The thing about politics is, it changes as you get older. I've known this for a long time: when I was in my early 20s, a boyfriend's uncle told me that voting Labour was for the young, and I'd shift to voting Conservative as I got older.
I have voted Labour for most of my life, with occasional forays in the Green or Lib Dem directions. Now, though, I am feeling somewhat disenchanted. There are many reasons for this, but one is a direct result of my work. I am currently being funded by the Government to research the reasons why some families with young children, living below the poverty line, don't use the services provided by the state. I wonder why the Government bother paying me with one hand, while with the other hand they are enforcing policies like the recent Ofsted ruling that parents who are friends may not set up informal childcare exchange arrangements and our Prime Minister's plan that 'bad' parents will have to attend parenting skills courses or their benefits risk being withdrawn. Even if you give your neighbour's child a lift, with your own, to an activity they both attend, you will have to undergo a check of your criminal record. Following the tragic and entirely preventable death of Baby P, Social Services departments across the land are reversing the policy of trying to keep families together that they have been using for the last 20 years and taking more children into care. So why do you think it could be that parents who are reliant on the state may not want to use services provided by the state? Can you see a potential problem here?
I'm not arguing that all these policies are wrong. Some of them may be right. What I'm arguing is that there has been a sea change from state support for families to state intervention in families, and in this climate there is little point investigating why some of the most marginalised families don't readily interact with public services, because it's completely bleedin' obvious.
So am I about to cross the floor of the House? I don't think so. David Cameron is machete-happy when it comes to benefits. He'd like to get unemployed people back into work, with particular emphasis on the disabled. Wake up, Mr Cameron! We have 2.5 million unemployed people in this country, most of them desperate to get back into paid work. Yes, getting them back into work is a great idea, but that won't be achieved by slashing benefits; it will only be achieved by creating and sustaining enough jobs to employ them all.
What will I do, then, at the next election? I have no idea. My Paramour and I are off to Edinburgh this weekend to visit friends, and they alerted us to a demonstration to celebrate 100 years of women's suffrage. Frankly, right now I'd chain myself to some railings to fight for the right not to vote for any of the tossers who think they can run this country. If there was a 'none of the above' box on the voting form, I suspect I'd tick that option.
When Labour were elected in 1997, I thought it was the dawning of a new era. As they spent the next few years lambasting the Tories for leaving the country in such a mess, I cheered from the sidelines, confident that Labour would make our nation all shiny and new. But Labour's promises - the ethical foreign policy, prudent domestic economic management, etc - proved worthless. Now, we're facing the prospect of the Tories being elected, spending the next few years lambasting Labour for leaving the country in such a mess, and so on and so forth.
Here's the thing. People who are elected as MPs have to represent all their constituents fairly. They don't only represent those who voted for them. So why oh why oh why can't we put a stop to the blame game which has to be one of the most unattractive aspects of our culture? Labelling some parents, unemployed people with disabilities, people of other political parties as 'bad' is fundamentally unhelpful. If everyone who stands for Parliament has the best interests of our country's population at heart, why can't elected MPs work together to sort out the most sensible way forward, then give each social programme long enough to prove itself - or otherwise - before changing tack?