This is about whether we have a future. After nine years of biting austerity, there has to be an alternative, says academic and activist Ash Sarkar
I was five years old in 1997 when my mum took me with her to the polling station and let me scratch a wobbly X on the ballot paper. My main impression of the general election was it meant that I didnt have to go to school that day, and that voting Labour had something to do with Mum buying the biggest watermelon Id ever seen from the Turkish shop on the way home. More opaque was why she cried the next morning, or phoned her sister just to repeat This is amazing its just amazing over and over.
I think I understand her a bit better now. For a struggling single parent with two young kids, the end of 18 years of continuous Tory rule felt like being let out of a dark room.
Today, weve come through nine more such years. Weve seen Grenfell; the Windrush scandal; 5bn of cuts to disability benefits; 4 million children at risk of malnutrition owing to poverty; a parliament of landlords voting against a measure that would ensure all homes were fit for human habitation; rough sleepers in Westminster evicted after a complaint by the Commons chaplain about their ongoing stench. The home secretary, Priti Patel, standing in a food bank, shifting the blame for growing poverty on to the local councils whose budget her government had cut.
The last decade has seen our politicians turn into vandals, and a hatchet taken to the social contract. What we have witnessed is nothing less than, in the Italian theorist Franco Berardis words, the slow cancellation of the future. Austerity hasnt just decimated our public services. It has corroded the political imagination. The suggestion that the government might exist to improve peoples lives rather than oversee the managed decline of our society is greeted as somehow preposterous. Were told the things that we had in the past would be unreasonable to have in the future.
Politicians who got their university education for free tell the young that tuition fees are simply a fact of life. The return to corporation tax to about 2010 levels is regarded as akin to Maoism. And Boris Johnson, who has been otherwise careful to avoid the miserable determinism of Theresa Mays 2017 campaign, fell back on the familiar bleat that theres no way to magic up money for those who have borne the brunt of Conservative economic policy.
Nowhere is our countrys atrophied capacity to imagine better more apparent than in the political classs response to the climate emergency. Sure, Extinction Rebellion occasionally lurch into self-parody, but no amount of hippy-dippy nonsense could be more shameful than Adam Boultons tirade on Sky News this year in which he accused climate activists of being the incompetent middle-class and self-indulgent. That a broadcaster rumoured to be paid 400,000 a year can get away with calling others moneyed and out of touch has permanently damaged the part of my brain responsible for processing irony.