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Why I`m voting Labour; By RICHARD WILSON Victor Meldrew in TV's One Foot in the Grave.

Icould not BELIEVE it when John Major started talking about the "haves and have nots".

I don't remember him caring about the gap between them before - only now at election time.

I got a strong impression of that gap at an early age and it was the reason I joined the Labour Party 20 years ago.

Growing up in Greenock, near Glasgow, I'd take the train through the valley and notice the big grand houses up on the hill which belonged to the shipyard owners and then look down on the shipyard and the blocks of tenement houses clustered around it for the workers. It's a stark picture of the meaning of "haves and have nots".

My father was a clerk in the shipyard and he never told me how he voted because of a very Scottish belief that children should make up their own minds.

I think he voted Conservative, though to my mind he worked his socks off for the bosses all his life.

But I have always had this basic belief that we are all born equal and all with some sort of gift or talent and that very few people find out what their talent is.

I went to high school in Greenock and no-one talked much about university or encouraged me to go.

I began working as a lab technician and it took me a long time to gain the confidence to struggle my way into drama school. I was 27, realising that it was "now or never", and I was so fortunate to discover the thing that I am good at.

I suspect there are many people who never discover it because they don't think they are good at anything or are born into the sort of circumstances which give them no hope.

It's made me passionate about education and very worried about the state it's got into under the Tories. One of the reasons I became rector of Glasgow University was to give me a bigger platform to speak out.

Education is becoming more and more divisive. There are kids coming out of schools unable to read or write, but you can bet that if you have the money to pay for it, that's not going to happen to your kid. I get asked by schools to contribute to auctions so they can buy books. Some students are only able to take books out of the library for an hour and a half because they are so scarce.

It seems absolutely ludicrous to me that our schools and universities are not being supplied with the materials they need.

And some students are getting burdened by loans which are really quite exorbitant. I was chatting to a veterinary student at Glasgow who will eventually have to repay pounds 50,000.

Many people, particularly working class parents, are not going to send their kids into higher education if it means weighing them down with debt. Another thing I cannot BELIEVE is why the Tories refuse to accept the link between unemployment and crime and drugs. Actors know all about how damaging unemployment can be to the personality. Though I'm not exactly short of work, whenever I stop working I get ill, going down with colds or flu.

I was once so broke I used to walk several stops to save on the bus fare and sometimes couldn't afford to buy a paper. I'd borrow money from friends then when I got a job I'd be paying off my debts so I still had no money.

I get huge kicks out of my work and if I didn't have it I am sure I would turn to alcohol or drugs. It must be awful to have no work, no money, no way of feeling fulfilled, no hope for the future. It's no wonder people turn to crime. And now there are children being born to parents who have never worked.

Those kids are growing up unable to understand what being in a job means. We've got to invest in our young people and give them all an equal chance if we are going to have a society that's liveable in.

And the heart of the difference between the two parties lies in the way people treat each other.

There's a snobbery amongst the Tories. They are less open to treating the less fortunate as equal. I don't believe they think they ARE equal in fact. They think they have a God given right to the best.

Whereas we in the Labour Party DO care about others. For we realise we are all responsible for the make up of the society we live in
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 26, 1997
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