May I start with a word of appreciation to The Star for offering the opportunity to the six Sheffield MPs to take turns to write a weekly column. In this first article, I do not intend to make a party political point but to try and persuade readers just how much politics matters.
Whether you have a job, a home, and an income you can manage on, is, of course, partly down to you – but it is also down to the government’s priorities and, as my grandfather would have said, “whether the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.
After all, it was the bankers who brought us to our knees, not the politicians. And yet, those who are worst off have felt the austerity measures most keenly – wages held down, and benefits (in particular benefits which apply to those in work) either frozen or reduced.
A total of £173 million has been taken out of the Sheffield economy in benefit cuts, on top of £220 million cut from the city council budget by the coalition.
This is money not just taken out of the pockets of the least well-off, but actually out of the local economy which sustains local shops, small businesses and activity that ensures people have a job to go to.
But here is the rub. The people hit hardest are least likely to vote or take an interest in public decision-taking, and are most likely to feel alienated and disgusted by politics and politicians.
This is, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The younger – and poorer – you are, the less likely you are to vote. The richer, better educated and more engaged in public life, the greater the likelihood you will make your voice heard.
So “a plague on all your houses” benefits those who already know how to work the system. In other words, taking your bat home and believing we are all as useless as each other only helps those already helping themselves.
Yes, politics is a messy business and so often we fail to live up to expectations, but it is also down to politics that schools are rebuilt, the health service sustained, and that we have a city to be proud of.
That is why, in the difficult time ahead, I hope as many people as possible, in whatever way they can, will get engaged in making their community a better place in which to live. In that way, we can make Sheffield an even better city for all of us.
David Blunkett, Brightside and Hillsborough MP.