Thursday, 18 May 2017

This election has to be about the people who have been forgotten.

“What else have I got?”

It is a sunny Saturday afternoon and I’m in Stoke town centre canvassing outside a cafe that offers coffee in chipped mugs and chips with everything when the young man approaches me.

He’s in his twenties with the tired look of someone older who has been beaten down by life. His sister sits a little way off on some benches used by street drinkers; they are both holding cans of Polish lager.

The young man describes his day to me; he gets up, walks to the shop to buy a can for a pound then sits on the bench.

“Then I go to bed, get up and do the whole thing again”, he says.

He tells me that he has worked, but none of the jobs have ever lasted or been something he wanted to do. Asked what sort of work he would like to do he says, “What can I do?”

The inference is that in his experience every avenue leads to a dead end, so at some stage he stopped trying.

He tells me that he voted for Ukip in the February by-election, but probably won't vote at all this time.

He has about him the watchful bravado of someone who has grown up on the blind side of society. Like so many of his generation, he feels that for him the door marked opportunity has warped tight shut.

Once these were the people the Labour Party used to speak for, it's hard to imagine them even being on the radar of the three slickly metropolitan careerists holding the city's seats today, though they take their votes for granted.

To the Tories they represent a problem, an undisciplined rump to be harried by benefits sanctions and accused of not trying hard enough.

In person, despite the can he holds whilst talking to me, the young man is far from the threatening stereotype presented in the tabloids. Both he and his sister talk about how they play the guitar, asked if he's ever thought about trying to get gigs around local pubs he says no. Confidence and a sense of agency is one of the many things missing from his life.

This election has to be about how we change the lives of the people who have been forgotten. The old neo-liberal scramble for endless growth isn't working; too many people are being left behind.

We need a new approach to welfare, using a universal basic income to free people from poverty and allow them to fulfill their potential. To share wealth and opportunity fairly across the country, instead of concentrating it in a few favored locations. A shift of power away from the centre to give individuals and communities a real say in deciding their future.

What direction the country takes after June 8th, whether we have a hard Brexit benefiting the few, or a fairer future based on lifting everyone up together will answer the question the young man asked me.

“What if I’m still doing this in ten years’ time?”
Adam Colclough is the Green Party candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central

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