On the soapbox

“I started life in very straightened circumstances” this lady said very sharply to me, “and now I’ve got my own home with four bedrooms. I’m never voting Labour”.

“Well, I’ve got my own home with seven bedrooms, and I too started life in a family without money, and I am voting Labour” retorted another, equally well-dressed lady of a similar age.

The great thing about my open air soap box sessions in Blackburn Town centre is that you never know what’s going to happen. They are entirely unscripted, impromptu events where the crowd is mainly people who happened to be in that part of town.

Last Saturday’s meeting didn’t start too wonderfully, if you happened to be me.  Once I’d done my five minutes’ warm-up, a man with big lungs and a loud voice asked me a “question” – or rather made a very effective speech without pausing for breath about the iniquities of the bonuses the banks were still paying themselves, and the failure, as he saw it, of the Government to ensure that every citizen had a proper shareholding in the banks which they as taxpayers now owned.

Why hadn’t we got a grip, instead of allowing the banks to go on as before?

There is an answer, which I gave. We were controlling bonuses in the banks we owned, but if we had to act in concert with other leading countries otherwise the bankers would simply move, and banks which “we” owned would be worth less to the British taxpayer.  The problem however was that my answer was a long and complicated one, whilst the questions and the statements leading up to them were short and pithy. It certainly didn’t convince the man with the loud voice, and it didn’t altogether convince me!  I could and should have put it better.

But thanks to the man with the voice the crowd suddenly thickened, and the fascinating exchange between these two ladies began.

The first lady’s central point was that people like me who may have come from a low income family but who now have a very good income and supported the Labour Party were hypocrites especially when they criticised “toffs”.  I explained that I’ve always avoided doing so, since none of us can chose our parents. I said that you should judge people not by where they came from, but where they wanted to take society to.   But this lady did raise one of the central questions of politics in all democratic countries.  How far does the state on behalf of the people try to equalise opportunities, and incomes; or would such intervention simply dull people’s sense of personal responsibility and initiative.

That’s where the second lady came in.  She was essentially saying that she’d only been able to do well (and central questions of politics in all democratic countries.  How far does the state on behalf of the people try to equalise opportunities, and incomes; or would such intervention simply dull people’s sense of personal responsibility and initiative.

That’s where the second lady came in.  She was essentially saying that she’d only been able to do well  (and get her seven bedroomed house) thanks in part to the doors which had been opened by others through the state, and though she was now doing fine she wanted others in the future to enjoy similar if not better opportunities.  I paraphrase but that was the essence of it. And by the time she’d finished what amounted to her speech, there was a loud and spontaneous burst of applause from the crowd.

Who said that folk are turned off by politics?   Not in Blackburn they’re not, if this meeting is a guide.