Notes from a small island

April 18, 1997

Three academics explain how and why they will vote

I shall vote Labour partly as a result of history, personal and public. I am the child of a single parent, a working mother, and a primary school teacher. The Government's absolute lack of respect for such parents contrasts with Labour's appreciation of them. I am a woman: Labour's record is solid in drawing women into equal presence. I am a first generation university graduate. I know from my childhood how much intelligence was unrecognised in the past. Now the opening up of higher education must bring with it resources if the fresh students are not to be fobbed off with falling standards. Labour is committed to sustaining excellence along with access. But other reasons for voting Labour have to do with what I am not: I am not homeless or living on an estate where almost everyone is unemployed; I am not under threat as a minority, or refused basic welfare as an asylum seeker. I am not in prison in degrading conditions. It is appalling to live under a Government that encourages us to take such things for granted and expects us to be satisfied with prosperity bought at such cost. Such attitudes will affect each person directly as the national health service, our truly civilised institution, is unravelled.

The Government's disarray on Europe is largely the product of a defensive nationalism which casts Europe as one homogenised "other" rather than an actual group of vividly diverse nation states, a covert metaphor for their reluctance to accept Britain as a multicultural society.

Any university teacher must be concerned for the future of education. Labour promises a system based on the value of knowledge, not skills alone. Vocational skills are necessary, but insufficient as a base for enduring experience. Fundamental research in science, the humanities and social science needs government support, which Labour has offered. Labour has outlined a realistic maintenance funding system for students that will not be unfair on those who enter lower paid work. Labour offers thoughtful government. That will be liberating.

Gillian Beer is president of Clare Hall, Cambridge.

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