Steve Harwood

Labour Activist, #Sharkstoppers Campaigner and Blogger

Labour Activist, #Sharkstoppers Campaigner and Blogger. All views are my own (well, some were originally my mother's...) 

Being Part Of The Solution

This summer I got to speak to senior figures at the FCA about my experiences with payday lenders. Notice, I say that ‘I got to’ as though it was a treat for me. As though an audience with someone influential was a reward of some kind, an end in itself. It’s a habit, that way of thinking.

 

I don’t think it’s doubting that I could be a legitimate part of the process – I think it’s doubting that any of us could. Years of the financial crisis, the cost of living crisis, the housing crisis, the elderly care crisis, have left me cynical. One crisis is, by definition, something that needs addressing urgently, and yet here we all were besieged by them and the government marched on with austerity regardless. The post bags of MPs across the country bulged, and were only ever acknowledged by those desperate to prevent LGBT equality (yes, Gareth Johnson, I’m still annoyed over that.) What real impact would a person like me have, when the only weapon in my armoury was that I happened to have a point?

 

But at some point since the ConDemNation of 2010 it seemed as though something changed. The news began to cover the actions of local protest groups, community organisations and single issue campaigns. Politicians began to respond. Ordinary people could change the news cycle with a tweet. They could make the Prime Minister apologise with an online petition. They could win an election with a face book group.

 

Of course, this is a very rose tinted view of things, tinted in part by my own positive experience. I’ll say right here that there is still an influence gap and we’re a long way from overcoming it. The activism of the past few years is only a start. But it is a start.

 

A few years ago, I would have had no option but to complain about the actions of payday lenders, and watch as other people went through the same thing. If I had wanted to organise a protest, I would have gone it alone and the best I could have hoped for was a pat on the head. A trip to the FCA maybe.

 

But this year, I was going to the FCA with a small group of well organised people – the only thing that has ever succeeded in changing the world.

 

This, as an aside, is another reason I became a member of the Labour Party. Unlike the Conservative Party, which is a parliamentary team with a fundraising arm, or UKIP, which is just one stockbroker’s train of thought, or the Liberal Democrats, who are just whatever the other guys aren’t, the Labour Party was founded as a bottom-up organisation. It’s a collective effort, and as such they’re the only party to have embraced the new wave of community organisers. I got involved in politics because the Labour Party have a specific community activism organisation – Movement For Change – that gave me access to training and support. I was going to the FCA with other Movement For Change activists, and I didn’t doubt we could change the world.

 

And we did.

 

After years of campaigning, Legal Loan Sharking has gone from something we might have shrugged over to the top of the political agenda. They have capped the cost of credit. They are putting much stricter controls on lending. Wonga, the big, powerful corporation that controlled my entire life for more than a year, are having to write of the debts of over 300,000 people. The FCA are now telling the world what I, and people like me, originally told them.

If I was going to be a victim of the frustration and anger I felt, if I hadn’t done anything but ferment it, I’d still be feeling it now. If I’d joined some two bit protest party purely because they spouted the same frustrations, I’d be shouting pointlessly in a room with them. But because I decided to USE that anger for something, because I decided to give the system some credit, because I decided to see if some people were genuine. all I feel today is proud.

 

I know that lots of them are villains. I know that power is unevenly distributed. I know that things change too slowly. But it’s not that black and white, no matter how much Murdoch and Farage want it to be. The system is imperfect, but we’ve built on it for 2000 years and it’s as good as it’s ever been – unless we want this to be as good as it ever was, we have to keep at it. Keep using it, keep pushing it, keep making it better. That’s not just one way to create change. It’s not even the best way.

 

It’s the only way. 

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