The Barrier To Change Is Believing It Is Possible
It is just over a year ago when Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, on a special mission to the UK, said:
“It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.”
There are now more food banks in Britain than McDonalds, that a person dies on our streets every 19 hours and 130,000 people have unnecessarily lost their lives due to government policy. A year after this statement was made, we are finally being offered an alternative in the form of the Labour Party Manifesto – but we must ask ourselves the question, why are some people hesitant to vote for a transformative agenda?
You just have to open your eyes and look around to see that as a society we are moving backwards - just look at the state of our public services, our high streets, our transport, the climate crisis or inequality. But if the need for change is so evident, and inequality and injustice so rife, why is this election not a landslide victory to the party offering change?
It would seem that one of the greatest barriers for people voting for change- real change- is believing it is even possible. How did the country that post-WWII, built the welfare state, built the NHS and built one million homes stop believing we can live in a decent society?
Because we have been sold a series of lies, chiefly that public spending is like a giant household, and it has to manage its finances just the way you and I manage our finances. After the global financial crisis, or as the Tories refer to as “Labour’s great recession,” as a nation we had run out of money and essentially maxed out our credit card. We had run-up a giant debt that urgently needed to stop spiralling out of control. It was time for sensible fiscal policy: we had no choice but to tighten our belts, close the public purse and sell some of our assets to balance the books. We were told this is rational stuff: save more by spending less. And so, austerity was justified.
Naturally, after being repeatedly told the narrative that there is ‘no money,’ many people see Labour’s Manifesto and feel fatalistic that change is not possible because we cannot afford it. Many lack faith that politics, and especially the politicians, can do anything about it. Further, the idea that society could now be different suggests that the brutality of the last decade could have been different. Which for some, leaves a bitter taste, not quite able to swallow.
So how do we empower people to believe in a progressive alternative vision?
In the remaining hours, we must remind each other that there is nothing inevitable about how our society is set up – homelessness, insecurity, poverty, it is no accident. This is the result of a set of deliberate choices by the Government. Our economic system, the distribution of wealth, power and resources was designed with one purpose in mind: to generate as much wealth as possible for a few people at the cost of the working and middle class. Which is why the rich have gotten richer since 2008 despite there being ‘no money’.
We must remind each other that we can afford to properly fund our public services and invest in this country in the same way we bailed out the banks, we have gone to war or built weaponry. We must remind each other the economy is not like the weather, it is in our control. It can be re-designed to put people first and to give everyone a good quality of life. Our economy can work for everyone.
Remember, collectively, we are the economy. We work, we pay taxes, we create, we produce and we consume. Without us, there is no economy. And so, it is up to us to vote for the society we want to be. One where there is a safety net for anyone who hits hard times; education for our children; and good healthcare and public services for all. We can vote for urgent investment to address climate breakdown, an ageing population and automation.
Between now and Thursday, we need to listen to each other. We must take this time to understand our audiences’ perceived reality - and craft our message in such a way that speaks to our shared values and worries. CLASS has developed the Progressive Toolkit- a comprehensive guide to communicating progressive ideas and values - because we recognise that language is key to creating change and showing that change is possible.
The way we communicate – the words, phrases, stories, experiences we share – shapes how people understand and respond. The best way to do this is through story-telling. Telling a story can resonate with people’s worldview can change people’s minds. So getting our story right, from the Left, is vital.
By Raquel Jesse, Projects Assistant, CLASS.