Today is my 20th wedding anniversary. My life has changed beyond recognition over the last 20 years. as I pondered the events of the last 20 years, I satrted to think about the effects of various government policies in that period.
So here's a question for you. When you vote do you actually consider how party policies have affected your family in the real world? We often think that it doesn't make any difference, but is this true? Lets analyse some of the major events in the last 20 years and see how government policies have affected my family and my household.
Back in 1995, the mortgage rate was 6.75%. John Major was the Prime Minister and the Tory party were racked with divisions regarding Europe. The single currency was still five years away. The Tories were peddling the lie that if Tony Blair got elected, the UK would join the scheme and the UK would simply be a region of the EU with no power and no currency. The picture (left) depicts one of the Tory election posters of the day. There are many things Tony Blair will be remembered for, but sitting on Helmut Kohl's knee is unlikely to be one of them. In short the premise was a lie. In 1995 the country was still recovering from the disatser of the Tory economic policies of the late 1980's and early 1990's, when interest rates hit 15%. For those of us who had mortgages then, this put a huge hole in our household budget. Of course our household budget in April 1995 was completely different to today, as we didn't have children.
In October 1995 this changed. My eldest daughter was born in Edgware General hospitals maternity unit. For many of us in Mill Hill, Burnt Oak and Edgware, this reminds us of one of the biggest impacts of government policy on our community. The Tories had marked Edgware General for closure. Wheras my mother and my mother in law were able to hop on a 251 bus to see their new grandchild, by 1997 when my second daughter was born, maternity care had moved to Barnet General. Have you ever tried to get from Mill Hill to Barnet General by public transport? It is a nightmare. My Mum, who at the time was very independent and loved travelling on buses, was enraged by the experience.
Shortly after my daughter was born, John Major was gone and Tony Blair swept to power
It isn't just maternity care that moved. A&E moved to Barnet as well. Even worse has been the fact that Barnet General has never been able to cope with the number of people it has to treat. Any trips to A&E are always a nightmare, with a wait of 4 hours being fairly normal, often with someone in a state of distress.
In May 2000 my son was born. He was born at Edgware, not in the Maternity unit, but in the midwife lead birthing unit. This was one of the first tangible examples of the improved emphasis that Labour put on the NHS. Labour was also committed to improving the NHS offering, redeveloping Edgware Community hospital. In September 2000, my eldest daughter started school at St Vincents RC school on the Ridgeway in Mill Hill. At the time the school was run down and dilapidated. The playground had a dangerous slope and it was only the stirling efforts of the staff that kept the schools reputation as an excellent primary.
Due to the huge commitment of the Labour government, a year later the school was fully rebuilt, with new classrooms, better facilities and a wider curriculum as new IT suites were opened. My second daughter started just in time to have a term in the old school building, the last ones who would see the old environment.
At the end of the year 2000, my mum had a major stroke. She was transformed from being a strong and independent woman, to being a housebound, infirm old lady, under the care of the geriatric unit at Barnet General. Sadly, it seems to me that geriatric care is the area where both parties are failing us. The elderly are the people who built the country, their taxes have educated us. Their salaries fed us as children. Sadly the NHS just doesn't care. When my mother had her stroke, she couldn't walk or talk. She was bedbound and unable to do anything. Sadly this meant that sometimes she was left unattended in her own excrement for hours. Our family visited every day and due to the complaints and attention, her quality of care improved, but my heart bled for the poor old dears with no family to care for them. My biggest bugbar with the NHS is that there was minimal effort put into rehabilitation. I believe that if my mother had had more intensive physiotherapy and speech therapy, her recovery would have been quicker and the care costs would have been far cheaper. It would also have been better for her.
By 2000, interest rates were down to 6% and the economy was booming. It is funny to look at some of the headlines of the day, where Gordon Brown was commended by all for his prudence and tight fiscal policies.
For much of the early Noughties, times were good. Interest rates came down. The childrens primary education progressed well. The regular visits to Barnet General for issues with my Mum were always a pain in the bum, but she was old school and never complained. She always said "Labour have saved my life with the NHS, if this was America I'd have run out of money and be dead". Her view was that hopsitals should be stark and austere, as they were not holiday camps. Her view was that if they were too nice they'd fill up with lazy malingerers. Her view was that if you were genuinely ill, you'd put up with it.
In 2007, there was a huge blow to my mums self esteem and independence. Barnet Council outsourced their meals on wheels service to Sodexho. My mum had built up a good relationship with the old delivery service. The food was tasty and nutritious and the staff caring and friendly. Most important for her, the service was delivered on time. Sadly this all changed with Sodexho. On the first day, the food didn't arrive at all. On the second day it arrived cold at 5pm (she's been used to getting it at noon on the dot). It soon became clear that the Sodexho had screwed up. They had deliver rounds with 40 people on to be delivered in 3 hours. This was simply untenable. Some old ladies were taking 3 minutes to answer the door, blowing the timings out of the water. My mother realised that her independence was an illusion and became depressed. In 2008, she suffered another stroke and passed away.
This was also the time when the international banking crisis hit. Interest rates plummitted to 2% and all of a sudden the talk was about austerity. However the policies of the Labour government of Gordon Brown meant that for small business owners like myself, things were actually not too bad. VAT was cut from 17.5 to 15%, putting money in our pockets. With lower interest rates, the household bills were lower. Inflation stayed low.
In 2010, the coalition took power. Wheras the Labour government had tried to keep the economy rolling, the Tories had a different view. VAT was hiked up to 20%. This immediately hit our business in the pocket. Prices to customers were forced up and all of a sudden we saw a huge drop in studio bookings. A new rating list came in and energy prices rocketed. over the last five years of the coalition, we've been hit by one policy after another from the local and national Tories. Small businesses in Barnet have been massively clobbered. I simply cannot understand why so many owners still vote Tory. It is an odd quirk that we've always made far more money under Labour. I wonder how many business owners actually look at what they make before deciding on who to vote for.
As the coalition shuffles towards the dustbin of history, the bottom line is this. We pay higher rates, higher energy charges, more VAT and have more regulations than ever. We are hit by huge stealth taxes for servies such as rubbish collection. In short the Coalition has been a nightmare for us.Only this year has our turnover risen above the levels we were seeing before the coalition, as people are seeing money in their wallets, however I believe that the current economic boom is simply a result of the Tories pumping money into the economy before the election. I am truly worried about what they will do if they get elected again.
And getting back to the personal and family life. This September, 20 years after me and the Missus tied the knot and had the first of our children, we are again facing a major change. Both of our daughters will be leaving home and going to University in the Autumn. Sadly for our daughters, they are planning this in the period of the coalition government. Now I never went to Uni, I was too thick, but my wife studied Russian at Manchester University in the 1980's.She got a full grant and left Uni completely debt free. Sadly for my beautiful daughters they'll have debts of tens of thousands of pounds as a result of student loans. Both have worked extremely hard to get their A Levels. How are they rewarded? With a scheme whereby they will have to pay a fortune simply to get an education.
Now this makes me sick. In the modern world economic climate, the only advantage the UK has over its neighbours is the quality of our workforce. Student loans are a tax on education. The Tories tell us that cutting taxes for billionaires is great for the economy as it "stimulates growth". Well how can they possibly claim that what is good for billionaires wallets is bad for students wallets? How on earth can they claim that tax is good for students and bad for billionaires? The sad truth is that the greedy billionaires who control the printed media and thick rich celebrities, who don't give a monkey about anything or anyone apart from their own hedonistic lifestyle, pump money into the Tories to perpetuate these awful policies.
Perhaps the thing which scares me the most are idiots like Russell Brand, who claim that "voting doesn't matter". I sometimes wonder if Brand is a fifth columnist for the dark forces of greed. If voting and elections didn't matter, do you seriously think that billionaires wouldn't bankroll the Tory party?