Stop The Poverty

“It’s Christmas time, and there’s no need to be afraid.”  So says the song. 

This Christmas, like every year, millions in our country will be working.  Emergency services, NHS staff, catering and hospitality workers.  Taxi drivers, people staffing petrol stations.  

And for many people who work, and many who can’t get reliable work, the money will run out. Personal debt is an epidemic. Everyone I know has made a donation to a foodbank or toy donations.  It’s both heartening that people care, and heart rending that we need to. 

We’re in the 21st century, in one of the richest countries ever to exist.  Yet people are working for a living and their kids are still in poverty.  There’s something profoundly wrong in the way our country works. 

One of my favourite Xmas songs is Stop the Cavalry by Jona Lewie, whose birth name was, in a Christmas coincidence, John Lewis.  Intended as an anti-war song, it has become a Christmas classic. 

Perhaps it’s near the top of my list because when it was first released I was growing up.  US nuclear cruise missiles were being stationed in the UK at Greenham Common, and fear of nuclear war was palpable. 

But mainly it’s because of the lyrics.  Two lines stick out. 

“I have had to fight almost every night, down throughout these centuries. That is when I say, oh yes yet again, can you stop the cavalry?”

For generations we’ve been led into wars, started by leaders who were not acting in our interest.  They sent our brothers and fathers and sons off to war.  It’s always the common soldiers who pay the price.  The civilians whose deaths are labelled as collateral damage. Generation after generation, down throughout these centuries, we’ve failed to look after soldiers returning from war.

I’m not a pacifist. My family served in the armed forces. I’m a black belt in jiu jitsu, I’ve intervened as a Good Samaritan when I’ve seen women being attacked.  In a time of crisis, force is necessary. But I’m struggling to think of a war that couldn’t have been avoided with stronger diplomacy and economic pressure.  Violence must be the last resort, not the first response.

The other line that touches me even more is, “If I get home, live to tell the tale, I’ll run for all presidencies. If I get elected I’ll stop, I will stop the cavalry.”

It’s the simplicity and innocence of the line.  So improbable and difficult against a political establishment, and yet such an obvious and direct solution.  The idea that bringing about change requires only the political will to make change happen. 

Now I find myself in office as Mayor.  I’m bringing jobs here. I’ve been meeting companies, and so has my team. Our inward investment programme was set up to create 600 new jobs. It’s been so successful that we’re expanding the programme.  We’re now on target to bring 2000 jobs to our region. Good jobs – permanent jobs on decent terms and conditions. 

Work has to be a route out of poverty. In all previous hard times, unemployment was the scourge. Now we have in-work poverty.

Last Tuesday, my cabinet has agreed our Good Work Pledge.  We’ll accredit employers who meet high standards.  Those who pay the Real Living Wage, offer stable hours, and in work progression.   Who meet diversity and equality standards, give mental health support and flexible working.  Who have a trade union recognition agreement. We’ll make it flexible enough so it’s easy for small and micro businesses so sign up.

Accredited firms will get an advantage in winning public sector work. Enlightened employers understand that looking after people is good business sense. When you keep good staff, morale and productivity are higher.

Unlike Jona Lewie, I did get elected.  I don’t have power over foreign policy, and I can’t stop the cavalry. But I’m working my socks off to stop the poverty.

This article was first published in The Chronicle and The Journal on Monday 23rd December 2019. It is based on a previous blog post.

A picture of me looking very statesmanlike. Happy Christmas!