Conservative MP Heidi Allen announced last week that she was joining ex-Labour MP Frank Field in a nationwide ‘anti-austerity tour’ to highlight poverty and hunger across the UK.
The pair have started their visit in London and Leicester, where Allen was reportedly on the verge of tears as she listened to stories of sanctions, job losses and reliance on foodbanks.
Their findings so far echo the conclusions of the UN rapporteur on poverty, who recently declared the government was “punitive, mean-spirited and often callous” in inflicting “great misery” on the most vulnerable in society, and through “political choice” rather than economic necessity.
Among many other accounts, Field has described meeting people so weak from hunger that they could not lift food parcels given to them by charities; the pair have met others sanctioned so often they live on £5 a week, or who have been forced to sell all their possessions save for one pair of clothes.
Despite now being commonplace, these stories are heart-breaking and absolutely shocking in the world’s fifth-richest country. It is absolutely right that politicians and other public figures bring them into the national consciousness as often and as vociferously as possible.
However, while Allen’s attempt to “show the government this exists” is admirable, she has not thus far seemed to broach the awkward truth that, as a Conservative MP, she has wholeheartedly supported the very policies she decries as causing poverty and misery.
In fact, Allen’s voting record – as summarised by They Work For You, an organisation which presents plain-English versions of open data from Parliament – shows that since 2015, she has voted with the party on ‘the vast majority’ of issues. In particular, the record shows that she has:
- Voted against paying higher benefits for those unable to work due to illness or disability
- Voted for a reduction in welfare benefits
- Consistently voted to reduce government funding of councils
- Almost always voted against more powers for councils
- Consistently voted for phasing out secure tenancies
- Consistently voted against laws promoting equality and human rights
It seems tough to reconcile the message she intends to send to Downing Street with these votes, not to mention her continued representation of a party which has implemented these and many other policies which are causing widespread poverty and which even government minsters accept have helped double homelessness in just eight years.
With a string of Conservative councillors defecting to Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party in recent months, can Allen maintain her party allegiance despite her ‘revelation’ that the government is pushing millions into poverty and destitution?
Is her ongoing anti-austerity tour the epiphany that will see her reject her voting record, or will she continue to toe the line on similar policies?
If she does both, it will certainly be tough to see this foray into the lives of vulnerable people across the UK as anything more than a crocodile tear-inducing stunt – much like the seemingly coordinated visits to food banks that Conservative MPs made before Christmas.
Those who are suffering at the hands of Conservative policy will welcome any attempt to hold the government to account – but not if this effort is smeared with the cynicism and hypocrisy of countless similar pleas for pity.
Sam Peters’ key interests are politics, social and environmental issues, including a focus on South America and Japan. Most recently, he has written for Jericho Online, Japan Today and the Green Party.
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