Last night, I attended the final Full Council meeting in Southend before the elections being held on the 5th of May. I started writing this blog almost five years ago now, and it started as a local political report, from thew public galleries of the Civic Centre, in response to a stalwart Conservative councillor claiming on the front page of the Southend Echo that ?Druggies, Drunks And Single Mums Are Ruining The Town?.
Furious, I wrote a letter to the newspaper that I will find and republish here later. It was so long and so outraged that the newspaper serialised it over a couple of days, and this blog was born.
Later on, as a result of suspended benefits and bank charges racking up debts and bills unpaid, I started to add the recipes that I was cooking on a handful of change for myself and my Small Boy, he barely 2 years old, and eight whole homes ago. The blog went viral ? and life was not the same again.
But my interest in local politics remains. Such is the dissonance that I am regularly told by (usually male) ?trolls? to ?get back in the kitchen? whenever I start or contribute to political debate.
Last night, I lost over 300 Twitter followers from the beginning to the end of a local council meeting. Many got in touch to tell me they were ?only here for the recipes? ?unfollowing? ?nobody cares? and words to that effect.
I would like to take the opportunity to apologise to those who think that local politics is beneath them.
To those who have obviously never used a library
nor a hospital
a Post Office
a children?s centre
who didn?t go to school
nor send their children to one
nor a college
nor a local university
nor a vocational qualification.
You don?t drive on roads
nor use the cycle lanes
nor the local buses
nor the train services
nor walk on the pavements
and never use a taxi service.
You must be those who never enjoy local parks
or the greenery around the town
every tree planted
every street scene designed and maintained for its residents
and you don?t use any of the shops on the High Street
never visit the art galleries
nor the museum
nor the beautiful cliff gardens
never rest on local benches
nor put your rubbish in local bins.
To those who have never walked home beneath working street lights
never submitted planning permission
paused to read those yellow notices cable-tied to lamp posts and fences
nor opposed it.
Those privileged enough to have never needed to queue at their local food bank, nor beg for a referral letter from their GP or social worker
who have never had to write to a local councillor nor MP to plead for intervention when three months of unpaid benefits mean you are about to be made homeless.
Those who have never sofa surfed while on a council waiting list 10,000 strong, nor slept under bridges, in cars, or on the steps of the Civic Centre.
To those who enjoy the hard won labours of local representatives, day in and day out, but refuse to acknowledge it.
You complain about ?Government? as though it is a seperate entity, something ?other?, something beyond your control.
People constantly ask me why I am so interested in local politics.
I?m not. Politics bores the shit out of me.
I?m interested in my bins being collected, my child having a decent education, a safe hospital to give birth in, an A&E to turn up to when I have another heart attack and the X Ray services that identified the clots on my lungs. I?m interested in a safe and suitable home for me and my child, with regulations in place to ensure that it is habitable and (almost) affordable. I love a clean street to walk down, a park to enjoy my solitude, a walk with friends, a borrowed dog, my son?s childhood. Clean beaches to stand and stare at, a sea edge to dip my toes, flood defences to protect the towns homes and businesses.
I?m interested in a good high street that meets the needs of residents and encourages local businesses. Safer streets. A visible police patrol to look after our town and the people. Firefighters in case of emergencies, ranging from road traffic collisions to house fires to carbon monoxide to trapped animals, chemical spillages, overturned tankers on main roads and fitting smoke alarms for vulnerable people, community safety, home fire safety visits, education on road traffic collision reduction, and talking to children about the dangers of fire. I?m interested in enough ambulances to turn out in time to prevent tragedies, that can treat patients in their homes with appropriate equipment or convey them to a hospital for doctors and nurses to attend to.
I?m interested in good care homes, and supported housing for vulnerable members of our community.
I?m interested in safe refuge for women, and programs to support victims of domestic abuse, enough police officers to deal with harrasment and stalking, and a staffed and trained rape crisis helpline.
I?m interested in a local safeguarding children board, looking after our foster carers, having appropriate adoption procedures.
I?m interested in accountability, so people cannot run amok in their own interests.
I?m not interested in politics.
I?m interested in my town, my family, our lives.
Decisions made in local council meetings affect all of us, every single day. Look at the shower of crooks and cronies braying away on Prime Ministers Questions and ask yourself if this is what you want to lead our country?
Apathy is strangling our democracy.
It is not down to just a handful of us to fight any more, to report, to rage, to rally.
I started as a local political reporter before the recipes and I will not apologise for returning to my roots. Someone has to sit at meetings until 1am, after all.
Because as Edmund Burke said, ?The only thing necessary for evil to triumph, is for good people to stand by and do nothing.?
Jack Monroe. Twitter & Instagram: @MxJackMonroe