Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Cross In The Box

I hope it hasn't escaped your attention that there's an election looming in the UK. I'm a sucker for a ballot, and make sure I get to the voting station on time (or frequently a bit early: at the last European elections I was the first man to vote in my ward). It's a big deal for me: the one chance we get every five years to shape our government.
But what does the election mean for ethical fashion and charities? If we wanted to vote based on the remit offered by this here blog, what would we need to know to ensure we put our cross alongside the party that best supported our views?
No party has a policy relating directly to our needs. Most have vague promises to tackle domestic slavery (which could mean any form of sweated labour, although most people read it to mean forced prostitution). It should be noted that there's a cross-party group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion, looking into issues like the environmental impact of fast fashion, child labour and the like. It should also be noted that this group hasn't convened since June last year.
So, if we don't have anything specific, we can at least zero in on issues that touch on our concerns and, with a eye to the past five years, see what promises have been made and kept.
The coalition of Conservative and Liberal Democrat came to power in 2010 with manifestoes that, underneath the urgent financial measures, contained pledges on climate change and the closer integration of the Third Sector into public welfare: the so-called "Big Society". It quickly became clear, as budget cuts began to bite, what that meant. Welfare was kicked over at the knee, and charities were expected to step in and clear up the mess. The end result: a million people in foodbanks, poverty biting harder than ever, and a gloomy charities sector struggling to cope. After 2012, we heard very little about the Big Society.
Environmental promises also went unkept. David Cameron's claim to head the "greenest government" foundered under the steely gaze of austerity politics, and plans to increase spending on wind farms and home solar initiatives were badly formulated and quietly dropped. As we head into the election, Tory enthusiasm over fracking and the crude oil find at Gatwick shows a government still beholden to the fossil fuel lobby, despite the best efforts of the green-leaning Lib Dems to put environmental issues on the negotiating table. Cameron's call to his policy heads to "get rid of that green crap" say it all.
So where do we look for a party that supports the environment and ethical issues? The obvious answer has to be the Greens, who have major environmental pledges baked into their manifesto. Green MP Caroline Lucas has attended seminars on ethical fashion, and has made it clear that she supports charities like Oxfam. Sounds perfect, right? The problem is, of course, that the Greens, despite the so-called "Green surge" are unlikely to build that momentum into a majority. As it stands, they'll be lucky to hang onto the one seat they do hold.
Environmental and ethical issues are, for the most part second-class citizens in a political debate dominated by the economy and the NHS, although the increased focus on immigration has has the unwanted effect of demonising the low-paid migrant workers who make up so much of the retail, service and medical sectors -- the exact opposite response for those of us who like to believe that dignity in work should be a cherished human right. Should we be downhearted? Is there no-one looking out for ethical fashion and charities in the government?
Well, here's the thing. It's likely that we won't see a majority government this time around, which makes more space for independent voices in government. The ConDemNation may have failed, with an innate failure of two factions to agree on core values. But that doesn't mean we should consider partnership at the highest level to be a bad idea. With the notion of proportional representation re-emerging more strongly than ever, we could be on the brink of a more representative Parliament, one that allows the message of fairly paid work and support for charities to be heard and acted upon.

One last thing. I'd just like to add my voice to the many who are urging you, however apathetic or angry about politics you are, to vote. It's estimated that 15 million people didn't bother in 2010. That's a majority that far overwhelms every other party's vote count. Don't make the assumption that politics has nothing to do with you. The coalition that has spent the last five years failing to deal with the deficit and stripping the NHS down to the bone came to power because not enough people cared to vote for a particular party. That shouldn't happen again. Tomorrow gives us a chance that doesn't come around often enough... to start again. We should not let that chance slip away.

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