Over the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to sit and listen to ‘real’ people talk about their hopes and aspirations as well as their anxieties and fears.
Their voices, as opposed to those which we hear on the news or indeed those that we engage in at conferences or workshops, provide a very different frame of reference from that which has shaped the political and national conversation over the last five years.
In this conversation people talk about what happens when their benefits are stopped or they describe the experiences of managing on very low wages ( sometimes barely meeting the minimum wage) and how they support their extended families in very emotionally fraught circumstances.
Or the conversation has been about how to raise the question of domestic violence and gain support from local community organisations, when to raise the issue runs the risk of even further marginalisation or exclusion. What about how one individual now feels able to talk to their child’s teacher whereas before they felt vulnerable and lacked the confidence to do so. Or where an individual describes the support they have had to start a training course which they didn’t think they would be able to do?
All of these conversations (some in the different parts of the North West, others in London) are examples of how the televised general election presents a very partial and different discussion.
The alternative conversation is one in which the support to vulnerable individuals and communities is itself vulnerable. The ways on which talented and committed individuals, some paid professionals, but many not giving of their time voluntarily, support others, campaign for change or indeed just offer very ordinary but humane support is huge and amazing.
It’s a different world from one which is trivialised on the news over how many kitchens a politician has. In this conversation we see the infrastructure of the social and welfare state creaking and bending.
The risk is, apart from what happens to individuals, that the gaps between these two worlds accentuates and on so doing it becomes much harder to have the political conversation and so individuals become even more disconnected from political discussions.
This is a theme to which I will return.