Saturday, 5 July 2008

Glasgow East - no mean constituency

I have been reading with interest the blogs and articles by more talented people, and feel that I ought to give my tuppenceworth. Back in December, I posted about the discrepances in the voters roll for Glasgow Bridgeton back in the 1930s. Several of my extended family (the children of my gg grandfather's second (and bigamous, but that's another story)) marriage emigrated from the slums of Bridgeton to start new lives in New Zealand.

At that time, of course, Bridgeton was a rock-solid Labour constituency. Now it doesn't exist. Why not? Because in the 1960s, thousands of people were moved out of the slums to peripheral housing schemes and to 'new towns'. It was interesting to visit where my relatives lived a few months ago: the tenements are long gone, but the street signs are still there for Carstairs Street, Colvend Street, Poplin Street, Swanston Street etc. No one lives there now. It is hard to imagine looking down Carstairs Street towards what was Strathclyde School, that at one time thousands of people lived in the tiny area that is bounded by the above streets. If they had residents today, those people would be eligible to vote in Glasgow East.

The people who did not take the assisted passage route were the losers, no doubt about it. The constituency of Glasgow East is one of the most deprived in the country. At the 2005 Election, the unemployment rate was 7.7%, above average but hardly headline-grabbing. Look beneath the lies, damned lies and statistics, and factor in the number of people on incapacity benefits, and we discover that around 50% of the adult 'working' population is unemployed.

The Tory candidate who had been selected for the next General Election has stood down, in favour of Davena Rankin, a rising star. A black, female trade unionist, she is absolutely right to challenge all sorts of stereotypes. She will hopefully be selected for a winnable seat in the near future. However, what about Pat McPhee, who has stood down? The truth is, she had volunteered to stand in a constituency that few Tories would want, out of loyalty to the party. But this leads us to another important fact:

Glasgow East is the sort of constituency which political parties generally ignore. To try and displace Labour would be a fruitless task for all other parties. Labour itself does not bother, for two reasons: (1)Labour can take the votes for granted and (2) Engaging with the people would mean trying to solve some of the worst poverty in the western world.

When Broon bangs on about 'raising families out of poverty', he is talking about bunging a few quid to people just below an arbitrary poverty line so that they are just above it. In the real world, they are little better off, but he is able to trumpet statistics to show that he is tackling poverty. Such measures do not work among the poorest parts of Glasgow East. There are families, generations of whom have been unemployed. There is a huge drugs problem. Male life expectancy in Calton is not just lower than that the much-quoted examples of North Korea or the Gaza strip. Fraser Nelson points out that it is lower than in Sudan, Cambodia or Ghana.

There is a poverty of ambition among the poorest communities. People do not expect to work; to get a degree (only 7% are graduates, virtually all of whom live in the middle class enclaves of Mount Vernon and Baillieston) or to live anywhere else. They do not need patronising health campaigns: the people know they eat unhealthily, smoke too much, drink too much and take too many illegal drugs. They just don't see that they have anything to live for. Labour doesn't want to change this, because it would take too much effort and there aren't enouh votes in helping the underclass.

The underclass, funnily enough, are not deprived in the way people were decades ago. They have indoor toilets; electricity, hot and cold running water; they get their Giros; they have clothes and shoes; they do not starve. Compared to half the world's population, they are not getting such a bad deal. However, in an affluent society, it is not enough for those people to have dignity and to contribute to that society.

Give them more money? No. Labour has raised taxes by £1.25 TRILLION in the last eleven years. If a socialist Utopia could be bought, it would have been. Improvements in public services have not come close to providing value for the money that has been spent. Give a jaikey more money in his Giro, and it will only benefit the local drug dealer, off licence or bookmaker.

It is constituencies like Glasgow East which demonstrate the emptiness and wickedness of socialism. The socialists couldn't care less about those who really experience poverty. Socialists have represented this area for decades, and what do the people have to show for it?

I am pleased to see that David Cameron intends campaigning strongly in this constituency. Forget about tactical votes for the SNP. Labour will win Glasgow East, because it exists on a different planet to most other constituencies, even those which are fairly deprived. People in the most deprived areas are immune to interest rate rises, since they don't have mortgages. They are immune to threats to jobs, because they don't expect to work. They are immune to inflation, because their benefits will be increased automatically. They associate Labour with having a roof over their heads and getting their Giros. No other party has a chance there.

However, as I say, it is vital that the Tories campaign strongly. Part of the reason the vote fell between 1979-97 is that Mrs Thatcher and John Major were perceived as not caring about Scotland. This was particularly the case in industrial central Scotland, as thousands of mining and steelmaking jobs were lost. The Tories were seen as an 'English' party which only cared about the south east. David Cameron, to his credit, has asserted that he wants the Conservative Party to represent the whole country. He needs to make that visible. He needs to take Liam Fox out of whichever backroom he is stored in, dust him down, and get his face on to television in Scotland to show that the Tories do have something to offer a boy from a working class council scheme in the west of Scotland. He needs to get the whole Shadow Cabinet involved, and as many other MPs as possible, to show that the Conservatives care not only about Glasgow East, but about Scotland as a whole.

There are still about 15 constituencies in Scotland, despite the Tories' best efforts to lose them, where the Conservatives either have a chance of winning, or at least have a significant pocket of support which can be built on. In places like Glasgow East, who knows what can be achieved? No one else has tried.

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