Payday politicians, please!

If you haven’t been in this situation, you do not know at all what it feels like for your four walls to start crashing in on you, the poignancy of your little girl, leaving her pocket money on your desk because she wants to help and heard you crying in the night over the bills. People who have not ever had to picture for themselves the reality of no money, no job, no home, cannot easily appreciate the paralyzing terror, the feeling of time and hope slipping through the cracks leaving you trying not to vomit as you brightly slap on a smile and apply for your 700th job.

This country is waging war on its poor and making poverty a greater threat than it’s been for decades for its working population; the millions who are only one pay-cheque away from financial ruin and the collapse of hope. The millions who, thankfully, don’t realize in the minutes of each day how very close they always are to nothing.

This might be OK if the welfare safety net were waiting to catch people but for increasing numbers there is no rescue. Just endless confusing, conflicting applications for reducing, disappearing, inadequate benefits while those in ivory towers talk about how if they lost their jobs they would ‘just do anything.’

We need more candidates and more MPs who have lived this. Not because direct experience matters more than compassion but because we need a better mirror of society representing us.

I am the diversity champion for Newton Abbot Constituency and I am redefining what that means and what that needs to achieve. I have submitted a motion to regional conference advocating that we ask the Federal Policy Committee to prioritise income-based shortlists for a third of seats.

While Labour continue to campaign successfully with an emotional message ‘for the many not the few’, we fail to deliver a clear emotional message about Liberal Democrat social principles. An open commitment to finding candidates who are not independently wealthy would be a good start. Bursaries are not enough; they are about as broadly democratizing as a handful of free places in public schools for exceptionally smart and exceptionally poor children. Let’s work harder at making politics accessible to all. Let’s discuss what that will look like. Let’s be radical.

While my proposal for a below median wage short-list will not benefit me personally, the reason for it absolutely comes from heart-wrenching direct experience. We need candidates who are credible. We need candidates who can look people in the eye, as I can, and relate to the choices so many people face: shall I mend the broken boiler or buy the children shoes?

* Alison Eden is a columnist at ‘The Teignmouth Post’ and a Teignbridge District Councillor.

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  • Innocent Bystander 10th Sep '18 - 3:17pm

    It sounds commendable that political parties fund poorer candidates.
    I hope you are not suggesting that the general taxpayer has to fund any and everyone who fancies having a go at politics?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Sep '18 - 4:07pm

    Alison this is excellent.

    I can too. As a result of a car accident in which a car came onto the pavement and nearly killed my wife , left her with permanent disability related problems, us both with problems, I have known real disappointment and awful financial periods.

    I lost my house, work dried up.

    I try reaching out and there is very little oomph, including herein.

    A natural in the arts and creative field who generates projects, few engage.

    I would like to be a candidate again, was for council, but in my area there is an issue in you could put a monkey in a red rosette, Labour would win, you get I reckon.

    I want to offer more to the party and do so professionally. I do a lot in the way of trying to promote harmony and policy, not least in the field you allude to, poverty, welfare. My field, the creative industries, has great highs and makes a massive contribution, and real lows, people in difficulty.

    But people talk amongst themselves. They don’t get it. Even here some think, ogh, the arts…elitist!

    Have a look at my websites

  • Peter Watson 10th Sep '18 - 4:16pm

    It is good to see an article that addresses a lack of socioeconomic diversity in the party. Sometimes there are below the line posts that raise this issue, but often the impression is given that Lib Dem diversity is about ensuring equal opportunities for all types of posh/middle-class educated people.
    I also think the title is appropriate as I was struck by a recent post on this site: “I’ve never understood pay day lenders. Are there really that many people who don’t have a mate or a relative who can help them out?”

  • Neil Sandison 10th Sep '18 - 4:31pm

    Alison Eden .We are in the party but do not raise our personal circumstances probable embarrassed and feeling people will think less of us if we say we are struggling a bit.

  • To address the replies so far.

    Innocent Bystander – No, that was not even implied, however why not? It would level off theplaying field and if accompanied by increased accountability would be a positive aspect. We should be proud of what our tax pays for and if it is used to increase socio-economic diversity that is a positive.

    Lorenzo – yep. Been there, got the t-shirt. I’m the one referred to regarding the 700th job etc.

    Peter – there really are people out there like that. A great many better off people see it as trifling. For instance a judge recently stated to someoone with no money, £250k was a ‘modest sum’ and when the person explained they represented themselves because they had run out of funds for legal aadvice was told a ‘day barrister only costs about £1000’. The cognitive dissonance is sad. Of course, even where a family member of friend can support, it is incredibly emotionally damaging to have to ask or if offered to actually take the help.

    Neil – yep, but this is why the party is mainly selecting PPCs with time, money or time and money. We end up looking like the ‘Waitrose Proscuitto Party’ as a result.

    David Raw – partly true. Our coalition period was not our finest and like you I’d like several ‘grandees’ to stan up, recognise and apologise for their part in the policies you mention.
    The other and probably more direct issue is that as a party we are not encouraging a membership spread that includes those on the median household income. Those that are already members are few and far between and thoose few are unlikely to be selcted to stand as PPC. The best they can hope for is a councillor.
    So, while I agree with the apology point the fact is, we have had this problem for far longer than the lst 8 years.
    A relatively low estimate of the cost (that’s personal financial cost for a candidate) is that it takes around £35000 to stand for election as an MP. As a result, we only end up with a limited socio-economic representation. People who took us into the coalition clearly not able to relateto those in the group Alison mentioned and therefore making a mistake as a result.

  • I completely agree with the sentiments of this article, and despair at the cruel way that the wealthy and privileged in the Westminster bubble make decisions and policies that blight so many lives.

    It is however a sad reality that the amount of unpaid work and effort that is required to get elected as a Lib Dem candidate for anything is rarely going to be compatible with scraping a living on minimum wage.

    I don’t know what the answer is. It’s not like the party is wealthy enough to subsidise “economically diverse” candidates, despite the enormous value they could bring to policy making and enactment.

  • Martin Land 10th Sep '18 - 8:30pm

    Years ago I was in a local party which faced the dilemma of a very mixed membership in terms of income and social class. Members on lower incomes complained that they couldn’t stand or take on local party posts.
    I found a simple expedient. All agreed expenses incurred were paid local party. Those who did not need the money could pass the cheque back to the Treasurer who would then record it as a donation, without the person’s name. We gained a bigger pool of candidates and officers and a much collective atmosphere
    I’m sure it might cause Electoral Commission conflicts nowadays but there must be ways to do something similar.

  • Great article @Alison Eden – thanks.

    I would suggest there may be a few SMALL things we can do:

    Reduce the minimum membership fee to a £1 a year. With the rubric along the lines of that “we ask members to pay a minimum of £12 if they can afford it so that we don’t discriminating against those on low incomes”

    Make sure that our party meetings at times that people can make and in places people can get to. Evening meetings may be difficult for some, day time meetings for others so there is no perfect solution – just a commitment to try and be inclusive as possible. And possibly ensure people can join meetings remotely.

    Fundraise like hell in our local parties so we have the best chance of winning and candidates don’t have to put in a lot of personal money and resources.

  • @David Raw

    We haven’t had a spat about the coalition for a little while at least so here goes :)!

    I hope you will include in your demand for an apology the Labour party and ALL their politicians for leaving a financial mess and as “no money” as their note to us said.

    What – not their fault? Why then is the coalition at fault – for trying to clear up their mess.

    Disappointed with the “cuts”? Well I hope you are even more disappointed with Labour as their cuts would have been bigger – as Alistair Darling confirmed during the 2010 General Election.

    As it is the coalition was the biggest spending and borrowing Government of all time. Delivering more education and health services than ever before. Helping significantly boost the educational attainment of disadvantaged kids through the pupil premium. The best ever deal for pensioners. Remember Labour only gave them a 50p increase. Lower earners significantly helped through the personal allowance increase.

    Not a time of milk and honey? No – because as Labour said they hadn’t left us much milk and honey to have.

  • David Raw/Michael 1,

    you are both right but consider that for 2017-2018 tax receipts and government spending as a proportion of GDP were virtually identical to the position for 2007-08 immediately preceding the financial crash.

    That should tell us a couple of things. It’s not the level of government spending or taxation that determines living standards or staffing levels in the NHS, schools and social services; but rather real wages and how much of those wages are siphoned off in rents and interest charges leaving a bare minimum for basic necessities.

    Something has gone badly wrong when it is all to common for those in regular work to have need of frequent recourse to payday loans, not just for emergencies but on a regular basis to meet everyday bills.

  • Steve Trevethan 11th Sep '18 - 7:44am

    What have been the actual/real differences between Conservative, Labour and Lib-Dem economic/financial policies when in power?

  • David Raw,

    the point I was trying to get across is that taxes and spending are a similar levels now to what they were in 2007-08. The problem was not overspending by Labour in the years running up to the financial crisis, it was a destabilising increase in private sector debt in the noughties and risk-taking in the banking sector.
    Not a great deal has changed in that respect. Much of the recovery in the economy over the last decade has been predicated on growth in household borrowing rather than increases in real wages (as house prices have been ramped up again) and the banking sector, while better capitalised, remains largely unreformed.
    We are looking in the wrong places if we think that pubic spending levels in 2007-08 or similar levels of spending now is the source of economic malaise, regardless of what the Chancellor claims.
    How and what is taxed, how spending is prioritised and just as important how reforms are delivered to avoid harm to the most vulnerable is the key to stability and growth.

  • If I can just side step the debate about the coalition years and return to the original proposition, it seems to me that the problem of middle class domination of the political process is one which is deeply embedded in our political institutions. Even the Labour Party is moving away from choosing candidates who once had “real” jobs. Didn’t Seumus Milne go to Winchester ? While fully supporting the aim, the goal must be to get a broader socio economic profile into our membership, rather than fast tracking poorer people into top roles. And would we have to means test members who wanted to stand for office ?

  • Sue Sutherland 11th Sep '18 - 12:49pm

    Thank you Alison for this post and for all the work you are doing. I hope there is a way of sharing your work with other constituencies, perhaps through ALDC? Or could you spread the word by setting up a Lib Dem group to promote the interests of people on low incomes within the party and the recruitment of those people into the party so we can really make a difference. I realise that may involve too much work for you.

  • As we’ve established, standing as a candidate [currently] requires significant personal resources, and whilst that is unfair, and LDHQ should try to help where required- it is still the reality.

    So whilst we accept that it may only be attractive to relatively wealthy individuals- we could collectively put some emphasis on the backgrounds and experiences of potential candidates- not everyone who is rich enough now, was always so privileged.

    But… whoever is chosen as a candidate should be encouraged to visit foodbanks, the citizens advice bureau, homeless & substance abuse shelters, youth hostels, asylum detention centres, refugees & recent immigrants, etc.- not for a photo opportunity, but to sit down and speak to the sort of person that will never come to an MPs advice surgery.

  • Norman Brand 12th Sep '18 - 4:22pm

    A very interesting insight into and perspective on the issues. I think it would give supporters of all the main political parties cause to reflect. I suppose the provisions and the arguments for shortlists would have to be very carefully worked out.

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