I started Our Girl on the Outside some years ago; before the ShiverWriggle hiatus, and before I cut half the content from the site and subsequently emerged bleary-eyed to throw out a few more bobs and bits to the readership that had still hung around, waiting.
We were living in simpler times then. That was a pre-referendum time; a time before the slew of annual elections and votes which have haunted the UK since.
Miliband (E) had beaten his brother Miliband (D) to the Labour Leadership two years previously, winning by 1.3% of the final vote; but he was yet to eat a bacon sandwich. On a similar theme, Cameron, too, was untainted by potential porcine affiliations. Pigs have had a lot to answer for in these interesting political times.
Clegg was still Deputy Prime Minister, and was surviving as a fairly reliable equivalent for a calendar: the youthful party leader who had campaigned so optimistically – and effectively – in 2010 sported another line on his haunted face on a weekly basis; his eyes sinking ever-lower. Clegg, to this day, probably remains the only politician of recent years who outshines (if that could be said to be the right term) the political cartoonists’ illustrations of himself. Damn those pesky students, mad at broken promises, right?
The Government, though right-wing, hadn’t yet gone utterly and bollocking crazy and shot itself in its foot with Uncle Rupert’s vintage hunting rifle to prove it was, ahem, strong and stable enough to take the chance everything would all work out alright.
Farage was on the scene, niggling away in his usual rubbery fashion, but he hadn’t yet had to be barricaded in a pub in Scotland and escorted out by the Police (amusingly, to hide from people I would end up working with the following year). And, also north of the border, Salmond was still First Minister of Scotland; keeping the seat warm for the person who would later be termed the most dangerous woman in Britain.
And don’t even get me started on events beyond these shores.
2012: truly, simpler times.
Our Girl on the Outside was intended to be light-hearted:
A headline here, an apology there, a half-forgotten addendum somewhere else: the inspiration might come from anywhere within the documented press and could take any form. Well, any form of poetry that is.
But that was before, well, all this.
A while ago, I decided to tone down my political interaction on Twitter, mostly for reasons relating to personal sanity. Having now rejoined Facebook, the same will broadly go for that platform, too. Short of the occasional outburst when my typing fingers disregard the more cautionary pocket of my brain, I don’t stand to gain much by screaming into the echoing void about the same thing that over 90% of the people I follow are screaming about too; all it does is invite more drama with no clear benefits.
But something in me says it is important to capture something, in some form or other. More and more, it seems like we’re living in a world where political haggling is the norm. Throw out an outlandish policy, then take a step back with a faux apology, and many people won’t realise that the planned concession has nevertheless shifted the state of play that little bit more. We spend so much time being outraged at the outrageous, that we forget (or are simply too exhausted) to stay saddened and angry at all these less seismic developments.
We don’t just need to stay incensed at the eradication of basic human rights and dignities, we need to remind ourselves of where we were yesterday, so we remember how far we have progressed along this path.
So Our Girl on the Outside is about to change shape a little. There will undoubtedly still be poetry at times, but it will now take the form of a scrapbook. A few observations and snippets of thoughts, or the occasional essay. Perhaps this is auto-ethnographic navel-gazing, but it seems important not just to try and record, but to try and reflect on these times in which we find ourselves living. I genuinely want to understand how we’ve arrived at this point because, though I can follow the path back, I still can’t quite believe we’re here.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll manage more than eight posts in five years. No promises.
But What Do You Stand For?
There was a time – well, maybe there was a time; I like to believe there was – when politicians treated their opponents with a degree of respect and dignity. Opinions may have been divided, but the mud was slung under the table, at least.
Now, it is more about personalities than policies; and personalities are certainly important to some extent. Anyone who leads needs to convince others they are fit to do so.
But, for some politicians, it seems slurring others is more important than drafting policies which would benefit the populace.
Here’s a fun game: pick a politician, any politician. Whittle away from what they say all the negative campaigning, and focus on what they say they will do, and how they evidence this. What are their policies? What have they done, what will they do? And at what cost (there is always a cost)?
I still cannot understand how, with the economic demographic we have in the UK, we have a right-wing government who manage to chip away – hell, slice away – at benefits and freedoms without daily national uproar.
Benefits. Maybe it’s a linguistic issue. Perhaps we should rebadge ‘benefits’ as ‘equalisers’ or ‘levellers’. A benefit as we understand it politically in no way infers an advantage on someone, it just gives people a chance. It doesn’t help them hike Everest, it just drags them out the stream. And I’d personally rather my taxes went on lifebelts for those in need than climbing gear for the rich.
I’ll disregard UKIP for now, as they are dead in the water. They are more pointless now than they have ever been, and even their prior supporters know it. But to those who would vote for the current government to remain in power, I would ask this: why are you voting for a Conservative government when you’ve seen what they’ve done so far? The damage they’ve inflicted, and what they’ve taken away?
This is a genuine question because all I hear from the Conservatives are soundbites and bile. Of course, you cannot critique a party in a vacuum. You must assess the others, too. But, in terms of policies, does anyone who does not fall into an upper economic bracket really think they and their loved ones would be better off under the Conservatives? No-one knows what is around the corner. Be careful what you vote for.
I was born in Humberside, now North Lincolnshire. I have members of my family there who were vocal in their support of a party who have repeatedly developed policies that have directly affected their very family’s economic wellbeing. You just have to look at the European voting record for the area to see why we’re in the situation we are in nationally; Humberside-as-was is an interesting microcosm. One of the biggest errors that was made on both sides of the European Union Referendum debate was to make it binary. You cannot say anything political is one thing or the other; it is not. Ironically, it was probably Jeremy Corbyn who attempted to be more honest and nuanced about this than anyone, though it wasn’t exactly packaged in a reassuring way. And reassurance is what people are looking for right now; even if that reassurance is simply a lie to believe in for a while just to get through. Who wouldn’t want to be strong and stable?
Perhaps now we cannot afford to be idealists, and we must be pragmatic. But families around the country will live and die by the policies we support in this General Election. Be careful what you choose to be complicit in.
Look beyond the headlines (don’t even get me started on the media). Forget pigs and foodstuff. Tell me, what do you stand for?