Posted by: Splosher | 12/04/2010

The General Election: a Red turning Blue?

Across the UK, we are now within the final countdown to the 2010 governmental General Election – which will take place on May the 7th – and we all get to flex our democratic choices by using our five-yearly voting extravaganza to usher in a real change in policy in the form of red, blue or, in the event of a long shot, yellow. So, either it’ll be the same old garbage we’ve just had or a new set of morons to destroy our hopes and aspirations for the foreseeable future; either way, nothing’s going to change, we’re all going to carry on complaining about lack of money, lack of jobs and lack of freedom within our rule-restrictive society, so why even bother to vote?

Well, your choice to vote is integral to being part of the general populace and is an expression of making a difference, no matter how small your individual contribution may seem to be to the overall winning combination of the many millions of ballot papers. I will be exercising my right to vote with vehemence due to my childhood political indoctrination of all things Labour party-related being great and working for people like me and this went hand in hand with the burning, pure hatred for anything Conservative party-related; however, time changes perceptions when living in the real world and your options don’t always turn out to be as clear-cut as red over blue…

My political awareness was kicked-started at an early age sometime in the late 1970s, when I can still remember the Unions under the aegis of the elected Labour party of the time bringing the country to a grinding halt. I may have been just a pre-pubescent child but with piles of rubbish in the streets due to striking utility workers to my mother’s enforced 3-day working week and the rest of the time spent on the picket line, it’s understandable I grew up more aware than most kids. Then, once Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative election win of 1979 ended the Social Marxist leanings of Labour for the next 18 years of my life, every single problem during my childhood was explained away by my mother as being the fault of the Tories and who she would forever refer to as “those evil bastards in number 10”.

Her venom seemed to gain momentum year after poverty-stricken year, regardless of any developments across the UK economy due to privatisation, the national pride in our Armed Forces after the Falklands war or the elevated standard of living due to the world advancement of British technologies and she continued to hark after a return to the “Red old days” of the pre-Thatcherism era. My mum would drag us kicking and screaming to every Socialist workers’ assembly, Miners’ strike public meeting and left-wing Union rallies in the immediate area – and this being a poverty-stricken enclave of Oldham, there were always plenty of rallies – where my Brother and I would stand in a sea of working-class people and watch such firebrand luminaries as Dennis Skinner, Arthur Scargill and Tony Benn, deafening our young ears with their amplified rhetoric and the crowd’s rousing response. We’d get an ice-cream or a fizzy drink to placate our obvious boredom whilst mum would meet up with her female friends from work and in turn, each woman dragged along their own brood of annoyed children in the hope that some of this aural political agenda would lie dormant in our subconscious’s until a later date.

This future time would inevitably revolve around the age of voting and so, once this was reached, my mum would always remind me of these long-forgotten political excursions, along with some timely reminders of my expected duty. “Don’t forget to vote today, alright?” she would state nonchalantly whilst reading the morning paper and in-between the next pull on her Benson & Hedges, “It’s your right, so use it or we’ll be stuck with these for another five years…” At this, she’d shake her head and blow her used fag drag out in anger, “Christ above, I can’t imagine another five minutes of them!” before angrily stubbing the butt out in her overflowing ashtray. “I won’t forget, right…” I’d say, completely uninterested in my voting right at an age which allowed me to legally drink to excess, without any consequence other than a hangover or alcoholic poisoning, “I’ll call in one of the voting places later.”

“Which one?” would begin the quizzing of my X marking intentions and this would continue with both of us getting more and more annoyed with one another and would usually culminate in a statement from my mother along the lines of “People have lay down their lives so you can vote, so don’t just throw it away and squander it, right?! You’ll never have a penny in your pocket while these bastards are in, remember that!” At this point, I’d already be walking out of the door like the petulant teenager I was, annoyed at being nagged at over something I deemed unimportant, although I knew that if I did eventually vote, then Labour red was the only one I’d chose as my working-class coaching was fully complete.

Being staunch Labour is really an understatement though, as not only me but almost all my contemporaries were in the same boat and had similarly penniless backgrounds, so we all had a vested hatred in anything representing the blue rosette of Conservatism, regardless of personal impact. Examples of this loathing over the years, now looked upon in hindsight, were quite appalling, really: I personally finished with a girlfriend two months into a relationship because I found out her parents voted for Margret Thatcher and thus, were the Blue-bloodied enemy; then, a friend of mine chased a local Conservative candidate – who was out campaigning – along the street and shoved the leaflet the blue canvasser had made the mistake of popping through the letterbox down his shirt, accompanied with screamed obscenities; lastly, there was our skewed perceptions of members of select clubs, such as anyone who could afford to play Golf, Cricket or Tennis for example, were people deemed financially better-off than ourselves and thus castigated and abused at every opportunity available. There is no doubt we walked around with a greater sense of community than today’s generation due to feeling like poverty outcasts in a society of perceived wealth, although I have to admit that in the post-Tory rule of my home town, finding work was not a problem if you accepted going into one of the many cotton mills festooned across the district.

You see, key to my working-class upbringing was the fact that we lived in a place governed by the cotton industry: Royton was the first town to have a powered cotton mill, Thorp, built in 1764 at the start of the Industrial Revolution and was also one of the first locations in the world to implement the factory system, where workers would assemble their specific part for inclusion in an overall product, famously adopted by Henry Ford for the Model T’s production line. When I finally came along in 1970, the industry had established itself as the most prominent employer in the region and my mother worked as a spinner on twelve-hour shifts for most of her life, finishing the day coated in a fine, white dusting of cotton fibres and appearing like a ghost as she walked down the street with all the other “cotton ghosts”. No matter where you looked, the horizon of Royton – and the surrounding boroughs of Chadderton, Middleton, Shaw, Oldham and Rochdale – was encircled by a red-brick-ring of bastion-like cotton mills and the sky stained by their tapered, smoking chimneys: this constrictive viewpoint represented a real and unfortunate place of employment for the unlucky majority leaving school without qualifications, or worse, no parental monies to bolster further education and eventual university escapism. Although she would scream at me on many occasion, telling me “I don’t want you to end up in the mill, Son, I want better for you!” I of course didn’t heed any of her words and left school early without sitting any examinations, so was straight into the mills once my pathetic one year YTS had ended.

As soon as I entered this world of isolated extremes – from the ear protectors that had to be worn due to the cacophony of machinery noise to the suffocating face masks worn to stop you choking on the fibres and ultimately developing respiratory disease – I strove to break out and make something of my wasted life, much to the happiness of my mum but to the chagrin of my friends. Night school was the only option available and so, after working my twelve hour shifts making wire or shredding viscose or whatever menial tasks I had to perform from six to six, I then spent my free time reading and studying. When one of my best friends asked what I’d been up to the night before and I replied I’d just finished reading a particular book for my course; at this, he turned his mortified face to me and said, “Reading a book?! What’re you doing that for, eh?!” appearing genuinely confused, so this attitude just spurred me on with more determination.

This outlook reflected the problem with my place of birth, which was the classic small-town mentality rife within most people, who were happy to be born there, grow up there, live their lives there and ultimately die there, all beneath the shadows of the looming cotton mills that were the only constant within everyone’s lives. So, the mills’ various names became integral parts of your identity and way of life: as children, they were used as waypoints to check off on long journeys and adventurous explorations undertaken miles from home, safe in the knowledge that even if you got separated or lost from one another, the giant, white-painted monikers of Shiloh’s cotton industry would point you back in the right direction. Just in my home town alone, we had masses of these perpetual working places and each of their names still evoke personal memories in me, from exploring their empty shells as a kid to the times I worked at them personally: Grape, which had a fantastic fishing lodge, overgrown and forgotten to everyone but the ones in the know and whose vast shadow kept Coin street in perpetual darkness; Park, its lone chimney being the last one brought down by the famous demolition genius Fred Dibnah before he sadly passed away; Vine became one of the biggest suppliers of electric blankets across the world after the cotton trade began to disappear; Elk, where I witnessed the horrific death of a work colleague; Bee, where as a four year old child I was found walking along the edge of the roof 80 feet high, having got up there using the red-painted fire escape that clung to the side of the mill; and Sandy, that lay abandoned and derelict for many years, forming an adventure playground within its rusting, cast-iron boiler room and which, according to old tales, was supposedly haunted.

Now though, all that remains of these once-proud exponents of a major part of the UK’s fiscal economy are a couple of empty shells that have their ground floors rented out as storage units and roofs adorned with mobile telecommunications aerials of all shape and sizes, regardless of any effect on surrounding homes. These few bare-bricked skeletons are the only ones left; the others have been torn down, reduced to crumbled land-fill and now have new-build suburban sprawls assembled upon their centuries-old foundations, fondly remembered by the old but unknown by the present working generations. The last working cotton mill in Royton closed in 1998, which meant a whole industry was wiped out across my lifetime of just forty years: from a 1970s old Labour government instigating strike actions at the drop of a hat, through the 18 dark years of Tory privatisation and economic stranglehold and finally to new Labour’s world-market Capitalist agenda; a deadly combination that signalled the final nail in the coffin for my home town.

So, with this year’s General Election imminent and with everything I have written above regarding my affiliation to all things Labour, you may find it surprising to discover that as I enter middle-age, the red-tinted glasses have been removed, dropped to the floor and crushed under the heel of apathetic disgust. As I feel my mother getting ready to turn in her grave and possibly come back to haunt me for my remaining days, I must be truthful and state that the only voting option I feel available is for the Conservatives. Why, you may ask, would I risk five years of Tory rule by voting for a set of upper-middle class politicians who are so far removed from myself? Well, the answer is quite simple, really: I’d rather be governed by politicians who believe in – and are proud of – their country and all its history, whether good or bad, than by politicians who believe their people should be part of a “Global Village” but are embarrassed by their own history and will allow established economic institutions – such as the cotton industry – to fold in order to curry favour in the eyes of the political arena. I know deep down both parties are now synonymous with one another but still, I’d rather be presided over than placated by and so, I think my “X” will be Blue this time around because even a poverty-stricken nobody knows the difference between rain and being pissed on.

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