Since arriving back in the UK I’ve found myself appreciating Sheffield, and indeed British life more generally, far more than I expected, and far more than I have on any previous return, during the time I’ve been working and now studying abroad.

On Sunday, John Prescott came to give a speech to those of us campaigning for Labour, before we set to work. A heckler came over and shouted at Prescott: how could he vote for Labour with Corbyn in charge? Prescott did not break his stride, shouting something in response to the man and then returning to his speech, and someone went to the man and said, “he came here to speak to us, please don’t interrupt, come over here and let’s talk about Corbyn.” And the man did. Real democracy on a street corner, where people are able to fully express themselves without watching their words, or being told they’re being uncivil, and without any hint of police or security (note, for those outside the UK reading this post, that John Prescott was the Deputy Prime Minister for 8 years – he arrived in a squat people carrier).

I think that living in the US had made me believe that this kind of engagement with politics was over. Since I value these battles for ideas so highly, it makes me want to leave Arizona sooner rather than later.

In last night’s “Corbyn vs. May”, in which each of the two answered audience questions and were then interviewed by the aggressive Jeremy Paxman – May has refused to engage in a head-to-head debate – we saw Corbyn at his best. I don’t think that there was a clear loser, but there was an opportunity to see that Corbyn is quite capable of oratory. For me, there were two highlights. A small businessman asked Corbyn how he could vote for someone who was raising both corporation tax and the minimum wage. Without showing a grain of disrespect, Corbyn challenged him to reconsider his position on the grounds that we are all better off if everyone is better off. The second highlight was Corbyn’s firm response to Paxman going on and on about why abolishing the monarchy was not in the manifesto, while Corbyn is a known republican: “we’re not going to abolish the monarchy because I’m fighting this election for social justice” (paraphrased). This is the slightly old-fashioned sense of ‘social justice’: truly universal entitlement to health and education, because that is the mark of a civilised nation. What a privilege it is to be able to both campaign and vote for such a man.

I’ve been thinking about the responses we should make to neo-liberals who say that pouring money into health and education for those who can already afford it results in inefficiency and waste, rendering everyone worse off. There are many such people in the Arizona philosophy department.

I do not believe that this economic argument has yet been won by the neo-liberals. A different response, though, is to think about the opportunities for the development of virtue that are lost when we introduce markets. I think that fear is one of the greatest barriers to the development of the virtues. It closes us down. Fundamentally, social justice is about the removal of fear, so that people are able to flourish. The neo-liberals would rather encourage and exploit fear, in all stratas of society (they want themselves to be afraid of being a bit less rich, and respond accordingly).

It’s refreshing to see this is so in the UK. Specially as it is talked all around that, since Thatcher, the UK has been slowly dismantling what used to be a firm welfare state — I had the impression that yes, that many institutions still stand, but it’s clearly going the way of the USA. I’m happy to see it’s not. I live in Mexico, a country that had a very long institutions-buildng process, approximately from the end of our revolution (~1920) to 1982. We have then had a series of neoliberal governments, and term after term, the weight of the social goods are clearly diminished; we still have a system much stronger than the USA’s (including a very limited but existing nevertheless public health, a troubled but great educative system including the best universities in the country, water and energy production / distribution, and a very long etcetera), but… It feels it’s all irrevocably going away. But the point you make in a most surprised tone is what I most long to see here: Politicians that live among the people, that are not a breed apart, that are consequent with themselves.

Comment by gwolf Tue 30 May 2017 12:01:34 UTC

The British welfare state is indeed being eroded by the current government, but there is a good chunk of the country that very vocally objects – we’ve just had difficulty getting power since 2010, for a host of reasons. It’s not just some grassroots socialist movement, either. A big chunk of the country really are socialist.

While the changes that have been made to schools are reversible even if the current government cling on next week, this election might be our last chance to save the NHS, because the current government are in the middle of a process that will effectively sell it off. That would be difficult to come back from.

Comment by spwhitton Thu 01 Jun 2017 11:07:32 UTC

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