Don't be angry at poor voters who backed the Tories – they need our compassion more than ever

It's easy to be baffled, disappointed or furious that so many people suffering under austerity voted to stop Jeremy Corbyn. But to turn on them is the least progressive thing we could do

James Moore@JimMooreJourno
Monday 23 December 2019 13:33
Tory candidate suggests people using food banks need help managing their budgets

The anger over Boris Johnson’s election victory is still visceral among many of his opponents, all the more so as the foul reality of what it means dawns.

Some of it their rage is directed at the working-class voters in northern constituencies who swung behind the very party that is responsible for the de-industrialisation and free market fundamentalism that have devastated their communities.

By voting against their economic interests, they have helped to drag the lot of us down into a Tory pit.

This backlash in some quarters has been fierce. And I can understand it. I feel it myself.

As someone who was born in a Sheffield council house, qualified for free school meals, and was brought up by a lone parent (my mother) for many years, I suffered under the yoke of Thatcherism. I felt the impact of an earlier generation of Tory policies and cuts.

At first blush, it is very hard to understand how people now in a similar situation could make the choice that they have.

Consider the racist/misogynistic/homophoic/ableist rhetoric that has been heard from Tory MPs among the new intake, and it’s easy enough to see why some people have traded puzzlement for fury.

Yet we need to have a care.

My wife alerted me to the dangers when she showed me a Mumsnet post from a woman who said she no longer felt she could donate to food banks on the back of the result. She was just too angry.

Before you judge, recall that food banks have been a frequent target of those on the right. Brendan Clarke-Smith, the new MP for Bassetlaw, said they were “a political weapon” and opined that it was “simply not true” that “people can’t afford to buy food on a regular basis”. The term “git’ was invented for people like him. Except that it’s probably too soft.

Iain Duncan Smith has also had a go at the Trussell Trust, the biggest operator, accusing it of “scaremongering” over the cruel benefit reforms he delivered while heading up the Department for Work & Pensions. I’d suggest he was lashing out because of his guilt, but I’m not sure he has the capacity for a guilty conscience or anything resembling a sense of shame. Just look at his record in government.

The fact is that food banks exist to feed the hungry. It doesn’t matter who they are, where they come from, or what their politics might be; they stop people falling through a Tory-created trap door, as I found out for myself when I spent an evening at one of the Trussell Trust’s outlets.

Right now they need more help from us, not less.

Anger is an energy. But it can turn into a foully polluting force if it isn’t used constructively. To prevent that from happening, it needs to be leavened with understanding.

As a result of various medical appointments, I’ve been out and about over the past few days. What I found striking when talking to people, including a lot of NHS staff in Labour London, is that many of them were saying the same thing: “At least we haven’t got Corbyn.”

An ambulance driver who’d never voted in his life told me that as he was heading to the polls in the hope of stopping the Labour leader. A compassionate, caring and brilliant doctor shuddered at his name.

When I hear Labour figures talking about the need to “listen”, they’re right. But parts of the old left still seem to think that if they just marry 70s-style socialist economics with a harder stance on immigration and perhaps a bit of nationalism, they can square the circle.

I fear they’re hearing what they want to hear and picking up on the worst parts of what some voters have been saying without looking at their message in the round.

Down that path lies another defeat.

Back to that anger: there are plenty more deserving targets than voters who decided that shooting themselves and their kids in the foot was a good idea because they feared the alternative would be worse.

If our anger makes us forget our compassion, our reasons for landing on the progressive side of the divide, we run the risk of becoming what we justifiably despise.

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