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Dublin: 5 °C Friday 19 December, 2014

Column: I don’t have political leanings – but neither, it seems, has Labour

This week, former trader Nick Leeson explains how he left London believing all UK political parties were the same – and how it looks like Ireland’s Labour party is also losing its Robin Hood status.

Nick Leeson

OUR POLITICAL LEANINGS are very much shaped by the environment that we grow up in. They can change over time but I believe that our early environment and the influence of our parents have a very large part to play.

I’m aghast at some of the more recent austerity measures that have been brought forward to resolve the country’s difficulties. I can’t fail to be astounded by the inequality of the measures where the Household Charge is concerned and the relative inappropriateness where the pursuit of pensioners is perceived to form part of the solution. And I can’t figure out how they are happening under the watch of the Labour party.

I have found myself questioning my own political leanings and realised: I have none. I struggle to remember if I have ever actually voted. I have a faint recollection of attending the local polling station when I was 18, relatively wet behind the ears and vaguely remember casting a vote but can’t remember the vote that was registered. Some people will be appalled that I haven’t chosen to exercise my constitutional right and some may point to my own actions as a symptom of the general malaise when an election comes around. Either way it wouldn’t really have changed what I did.

I grew up principally in the 1970s and early 1980s. It would be fair to say that politics were then a fair degree more confrontational than they are now. In the UK, there was a very clear divide between left and right and a fairly ineffective party in the centre that represented little more than a wasted vote. I come from a very working class background and grew up in a working class town, Watford, but it had distinct aspirations, so I attended a good school, was well educated but was always confused politically.

I had an aunt that was the secretary of the conservative party, parents who voted in opposite directions and my main political memory from that period was Arthur Scargill and the miners marching to London and the route passing the end of our street. Everyone was out on the streets cheering or jeering and I wasn’t sure what to do.

I went to work in the City and subconsciously became a capitalist. To a large degree that remains the case. I don’t like everything that happens in the world of finance and I understand totally the anger and distrust that is aimed in its direction but I am also realistic enough to understand that nothing will make it change.

When I worked in London, I wouldn’t have been one of the noisy buffoons who would have threatened to leave the country and set up as an exiled banker if taxes were raised but I would have silently sympathised with many people in that position. My salary wouldn’t have been sufficient to worry about it anyway but my views did become coloured. The left and right political parties all moved more closely to the centre and in my opinion the vote for one or the other became largely the same. This convinced me further that there was no need to vote.

I spent the next decade away from England and never had the inclination to post my vote. I became very insular, not to the extent that it was all about me but to the extent that unless something really impacted me or my family, I wouldn’t give it too much thought. Prison compounded that in a separate but distinct way. Because I learned that there were things that I could influence and things that I couldn’t, I rather softly succumbed to the fact that if I couldn’t influence something I just wouldn’t let it worry me.

Robin Hood’s legend was borne out of inequality, a rich/poor divide

Now, with three young children, the prospect of a lost decade on the horizon and increased austerity, I need to change.

We all know the story of Robin Hood, the outlawed fugitive who stole from the rich to give to the poor. The story is folklore where my father grew up, a small mining village in Nottingham. The fugitive’s actions were borne out of the inequality of the tax system and the rich/poor divide.

God only knows how he (Robin Hood) would have dealt with austerity in Ireland. The last election effected change, a coalition government between Fine Gael and Labour, clearly not at fault for the difficulties that we face but totally responsible for the methods to solve the situation.

With a Labour slant to the ruling coalition you would expect the measures proposed for solution to be fair. These latest measures are anything but. They are Robin Hood gone wrong, with the government are increasing the burden on the poorer to pay for the mistakes of the rich, the banks and the people who work within their walls.

I’m not privy to the numbers but a minor increase in the higher rate of tax or a third tier of tax would be a more equitable solution. The general public is already overladen with the burden of the bailout. Many have been pushed closer, if not over, the breadline: Adding more charges to an ever-increasing list of levies is not the solution.

I would have expected a traditional Labour party to be campaigning heavily against this but maybe, like in the UK, the political parties in Ireland are all now pretty much the same. Many may threaten to leave, few actually will.

Read Nick Leeson’s columns for TheJournal.ie >

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