The future of the left since 1884

For The Many?: Devon

For The Many? takes an in-depth look at Labour's changing electorates based on 6 case studies. Devon is a 41-year-old taxi driver from London.

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Interview

Devon picked me up from Forest Hill train station in his black cab, and took me to his house. He’s only just moved in, but manages to locate the Lemsip and honey. He has correctly identified that I’m in dire need.

Devon is relaxed, chatty and in good spirits. He tells me proudly about how this is his first home, and that he bought it to be nearer to his family. His mum lives round the corner, and he’s got a 12 year-old son. He has been driving black cabs for six years, and it is clear he enjoys what he does, telling me he is a ‘people person’. He’s proud that he passed the knowledge, after studying for three and a half years.

The conversation turns to values, and the first thing that becomes clear is that Devon doesn’t like extremes. He tells me he believes ‘in the yin and yang balance’, explaining that he isn’t ‘totally liberal, or totally conservative’. He illustrates this viewpoint with practical examples, telling me that if someone hurt me ‘for no reason’ that he’d want that person to go to jail ‘forever’. If I paid the wrong fare on the train, however, he’d argue to just let me go.

Underlying Devon’s moral code is the belief that you should ‘treat people how you want to be treated’. Compassion is also important. He tells me he feels ‘a sense of concern… empathy… I’m a feelings person’. But Devon also believes in karma: “If you steal from me… my mind thinks… you will have a child and they will steal from you.” Devon’s belief in karma suggests a spiritual dimension, so I ask him whether he is religious. His answer is powerful and deeply considered. He rejects organised religion because of its history of oppression, but is ‘spiritual’. He tells me: “When you see a picture of Jesus, he looks like a hippy… but in the Bible it says Jesus had skin of copper, like a one pence, and hair like wool, which is like my hair, but there’s no pictures like that.”

Devon remembers the 2017 election well, because he recalls getting annoyed at people in his cab sharing ‘stuff that is blatantly not true’ but that they thought was true. He knew that he was going to vote Labour a long, long time ago because he is attracted to the fairness at the core of Labour’s message: “If we just spread it around a bit equal, just a little bit, then everybody will be all right, and they will all prosper.”

I ask him to tell me a little more about why he is a Labour voter. His first response was focused on opposition to the Conservative party because of their record and history: There’s 20 per cent of me who is a traditional voter… I side with a certain party because I traditionally feel that party doesn’t hate me as much as the other party does… turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.”

But Devon is keen to express that the other 80 per cent of his decision-making is about policy and presentation, ‘what you say, how you are, and what you stand for’. Labour’s agenda fits with who he is as a person: “I feel [Labour’s] agenda suits me. I’m a progressive. I’m a liberal…for everybody… not just for big business.”

Devon is keen to stress that he’s a rational political actor, weighing up the pros and cons of different parties. But our conversation suggests that his politics is driven by his own experiences. Devon spent his childhood in a council house on a ‘very poor’ estate in Kilburn, where he tells me no one else would live except for ‘Irish people and Jamaican people’. The two communities were bonded together because of the discrimination they faced, ‘the no Irish, no blacks, no dogs, those days’.

He tells me a story about his dad, who used to work for the NHS and the Greater London Council as an engineer. One day, when Devon was a young child, the police stopped his father on the street and searched him: “This was a working man, this isn’t a man that’s standing on the corner. They couldn’t see it, they could just see a black person… I can see a wino [and] a lady that’s working, and [both] might be white, but just because they’re white, they’re not the same person.”

This experience was deeply political for Devon. He tells me that, at the time, ‘the police felt like an arm of the Conservative party… whereas people on the Labour side said this is wrong’. He also thinks that other black people have had their politics formed in a similar way: “Most black people will [support] Labour, because of how they grew up.” He tells me Labour is ‘for everyone… it doesn’t matter who you are’.

Devon is also very aware of the difference that Labour politicians made to his area as he was growing up. He tells me about a  BMX track which the local MP helped to secure. Bradley Wiggins lived in his area,  and Devon thinks his success is thanks to that track: “I’m sure he must have benefited from that track being there, you know, well, he’s a Sir now, he’s Olympic Gold. And, a lot of people don’t even correlate the two.”

Devon’s current experiences are also a big factor in his continued Labour identity. The afternoon is peppered with angry references to ‘big business’, and it is only when we start to talk about Uber that this makes more sense. After years spent learning the knowledge to work for himself, he feels that Uber is threatening what he has built. He’s also angry about government cuts because of his son’s health condition. He used to be able to get the special bread and milk that his son requires for his allergies on the NHS, but now he has been told he must pay for it himself. Devon thinks this demonstrates that the Conservatives have the wrong priorities: “You cut all that, but you find money for Northern Ireland… this just reinforced for me again… these people just really don’t care about anybody.”

Devon is very proud of his identity and his background, and as part of that he’s also very proud of being a Londoner. For him, London has come to embody what he sees as good and progressive in this country: “London, as a city, is not dominated by one thing… we’re gay, we’re straight, we’re this, we’re that, we’re tall, we‘re short, you can find one of everything in London and we live next door to each other.”

But Devon has identified that London begins to feel somehow separate, or different, from the rest of the country. The Brexit referendum and the 2017 election have underlined for him that London is ‘a country within a country’. He remembers watching reporters interviewing people in the North East on Election Day, and thinking how different their views were to the people he’d carried in his cab. This unsettles him, and he thinks that people outside of London have the wrong impression of how easy it is, telling me: “London is not paved with gold.”

Devon has a strong emotional attachment to the Labour party. He tells me that if he were to vote for the Tories, he would feel he was ‘betraying’ his parents and his principles. This attachment was forged in his childhood, and through his experiences of struggle and oppression. However determined he is to demonstrate his awareness of political news, he is in no doubt that the Labour party is in his corner.

This interview is taken from For The Many? You can read the report here.

To read the interview with David, click here.

To read the interview with George, click here.

To read the interview with Mary, click here.

To read the interview with Michael, click here.

To read the interview with Yasmin, click here.

Olivia Bailey

Olivia Bailey is deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society. She was previously political advisor to a member of Labour’s shadow cabinet.

@livbailey

Lewis Baston

Lewis Baston is a psephologist and writer on politics, elections, history and corruption.

@lewis_baston

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