbringing and class. Burkas? Well, I deplore the circumstances that would force them on to women, but I’m loathe to dictate what someone can and can’t wear. Overthrowing dictators in far off countries? In principle there’s something to be said for not allowing murderous scum to run a country, but in practice overthrowing them always makes life worse for everybody and smacks of colonialism. Religion? I don’t have one and I don’t appreciate having religion – any religion – thrust down my throat, but if I’m entitled to be an atheist, then others are entitled not to be.
See what I mean?
Today I came face-to-face with one of these dilemmas. As I went into the supermarket, a bunch of holy-looking do-gooders stopped me and pressed a shopping list into my hands. It seems that Wirral has now got a ‘foodbank’ and they’d quite like me to donate to it. I took the list and spent around half an hour standing in an aisle having a mental debate as to whether this is a good idea or not.
There are several problems with foodbanks. First and foremost, since the Second World War, society and government have agreed that it’s the state’s responsibility that no one in the UK should ever starve. Successive governments have tried to shake free of this basic, humane commitment but we’ve never let them. Until now. Now, with the country suffering from the wastrel ways of obscenely rich bankers, we’ve decided to cut the poorest loose to go hungry and die. This is wrong. But if I donate to a foodbank, am I not doing ‘Dave’ Cameron’s job for him? Shouldn’t he be finding the money to prevent people dying of hunger in a first-world nation rather than wasting it on selling nationalised banks at a loss?
Then there’s the problem of foodbank schemes being run by churches. There’s an element of “sing for your supper” implicit in the leaflet they handed me. If you claim from a foodbank, the church is likely to be highly involved – you go there to collect the food, you have a talk with a god-botherer spouting Jesus, you get pressured to start coming on Sundays and pretending you believe. You may be financially bankrupt, but churchgoers are often the first to believe that others are morally bankrupt as well. Your food is going to come with a side order of Jesus and a desert of condemnation and pity. This type of crap was one of the reasons Attlee’s 1945-1951 government took poor relief out of the hands of local vicars and brought it into the machinery of the state – nobody should be forced to pray for their supper, let alone be judged for it as well.
Then there’s the taking away of people’s choice. Yes, that’s a very right wing thing to say, but bear with me. When you get your Family Allowance and Income Support and the other meagre crumbs from the LibCon table, it comes as cash. This lets you choose what you do with it: shoes for little Johnny this week, an extra pint of milk for me tomorrow, a bus ride to his mum’s so she can look after the kids for a few hours… all tiny, but all very important. When you’re poor – and I’ve been poor – your world shrinks. The giro is the only thing that expands your horizons, even if only slightly. Instead, we’re now routinely leaving the least able to cope with no money at all; they go to a foodbank and they get… a bag full of food. Chosen by a middle-class shopper, handed to them pre-packed by a middle-class do-gooder, that tiny horizon is slapped shut – you’ll get what you’re given.
Also, I doubted what the middle-class shoppers of the Wirral would choose for their poorer brethren. And I was right: as I left the store, the modest pile of groceries was all “Value” items – inedible “Value” cornflakes, “Value” packet soups so thin can see the bottom of your cup when you’ve made them, “Value” toilet paper that will tear you a new one. The middle classes of Wirral had spoken: you foodbank users, look at our largess – nasty crap we wouldn’t give house room to, awful shite we would never eat ourselves. Gee, how generous of my fellow man.
So, what did I decide? After half an hour standing there, completely unable to decide whether these points outweighed my general humanity, I decided that the socialist thing to do would be to donate to the foodbank and get angry about it later. So I did. And I bought brand names, stuff that I would choose for myself, not stuff I would choose for others, because that idea stinks. Heinz soups; Colgate toothpaste; Lynx shower gel and so forth – stuff that people, that I, would want.
But now I’m angry. I’m very very angry. THIS IS WRONG. Foodbanks shouldn’t exist because they shouldn’t be necessary. We MUST get these awful, nasty, cruel Liberals and Conservatives out of government next time. And we must send a message to Labour: look to Beveridge. Look to Attlee. It’s time to roll back Thatcherism. We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this any more.