It’s only a handful of weeks until the general election and politics in the UK feels as stale as it was a year ago. Politicians grapple back-and-forth about who is the best man to be the PM, because when it comes down to it the real choice is between two white men. Meanwhile Nigel “self-appointed man of the people” Farage stands on a beach near Dover telling us we need to regain control of our borders or, in his mind, press the big red “stop” button on the imaginary escalators he sees going up the white cliffs (it’s even more important we do this because the escalators have tripled in number since last May).
It’s easy to get tired of the same politicians – usually men, usually white, usually pretty rich – blaming immigrants and the poor for the country’s problems. But the debate shouldn’t be dominated by these same voices and the events that unfolded yesterday reminded me of this.
The latest checkpoint on this dry road to May 7th came in the form of a letter signed by 103 business people. They told us all to vote Tory; otherwise the country is headed for economic disaster.
They said that changing course (voting in a Labour Government) would “threaten jobs”. Up from their pedestals, its easy to ignore the fact that a good number of the jobs created under the coalition are low-paid and that number of people using food banks because they can’t afford to survive has exploded in the past five years. Life isn’t exactly plain sailing for most people at the moment.
The real reason these 103 people are unhappy is that Labour have said they’ll raise the top rate of income tax from 45p to 50p, which would take it back to what it was in 2010; and slightly raise corporation tax, although even with this rise UK would still have the lowest rate in the G7. These proposals are pretty paltry but the letter’s signatories are unhappy angry because they aren’t getting their own way. They might have to pay a little more tax; a horrifying thought when you consider that the richest 1% in Britain own as much as the poorest 55% of the population. And they want to make sure this doesn’t happen.
This letter, self-serving as it may be, is also dangerous. This small number of people (they are 0.000158% of the UK’s 63.2m population) have received widespread coverage, meaning they get a huge say in the country’s political conversation simply because they are powerful. A fact that is all the more worrying because you are more likely to be powerful – whether in business, media or politics – if you are a white, wealthy man (although the people who signed this letter weren’t just from this particular group, we do know 90% of them were men).
With an air of elitism, this letter says they get the economy (leading economists beg to differ). They’re the “wealth creators”, the rest of are just mere bystanders – so we best listen up. The intention of this is most likely to scare the public into believing that raising wages, increasing taxes for the very rich and putting restraints on employers using zero hours contracts are all a threat to the economy. They really aren’t. They’re a small step towards a fairer, more equal society.
It’s incredibly concerning and frustrating that so much of UK politics is under the thumb of a privileged few (again: most of whom are white, wealthy and male). So while this election may be boring and stale, that doesn’t mean it’s not important. The rest of us have to make our voices heard, as Labour’s retaliation letter proves. What’s more, the world doesn’t stop after this election; let’s make sure that post-May the ins and outs of politics aren’t decided by a privileged few.
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Maya Goodfellow is a journalist and political commentator. She primarily writes about British politics and has worked as a researcher for a think tank. She also writes about international affairs, with a particular focus on conflict studies. Find her on Twitter: @Mayagoodfellow
‘The Other Political Series’ curated by journalist Kiri Kankhwende is your go to alternative to the colourless mainstream commentary ahead of the General Election in May 2015. #OtherPolitics highlights issues and perspectives that are being overlooked in the election debate and presents different angles on some well-trodden issues.
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