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I Joined The Labour Party - Even Though I Can't Vote For Them

20/06/2017 12:02
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS via Getty Images

UK elections bring up mixed emotions for me: I am a researcher and teacher of politics, but I'm also a migrant and therefore ineligible to vote here. I repeat ad nauseam that my expertise is in political violence, not electoral politics, and yet I'm utterly addicted to polls. Going into the June 8 vote, I was admittedly more or less ambivalent - a Tory landslide was being predicted by everyone from the media to my most voraciously Corbynite friends. That was before that shock of an exit poll.

It was impossible not to be swept up in the momentum of the Labour Party on election night, and so, the day after the election, I called up the Labour Party office and handed over my membership fee (and as an aside, spoke to some very upbeat people who were probably running on nothing but caffeine and adrenaline). I did it so that I could fully participate in campaigning for Labour in the next election - which is presently looking like it will be well in advance of my own voting eligibility. A month ago, the idea of joining a party I couldn't vote for (and that you pay to join!) seemed outrageous to me, so what is it about Labour that made me change my mind?

Here are a few of the reasons:

Austerity. Microeconomics doesn't always translate to macroeconomics, and despite its "common sense" appeal, austerity simply doesn't make sense. Taking an overly simplified view - if you found that you had too many outgoings and not enough incomings, you would try to reduce your spending. You decide to make coffee at home and take it to work instead of buying it from the local café. But if everyone in your neighbourhood makes that decision, that café sees its profits shrink, its ability to meet overheads collapses, and the café closes. The economy shrinks a bit, people become nervous, and they save more (rather than spend or invest), and the cycle continues. Austerity, by virtue of cutting spending, cuts infrastructure investment and public service support, which cripples the growth potential of individual economic actors and the economy as a whole. It also entrenches socioeconomic inequality as it tends to hit the working class, and women, the hardest. The divisive nature of austerity was seized upon by Mr. Corbyn and presented to the electorate as both harmful and ultimately misguided. The Labour manifesto is a return to Keynesian economic principles after decades of neoliberalism; however, Keynes is clear that his model is applicable to times of crisis, and spending should be pared back once the crisis ends. Keynes is not without his critics, and it's by no means a perfect solution (as stagflation showed us), but his model works a lot better than the alternative.

The NHS. It isn't perfect, and of course there are problems, but the slow slide to privatisation is worrying. While there has been continued insistence that a semi-privatised NHS would not require users to pay at the point of service, the potential problem is bigger than an Americanesque copay - it's about access. And it's important to remember that private contractors have different priorities from a public trust. If ever there is a place to borrow from the progressive playbook's "people before profit", it's in healthcare. Take it from an American who weathered a year working three jobs with no health insurance - you, Britain, do not want to go the way of the Americans. The NHS, and indeed the whole social care system, was a major attraction for me in deciding to move to the UK, not because of its availability to me personally (because while I can access the NHS, the rest of public funding is off-limits), but because of what it said about the British people. You care about each other. What a wonderful way to live.

Migration. Labour had my full attention with the promise to stop scapegoating migrants, and to replace the income thresholds on family visas (and thus ensuring that family life is a privilege available only to the wealthy) with a denial of recourse to public funds. Of course, under the Conservatives, non-EU migrants such as myself already don't have access to public funds - it's printed right on our visas. We do have access to the NHS, but since 2015 have had to pay a non-refundable fee on top of the visa application fee at the time of submission. I have no real problem with this fee (if the NHS needs money I'm happy to help), but it grates having to pay £500 on top of the nearly £1000 application fee while listening to the Tories' narrative of migrants as a drain on the economy and a strain on the NHS. The truth of migration is that migrants add more than they detract to a national economy - something my own home country would do well to remember - and despite being fully active members of their community, overwhelmingly lack any kind of representation. It was a relief to hear a political party put forward campaign promises in direct rebuttal to what amounted to a Conservative attack on migrants, especially after Ed Miliband's 2015 "controls on immigration" pledge that pandered to what Natalie Bennet called an "anti-migrant consensus".

It feels as if the dust only just beginning to settle on the General Election, with some commentators early on referring to it as the General Election of June 2017, just in case there is another election this year. But whenever the time comes to return to the polls, I'll be backing Labour with my calls and canvassing, if not my vote.

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