I’ve seen Neil Kinnock’s “I warn you” speech cropping up on Twitter alot lately. I first read that speech when I was 16 in a book of speeches I loaned to someone and never got back (yes, I really hate it when that happens and yes I’m that big a geek that I had the book to start with). The speech was simple, scathing and burned with anger. It deserves to be repeated properly, not in tiny Twitter sized chunks, so here it is:
If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as prime minister on Thursday, I warn you.
I warn you that you will have pain–when healing and relief depend upon payment.
I warn you that you will have ignorance–when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.
I warn you that you will have poverty–when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay.
I warn you that you will be cold–when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford.
I warn you that you must not expect work–when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies.
I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.
I warn you that you will be quiet–when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.
I warn you that you will have defence of a sort–with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.
I warn you that you will be home-bound–when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.
I warn you that you will borrow less–when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.
If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday–
I warn you not to be ordinary
I warn you not to be young
I warn you not to fall ill
I warn you not to get old.
It made an enormous impression on me the first time I read it, ten years on from when he made it. By then, his party had decided he was unelectable, anachronistic. His speech stood in sharp contrast to the Labour leader appointed by his party a year later: Tony Blair. Thirty years after Kinnock made his speech, twenty years after I first read it, we’re crying out for someone with the passion to take on a Government which I honestly believe is worse than Thatcher’s. Would that person’s party be electable? Probably not on current voting patterns. The centre is a popular place to be but here’s what else is currently missing: high voter turn out. As long as voters remain predominantly middle class, middle aged and elderly there won’t be an incentive to get out of the middle ground and a genuine left wing presence won’t exist in Parliament. Only the Unions seem to have any power at all over our politicians on the supposed left. We’re always told low voter turn out is because people are disillusioned with politics. That’s probably true but it’s bloody silly. If we’re disillusioned, we shouldn’t disenfranchise ourselves. The one bit of power we have is the ability to vote and so many of us routinely squander it.
People are calling for voters to send a message at local elections in May. I agree but say we should send that message by a historically high turn out. We should make our own election pledge. Buck the trend by keeping it. Vote. Send a message that our votes are there to be won in 2015. Then we’ve got two years to get across the message of what the politicians who want them will have to do for them.