The Politics of the Self vs. the Politics of the Community

I am neither well read1 nor politically active.  My knowledge of history is woeful, my awareness of world events is limited, and frankly, I’m often quite dim.  So you’ll have to excuse my terminology, my words, and my shoddy sentence structure.

I’m tired of listening to what I have decided to call The Politics of the Self.  The current attack on ‘benefit scroungers’, unleashed by a Conservative government to support their austerity measures, is both insulting and depressing in equal measure.  The regular press releases telling us how awesome it’s going to be now that benefits have been capped make me sick.  The idea that people will be encouraged back to work, on the presumption that people are unemployed on a grand scale because it’s financially beneficial, is so flawed it’s laughable.

I’ve known quite a few people who were unemployed, and it’s not financially beneficial.  I know people who can’t work, for whatever reason, and people who want to work, but can’t find any.   Those folk won’t be ‘encouraged into work’ by a cap on the benefits they can claim.  It’s not just benefit scroungers though, it’s the constant attack on publicly provided services that benefit the community and yes, cost the government money.  Health care, social care, housing, transport, all these things cost money; and yet they all benefit the community, support the people who can’t, for whatever reason, support themselves.

The constant war on people taking the piss is pointless.  If you give something to the needy, there will always be people who take it when they don’t need it; there will always be a small percentage of people who abuse the system.  You can’t build the system based on that, you have to build the system based on supporting the people who need support, and then if possible, if you can, you stop the cheats, but you don’t make stopping the cheats the main aim of your policy, otherwise you lose sight of the whole point.

Helping people.

Helping people, who need it, is the duty of those who can.  That’s what I believe.  Because we, humanity, are social.  We live in societies, and we gather, and we look after each other.  The conservatives seem to believe that should be driven by the self, that we should support ourselves and those directly near to us.  But that’s short sighted and too small.  We already, naturally, support those near to us and around us.  We need structures and processes in place to help everyone, no matter how close they are too us, or how well we know them.  The world is too big now to rely on the person next to you being the only person who can help out.

I don’t believe communism works, and I think socialism has an associated stigma, but I do honestly believe that even within a capitalist financial structure you can still deliver socialism and socialist needs.  I pay my taxes, and some days I grumble about it, but I want that money to go to people who need it.  I want my tax to be used to pay for disability benefits, unemployment benefits, social care, the national health service, free medicine, transport, and all the other good stuff that goes along with caring about people you’ve never met, in the hope that one day, they’ll care about you.

Yes, it’s expensive, yes, it means that people have to give up quite a bit of the money they’ve worked hard to earn, but it’s worth it, because it improves the quality of life for everyone, overall.

I’m tired of the politics of self, I want the politics of community.  But I’m worried, I’m worried that none of the political parties in the UK (and by that, I mean only the 3 that count, and one of those is pretty much worthless) really believe in the politics of community.  Labour betrayed me in the last parliament.  They brought in policies which restricted liberty in the UK far beyond anything that was necessary.  They introduced policy that I believe moved us closer to a ‘big brother’ state.  I can’t support that, I won’t support that.

I was glad when Labour lost the last election, glad when many of their restrictive liberty affecting policies were repealed by the coalition.  I didn’t vote them out because of the handling of the financial crisis, I’m not sure anyone would have handled it any better, and it had been brewing for years, but I voted them out because they had forgotten what the politics of community meant.

It meant you could feel safe, but that you were free.  It didn’t mean you should live in fear of your own government in case they wrongfully believed you were involved in some nefarious terrorist activity, and being held in prison without trial for months.

So I worry.  The conservatives clearly believe in the politics of the self.  No publicly funded social care, a private health service that means you get what you pay for, no protection for those who are vulnerable, and no trust that those who claim benefits need them.  A growing cancerous fear that everyone on benefits is a scrounger and that it’s inconceivable that people can be too ill to work.  But I’ll vote them out next time, and I’m sure they’ll be going.  Labour will form a government, and I just hope they’ll remember what it means to believe in community and social care.

I know it’s not an easy balance, I know that if you raise tax then money leaves the country.  I know that if you spend too much you end up in debt that you can never pay back.  I appreciate it’s a delicate balancing act, and one that many countries have gotten wrong in the past few years.  But surely, you have to approach the whole thing with the right mindset first, and if that mindset is that Community matters, Social Care matters, Trusting People to do the right thing matters, then your policies will result in people getting the help and care they need.

Stop worrying about the people who cheat the system.  Catch them, prosecute them, but don’t build your policies around them.  They’re a minority, and they shouldn’t be allowed to cloud how we feel about people who need our help.

  1. unless fantasy and sci-fi count as being well read []