Voting and Belonging: Why Voting for Labour Matters… to Me

big ben

“What’s it like being an American involved in British politics? It’s like being a tax payer with a right to vote.”

At a party in east London recently an American, here on a temporary student visa, put a question to me after I told him I had been out canvassing for Labour. “What’s that like, being American and getting involved in British politics?” You never get used to these questions as an immigrant. They seem innocent enough but they call into question the very sense of belonging you’ve worked so hard at creating over the years. I was born and raised in America, but I am also an Irish national, and just moved to London from Belfast two months ago. Identity is a sensitive subject for immigrants, and this question possessed none of the nuance or curiosity required to have a meaningful conversation about the topic of political participation and outsiderness. It assumes that my Americanness, a very deep and meaningful part of my identity, somehow matters more to my political activity than the parts of me that are Irish, social democrat, a British resident, or Christian. At least that’s how I took it.

I responded a bit more aggressively than I had intended. I blurted out, “I live in London so it’s like being a tax payer with a right to vote.” And then it started to pour out of me. “I’m outraged, as someone with aspirations to own a home one day, by the crippling housing crisis; I cannot believe that in such a prosperous country a million people have been forced to use food banks; I’ve seen my wife’s mental health affected by the stress of a zero-hours contract while working as a mental health practitioner; and I’m inspired by Ed Miliband’s vision of a fairer more equal society and economy that works better for everyone”. We stopped talking at that point, but I guess on reflection, that my Americanness, a nourishing and delightful part of my composition, is far less important than my identity as a British tax payer, an aspirational home owner, and being someone who wants to have children soon but worries about the cost of child care. The only belief I can really say is explicitly informed by being American is that the NHS needs to be protected from privatisation. Surrendering health care to the forces of the market would be disastrous. Just look at America.

The politics of the Green Party don’t resonate with me, but their leader, Australian immigrant Natalie Bennet, couldn’t have said it better when she described her reasons for getting active in British politics. “I came as a visitor, I loved the British way of life, I loved the traditions, the culture, and I decided to stay and make this my home. I went into politics because I want to improve that.” It’s a tremendous privilege to have the right to vote in a country you’ve adopted as your new home. I can’t think of a single other activity capable of giving such a meaningful sense of civic belonging. Like millions of others in the United Kingdom, On 7 May, I will walk to my polling station, and share in a collective decision making process that will set out the future direction of the country. That’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly, and because it’s such a weighty choice, I actually feel a developing sense of psychic rootedness in British life.

My new home, for however long I live here, is Walthamstow. I am committed to putting this part of London, indeed the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, on a better trajectory. That’s why I signed up to campaign for our local Labour candidate, Stella Creasy. In true Labour fashion, Stella and her team have been welcoming to me and my wife. And you know what? No one’s ever asked me what it’s like to be an American campaigning for Labour. There’s a quiet acceptance that in this globally connected world of ours, many life stories connect in various locations, but wherever you live, there is a duty to try do your part to build a better society. That’s why I am voting Labour.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Barton – the issues you face in housing and your wife’s zero hour contract and the promises Labour make you on these are all predicated on a strong economy. Labour will not and cannot deliver this strong economy. Their proposed increase to the top rate of tax and the proposed mansion tax will raise very little, resulting in a requirement for increased borrowing. Should they win and legislate against zero hour contracts your wife may loose her job. We know how Labour operate – they bankrupted this country during their last period in power and they’ve sold the lie that it was all down to those nasty bankers, which was a total abrogation of their responsibility as the government in power. Like it or not, those nasty “corporations”, whether they be banks, Apple, Google etc etc provide the jobs that result in the taxes government needs to pay for the NHS, education, welfare et al. Borrowing will go through the roof under Labour because they will not be able to raise the taxes they need to pay for their promises and we get back to the financial precipice. Good luck with your situation, but I’d advise to move away from London to somewhere more affordable and don’t rely on Labour promises to address your challenges. Address them yourself.

  • the rich get richer

    For all the differences there is between Labour and the Tories they might as well form a coalition.

    Labour will promise a lot . They will do very little for the less well off as they did the last time they were in power. There is probably less room for manoeuvre financially now.

    Don’t expect much from political parties and sadly Labour are no different.

  • Zig70

    The tories never suggested the crash was going to come, argued for fewer controls on the banks and unlikely to have made the situation any better. The effect that political parties have on a global economy is over played.

  • jonlivesey

    “….and I’m inspired by Ed Miliband’s vision of a fairer more equal society and economy that works better for everyone”

    Oh dear, you really are American, aren’t you. I bet you have a dream, too. Do you know that if you start to type “Martin…” at Google, you don’t even get to complete the word Martin before Google suggests “Martin Luther King Jr” as the completion.

    King made his dream speech in 1963, the same year Kennedy was assassinated, and today we still have unarmed black men being killed by the police in the US on a weekly basis. In fact, US police killed more civilians in March of 2015, than British police have killed since 1900, in total.

    Anyone who says they are “inspired” by a politician’s “vision” is living in a self-indulgent dream World. Visions are for people on dope.

    The UK housing crisis that bothers you so much is caused by local planning regulations, and also by London being such an attractive destination for rich foreigners. It’s a natural market outcome, not a Tory conspiracy.

    And if the million people who visited food banks in the UK – actually it was a million visits, not a million people – lived in Germany, or Switzerland, they would find food banks there, too. 8000 in Germany alone. The EU Commission *recommend* food banks as an efficient way to distribute surplus food. There are food banks in California, right in the heart of Silicon Valley.

    But keep preaching. Keep churning out the cliches. There is nothing the British enjoy so much as being patronised by our Irish-American betters. Oh, and keep being inspired by Ed’s “vision”.

    As a boss of mine once said, your product can be as good as you like until you have to deliver it.

  • Sergiogiorgio – no they didn’t bankrupt the country. Perhaps you didn’t notice, but there’s been a global economic recession going on – that’s what bankrupted the country.

  • OneNI

    Didnt you back the SDLP when in NI? I hope you have seen the error of backward ethno nationalism and will press Stella Creasy and Labour in general to stop discriminating against the people of Northern Ireland

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Try looking at Canada and Australia during what you “believe” was a global economic crisis. The reason why the UK was hit so hard was because of our reliance on the finance sector, which was regulated by the FSA, which is answerable to the government of the time, and the government of the past 8 odd years, I.e. Labour.

    Zig – the Tories may not have seen it coming but they wouldn’t have borrowed anywhere near as much as Labour and left us with a booming fiscal deficit, that requires interest payments to be made that would have otherwise been spent on the public sector.

  • chrisjones2

    I’ve seen my wife’s mental health affected by the stress of a zero-hours contract while working as a mental health practitioner;

    If shes a practitioner working on a contract in the NHS then I assume she is contracting in at a very good rate of pay in London where they are desperate for qualified staff. Has that impacted her or you?

    As for the ‘housing crisis’ I agree its a huge problem in central London where house prices have been driven up, especially by wholesale immigration by foreign nationals. Dont worry though – if Ed gets elected that very fact and the potential impact on the UK economy will stop new ones coming and drive many existing ones away so housing price will drop (as will incomes and the economy but lets leave that for a moment)

    I am glad you are “inspired by Ed Miliband’s vision of a fairer more equal society and economy that works better for everyone”. Does that include sneakily stabbing ones brother in the back politically though a deal with the Unions? Does it include a deed of variation to avoid tax on ones father’s estate? After all, it may be be immoral but when we all do it it becomes fair

    As for the food banks I understand the sentiment. One point though – one of the reasons for the economy being in this state is that Eds colleague Ed Balls and He were at the Treasury when the economy of the UK was allowed to tank They overspent, over borrowed and wrecked our finances for almost a generation. And they intend to do just the same thing again so take my advice and keep any assets you have in the US (out of their grasping hands) and in Dollars

    I hope you do well with Ms Creasey though I am compelled to note that she is a typical Labour MP – never had a real job outside politics unless you count being Head of PR To the Scout Association as life experience!!! Now shes an expert in ‘crime prevention’

  • chrisjones2

    The recession has different causes in different countries., In Ireland it was an asset price bubble in housing., In the UK it was failure to regulate the banks – directly attributable to Balls, Milliband and Balls

  • ted hagan

    Excuse me, Osborne, in the first three years of Tory government, borrowed more than Labour did in 13 years. Let’s set the record straight.

  • ted hagan

    I think I’ll plump for Mr Creesy’s view of life in Britain and his hopes for a Labour Britain rather than your patronising, sneering and, frankly, quite ugly reply that trumpets a Coaltion promising more misery for the poor while funnelling more billions in the direction of the wealthy. If this Coalition has been so wonderful, how come it looks falling far short of reaching a majority? That jumped-up PR man Cameron and his buddies will soon be gone and the real work of creating a fair, just and united kingdom will begin.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    UK net borrowing peaked in 2010 at just over 150 billion following Labour car crashing the national economy in their last year in power. It has deceased year on year under the Tories, to approximately 100 billion. Simple question to Labour. If they win the election will they increase or decrease net borrowing and by how much?

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Mr Creesy is actually a woman – Stella Creesy, but no matter Ted. These Labour delusions of funnelling billions to the wealthy and penalising the poor are just cheap socialist class war fairy tales. I paid less tax under the last Labour government than I do now and HMRC are like a plague of locusts to higher rate tax payers like me. The one and only key issue to this election is who you want running your economy – Ed Balls and the Labour Party; or George Osborne and the Tories. You either have a selectiivr memory on Ed Balls or you aren’t listening to Labour undertakings should they win. Labour CANNOT be trusted to run the economy and all their promises of a “fairer” deal fall on their ass if they wreck the economy AGAIN!! Once bitten, twice shy.

  • chrisjones2

    More misery for the poor – actually more misery for everyone inherited from Labours gross mismanagement. Personally I will put up with it to try and avoid passing it all on to my children and grandchildren

    As for Ms Creasy – she is jiust typical of the whole political class.No experience, no real understanding of the world but an unending desire to tell us what to do because she can make it better

    As for Cameron going, you are saddled with Ed for the next week or so until he loses the election and feels the thud of that political knife in his own back this time

  • chrisjones2

    Yeah ….with people pouring onto the unemployed roll thanks to Balls and Brown’s mismanagement

    Are You complaining about them paying all that unemployment benefit and welfare?>

  • kalista63

    I’m on the iPad and hate using it, especially as it’s on its last legs but there’s a couple of things to look up. Firstly, Will Self did a great article on why he will be voting Labour.

    Secondly, Al Jazeera had a piece today about the ‘ethnic’cleansing’ of London. Now, I fucking, fucking hate that term being used inappropriately, given the truth of the term, but I hope we can park that. Back in the early 80’s, I used to hang around Stoke Newington as that was where my teacher was based. Walking up that main road on a summer’s day was something else, magical there was a big West Indian community and the vibe was class.

    After I left,mo didn’t return for 15+ years and brought by wife, we were newly married, up to show her the place and soak up the atmosphere. Nadda! A load of years later, I met a guy from there in Robinson’s and asked him about it. My heart dropped when he told me about how most of those people were moved out.

    I defer to the political nerds on Slugger but did we have these property boom and busts prior to right to buy? I can’t think of a reliable coolant on property prices overheating than a comprehensive, secure public housing programme. Don’t buy the spin, much of the housing was occupied by professionals and IMHO, that’s a great ways to keep down wages for professional public sector workers, as well as private sector.