Late yesterday afternoon, I passed by several homeless people. It is hard to write honestly about what I saw and how I felt without sounding patronising and rude. I did not know their stories, I did not know how they ended up on the street. They were probably ten years younger than they looked. Life, and perhaps more specific things, had ravaged them. It is terrible to see homelessness returning to so many of our streets.
Even though I came from a very poor background, we never had to beg. Yes, we occasionally relied on the generosity of others, in terms of clothing, just now and then for food. However, we usually had just enough to get by. In fact, my mother did so well hiding our breadline existence, I believed, until I was an older teenager, that everyone was like us. I had something. I suspect the people I saw yesterday, and see so often, had nothing.
I know about food banks, too. I have never had cause to use them, but in my more recent professional life, I have on numerous occasions taken others to food banks. Often, they were situated in the constituency of the right wing Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. If seeing homeless people on the street was depressing, being in a food bank produced a myriad of emotions. Huge admiration for the volunteers who ran it, the supermarkets who enabled collection and indeed contributed to them and, of course, ordinary folk who gave what they could. I remember attending one food bank with a severely disabled man who was in tears from the moment we left his house to the time when I left him after returning from the food bank. For a few days, he could both heat and feed himself. I met many people like this over the years.
It was the sheer injustice of it all that troubled me. Our government was happily dishing out tax cuts to the very wealthiest people in society, whilst leaving the rest to rot. The years of austerity, imposed upon us by DaviD Cameron’s right wing Tory government in which some Liberals had jobs, were aimed specifically at the poorest. Under Theresa May’s wretched government, homelessness and the use of food banks has escalated. As May leads the country off a cliff with a disastrous Brexit, it was hardly fitting that she danced her way onto stage at the Tory Party conference to the strains of Abba’s Dancing Queen.
Put to one side the fact that Abba has consistently refused to allow politicians of any colour to use (and abuse) their music, it was particularly galling that May chose to do so yesterday in such a cringeworthy, toe-curling way. We know why she did it. We all saw her embarrassing performance when called on to ‘dance’ during a recent trip to Africa. This, her spin doctors concluded, was the best way to show her as human, human with a sense of humour. I suspected that, for many, it worked. I felt sorry for her.
I felt sorry for May because she doesn’t doesn’t get it. The leader of a country as divided as it has been in my lifetime, even more so than it was under Margaret Thatcher. Riven by inequality, May tried to speak to a small section of the electorate. It was as if homelessness, food banks, increasingly child poverty, rising NHS waiting lists, underfunded schools did not exist. Serious times call for serious politicians. We have May and Jeremy Corbyn.
Believe it or not, I do have a sense of humour. But this wasn’t funny. It will play well with the media and a certain type of person who doesn’t look beyond the fluff and froth of politicking. It should play very badly with a country in crisis.
Unwittingly,perhaps, May was taking the piss. She sees no evil, she hears no evil. She has a tin ear. She has a sense of duty but little real ability and absolutely no leadership qualities. No empathy, no sympathy; no clue of how “ordinary people” as she calls us live their lives. But don’t worry if you are choosing between eating and heating, Theresa May is the Dancing Queen, having the time of her life. Out of ideas, out of her depth but sadly still in office.