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Not Just a Game

Earlier this week I was playing Ludo with my six year old daughter. She was beating me hands down, and at one point landed on my last hope counter and sent it home. I turned on her in mock-outrage "What have you done to poor Mummy?" only to realise seconds later that I'd misjudged my attempt at humour when her little face crumpled.

"I'm sorry, Mummy, I didn't mean to." she wailed.

I cuddled and reassured her, "It's ok, Mummy was joking. It's only a game."

One of my pet hates is people who declare they're not interested in politics, that it's boring, or that it's not for people like them, as in my experience the people who don't care about healthcare or education or taxes or pensions or immigration or welfare or the environment are fairly few and far between. I do, however, have huge sympathy for people who are turned off by political game playing and point-scoring. Because unlike Ludo, politics isn't just a game.

I am a left-wing liberal, so I was never going to be the biggest fan of the most draconian right-wing government for a generation; arguably since universal suffrage. But what I really can't stand, what fills me with a visceral anger, an odium so intense that I can feel my blood pressure rising notch by notch every time I listen to the news, is that for David Cameron and George Osborne, politics is just a game, taken less emotionally seriously than my daughter takes a game of Ludo.

That has been amply demonstrated this week. David Cameron has been accused of hypocrisy following the publication of his letter to Oxfordshire County Council chastising them for cuts to public services. A much-vaunted austerity drive, leading to the council's budget being cut by 37% has led less good public services. Museums and libraries are closing. Day-care services for the vulnerable elderly are closing. Children's Centres are closing. Who could possibly have predicted that? The tragedy of Britain in 2015 is that the Prime Minister obviously hadn't because, egged on by his Chancellor, he was too busy playing the political game. If we move the blue counter here then we can block the red counters in, and send the yellow counters home entirely. Surrounded by affluent friends and cushioned by his extensive personal fortune from the realities confronting families and individuals across the country, it simply hadn't occurred to him that the game he plays for political points has real and devastating consequences for millions.

When the House of Lords voted against the welfare reforms a couple of weeks ago Cameron and Osborne accused them of precipitating a constitutional crisis. The Lords had failed to play the politics game by the rules drawn up by a wealthy elite. They had come to the conclusion that party political strategising which would take over £1,000 from the poorest households was anything but a game, and that they had to fulfil their constitutional role of holding the elected chamber to account.

I am a firm believer in democracy, and am no apologist for hereditary or any other kind of privilege granting political influence. But don't let the Tories try and persuade you that their criticisms of the Lords come from a desire to protect democracy. This is a party for whom less than a quarter of those on the electoral register voted for in May, and a party which is attempting swingeing cuts to tax credits despite prior to the election having pledged to protect them.

My parents, brother and sister-in-law all volunteer regularly in their local food banks. Client confidentiality means that they can't tell me any details which could identify individuals, but what I do know is that these people are desperate. It is not a game when you are a single mother holding down a zero-hour contract job but unable to feed your children because you weren't given enough hours that week. It is not a game when you miss your compulsory weekly visit to the Job Centre because of a clashing hospital appointment, and are sanctioned by having your benefits (and only source of income) removed for three weeks even though you gave advance notice and provided a letter from the hospital. It is not a game when you start to believe that suicide is the only way out of the debt trap that the bedroom tax has placed you in because the rent on your three-bedroomed council house has increased substantially and even though you would be willing to downsize you can't because there are no smaller council properties available.

When I was at Oxford University I wasn't a member of the Oxford Union, but I did attend a couple of their debates. Even then I wasn't a fan of the entitled game-playing, but at least it was only a game. The current government has taken that ethos, where showing off, point-scoring, grandstanding and personal popularity are all that matters, and are now applying it to running the country. But it isn't 'just a game', and I'm scared wondering how bad things will have to get before they realise that.

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