I actually cannot believe what happened tonight.
Eric Pickles gets the name for being one of the rudest and most unpleasant members of the Cabinet. I hadn't seen this side of him and thought it worth giving him a chance. I went to tonight's union speech to listen (not to disrupt like the extremists outside, who were determined to prevent free speech).
What a disappoinment. He started off by giving a seemingly fair account of what the current government are doing - he beat down some questions about rich councils keeping more money by noting that they had less to start with - so far, so good. He had some people convinced. He filled up with righteous anger when someone asked him why he was attacking the poor - he was from a council estate, he would never attack the poor, and how dare anyone suggest he would. He had us convinced - here was a man who genuinely did believe that his philosophy would help the poorest. Wrong, of course, but not out there to 'get the poor' as the protesters were suggesting.
Then I made the disastrous move of asking him why he thought the current Tory party, despite Cameronism, were still thought of as 'hating the poor'. I had already noted in my question how sad I thought it was that the extremists were attempting to prevent grown-up politcal debate. What I wanted was just that - from the mouth of someone who was Chairman of the Conservative Party. Why is it that people think they hate the poorest - from someone who passionately wants to help the poor.
His response was one of the most depressing in my lifetime. I can safely say I have never come across such unprovoked and vicious rudeness in my life. His response (and bear with me, because it is fairly incomprehensible) - 'it's because of posh people like you joining the Labour Party'. And so on. I admit, I shouldn't have shouted 'oi' at a Minister of State. But I asked him - where is your serious political discussion? What on earth do you know about me? What is my background? Just because I speak in a particular way, why does that link me with one social grouping or another? And why does it matter? - and that is the crux of the matter. If the Torie truly believe in meritocracy - why does it matter?
I joined the Labour Party, like many others who have had 'priveleged lives' like me (and believe me it's not been that privileged - losing a father far too young, being the only one who is the 'poor boy' amongst a bunch of public schoolies - but I accept, the opportunities I've had have been amazing - and they're opportunites that every kid born in a developed country like ours should have BY RIGHT) because I give a toss about people who haven't had these opportunites, and because I think we should be offering better education, better life chances, and higher income to people who haven't had the chance of a pampered upbringing, or who have been dealt one of life's blows.
The major difference between my ideology and that of the Tories is this - I simply don't believe that everyone 'can' do everything by themselves, and make it up the social scale in the UK, because of the way that our structure still is. The Tories do. They believe in hands off government - that is their ideological reason for cutting areas which will hit the poorest hardest - because they believe that those dealt the biggest blow in society can simply sort it out themselves. It's not true, and it's been shown not to be true by study upon study. Tories like Pickles don't hate the poor - and I believe them; but they do totally misunderstand the social structures and the reasons that people start off, and remain, poor in the UK.
So tonight has depressed me. I can't bear extremists on the 'left' saying that all Tories hate the poor - because it's not true. They're just wrong about how to help the poorest (and there's certainly a question mark as to whether they care about the poor who won't move up by meritocracy). Success in life and in general are much about the opportunities afforded to children - and the poorer you are, the fewer the opportunities - and the fewer there will be if more cuts are made in services for the poor.
Tonight was also depressing because it highlighed just the level of political discussion that is present in the UK now. The other day, I mentioned that I was bored by the constant personal attacks made by people in politics on each other in order to make party political points - and was rebuked by a Tory, who said it always came from the left. Well, rubbish. Tonight, a pathetic attack came from Eric Pickles - a cheap, boring, and groundless attack, based on nothing other than prejudice.
Well, Tories, you've always been good at prejudice - I'm just suprised it's my accent you are attacking this time. Ten years ago it would be the fact that I was in love with another man. People with chips on their shoulder, of all different kinds, need to get them well away from the political arena. Just because I was lucky enough to be privileged (and not arrogant enough to think that I deserved it) doesn't mean I have no idea about the poorest, or that I don't care about them. Pickles - you were cheap tonight, and you let your govenment down. But worse than that, your ideology and political philosophy is letting down our society and the poorest in society, and I pray fervently for the day that you are banished from the benches of power, back to the easy benches of opposition. Or maybe people will realise how rude you are and relieve you of a seat - who knows. What I do know is that with a Cabinet like that, the Labour Party just needs to hold tight and wait.
Ed - the fightback has begun, and at the moment, it's own goals all the way from Cameron et al. It's time for the Labour Party to fight; to fight and to win. The Tories' cuts are ideological - and it's time they were beaten.