General Election (GE) day was one of very mixed emotions for me. I had voted early and, after managing to write something, I found myself sinking into something of a funk. I was haunted by the outcome of the 2015 GE which I took quite some time to get over, and by the EU Referendum result a year later, the outcome of which ranks third in terms of my worst time ever; the first two being the deaths of my parents. Most of the opinion polls, and conventional wisdom, pointed to a sizeable majority for the Tories in this most important of Parliaments. The Parliament where the party in charge would get to frame both the Brexit negotiations and the massive raft of legislation that would be produced as a result.
In the end I dragged myself out of the house and went on a long walk while listening to some comedy, a two-stranded antidote that lifted me out of my reverie and put things into perspective a bit. Then the nerves began to build again as 10pm approached, and the now customary exit poll that would set the tone at least for the next few hours of the evening. When it was announced there was a moment when I misread the figures, more along the lines of what I was expecting rather than the reality… then came a massive cry from right inside of me: ‘FUCKING HELL” I exclaimed. At that moment I experienced a huge gamut of emotions: relief/ joy/ excitement/ disbelief/ schadenfreude, and a real sense of justification… to name but a few.
The rest of the night passed in a pleasant haze as the Labour gains came in at regular intervals, along with a few rather disappointing losses from two neighbouring constituencies (Mansfield and North East Derbyshire)… I went to bed happier than I could have imagined.
Since then I have been pouring over the news on TV and through reportage and comment both online and in print… it has been quite a few days, and now I am writing this to try and make sense of it, and how I feel about it. Not out of any presumption that I am any sort of expert, but because I think better when I write… and I love to write.
As I have written elsewhere I have been a bit of a fair-weather fan of Jeremy Corbyn over the last few years. I was enthused enough to re-join the Labour Party in 2015 after his election, but was very disappointed with how he and the party ‘campaigned’ during the EU Referendum; and how different factions of the Party continued to fight each other. I voted for him in the 2016 Leadership Election because the opponent was no better, and was not particularly on-board when the Election was called because it had seemed to be a pretty ineffectual opposition. It was only when the manifesto was leaked that I began to think that this was something I could get behind. Not perfect by any means, but it suggested that Labour understood that many people were really struggling, that there was need for pragmatism in some areas (not least Trident) and that it offered a real alternative to what the Tories were offering. In short I found my own values enshrined in that document.
From then I was enthused and followed the Election campaign with a mix of incredulity and resignation as the next Tory gaffe was rewarded by a continued lead in the polls (albeit a narrowing one). Along the way there was the terrifying sadness of the attacks in Manchester and London, about which I wish to make no partisan political points about at all, but they should be acknowledged.
Since then I have been relieved to see a number of previously anti-Corbyn Labour figures come out and admit that they were wrong, and that they would now get on board with the current leadership’s programme; and imagine how well Labour might have done if that had happened beforehand (mea culpa). Nevertheless, this is certainly not time for recriminations and I hope those on the left of the Party will also recognise that this is not the time for internal wrangling, nor is it the time for gloating. Actually it is far from that because despite doing brilliantly well, this was from a very low base, and the Tories are still in Government and, potentially, still in power. It’s time for everyone in Labour to focus and be a ‘bloody difficult opposition’. The early signs are good with a few dishonourable exceptions.
As well as being relieved that the Election result was not a massive Tory majority I am also really bloody annoyed, and have found this bubbling up time and again since Thursday. I am bloody annoyed that here is a Party who have collectively managed to dig the UK into a massive political hole over the last few years through a series of near fatal misjudgements. Cameron totally misjudged the mood of the country in calling the EU Referendum, and made no effort to educate the country about what the issues were, why it was important and, fundamentally, what we were voting for. In his entitled hubris he assumed that he would win the day. May then made many of the same mistakes in calling the General Election. Looking back now her campaign now feels like some sort of strange surreal satire on politics in post-truth society. The enduring image for me being May’s visit to the constituency of South Clwyd in Wales, where her sole battle-bus stop was a visit to an eerily deserted farm where she gave a TV interview with a backdrop to tractors and other farm machinery, no supporters, no placards, nothing… on the day when Corbyn was speaking to thousands at one of his rallies. Where do you even begin with that?
But while I do not want to pick over the bones of the Tory campaign, I want to think about why I am angry. I am angry because of the Tories, collectively at least, seemingly mad unhinged desire for power at all costs. It is a desire that, for me, puts aside any sense of duty and public service; any notion of propriety or shame. I am angry because this sense of entitlement seems to put into second place the idea of the patriotism that they trumpet so loudly. I am angry because they seem so far removed from any sense of reality, a notion personified by May’s speech in Downing Street after going to the Palace on Friday where she seemed oblivious to the fact that she had in anyway lost her mandate.
I am angry because we now find ourselves in a situation where Brexit negotiations start shortly with the government going into them with a negotiating position that is unimaginably weak. A situation of the Tories own making made worse by their own misjudgements and hubris. Which brings me to the…
Then when you think things could not get any worse, the Tories try to cling onto power by entering into an agreement with the DUP; a party of anti-gay, anti-abortion, climate change denying, creationist bigots (one of their leaders has proudly spoken of being Enoch Powell’s agent) who have strong historical links with Loyalist paramilitary groups. So, as well as getting us into this utterly unstable position with Brexit, the Tories now want to risk de-stabilising the Northern Ireland Peace Process in order to, at any cost, maintain their position. How can the British Government remain neutral in Northern Ireland when it is being propped up by one side? For me it is utterly shameless and at the same time shameful.
What I really do not get is how this string of decisions is made without any real sense that there is a risk attached to them. I know that politics is a pressurised and fast-moving business, but cannot understand how the consequences of decisions made are not thought through more carefully: the EU Referendum, the 2017 Manifesto, the decision to link with the DUP. They all seem to be dangerously risky to me, and I know comparatively nothing about politics (maybe that’s the problem, but I am not sure it is).
I guess the answer lies in the power-brokers behind the scenes. The people with money and influence who see politicians as pawns in their high-stakes game of chess. One of my first thoughts when the Exit Poll was announced last Thursday was “fuck you Daily Mail, Sun and, especially, Daily Express”. These are the public face of that vast iceberg of money and influence. At this point I want to be careful because it would be very easy to drop into the dark and unforgiving realm of the conspiracy theorist. Nevertheless there are undoubtedly forces being exerted behind the scenes: people and organisations do not give millions to parties and expect nothing in return. The tabloids, and to some extent other elements of the right-wing press, have been beyond appalling in this Election campaign, I have nothing but contempt for them. With Brexit the stakes could not be higher, and nothing provides a better example of how a few influential backers have managed to skilfully manipulate us into a position where we are leaving the EU. No wonder people feel powerless.
Nevertheless there are…
Reasons To Be Cheerful
While I was busy getting pissed off with the Labour Party it appeared that the left-wing Momentum group were at least building up networks on social media which have helped deliver the votes of the young. Let’s face it the under 30s have been the biggest losers since the 2007/8 financial crash. They have to pay for more for their further and higher education, they are entitled to fewer benefits, their minimum wage is lower, they cannot ever get to a place where they can see the housing ladder, never mind get onto it, and they were royally screwed over by Brexit, in which they voted in relatively small numbers. The Referendum result appears to have galvanised young people into voting and, hopefully, becoming more politically engaged. I hope that this does not come across as patronising, because frankly my generation is making a right pigs ear of things, let’s let people who understand our contemporary society and culture have a go.
The rise of social media has meant a decline in the importance of the print media. This can only be a good thing, for reasons already mentioned. I worry that this will be colonised by the same forces of negativity and fake news (already a problem), but in this election at least positive messages did seem to get through too. Indeed, one of the reasons that I liked the Labour campaign was that it was positive and visionary. I looked to the future in a way that was inspiring and inclusive, on a different planet to the cold and patronising offer from the Tories.
Most of all it seems to me that the Election result was a defeat for the Tory approach to Brexit. The idea that we should just trust that team to get on with it without being told what ‘it’ is was just outrageous and I think the British people deserve credit in seeing through it. May wanted to go into those negotiations in a closed and combative manner. Negotiation surely requires empathy and understanding, give and take, flexibility as well as firmness. I did not see, and still do not see, how May and her ‘team’ can do that… and they are doing it on our behalf… only they really are not (see ‘Vested Interests’).
So if the result of this Election results in a diminution of the power of the right-wing Brexiteers in the Tory party then that, in itself, will be a result. If it means that we do not burn our bridges and fall into the dangerous arms of Trump’s America that, in itself, will be a result. If it means that the Labour Party has found a base camp from which to regain power that, in itself, will be a result. If is means that we halt our decline into isolationism and an ‘airstrip one’ of low wages and zero hours contracts, private health care and ever increasing inequality that, in itself, will be a result.
Together these could mark a turning point in the direction of the country, then that would be reason for some optimism in the future. At the moment, though, the Tories are still clinging to power at all costs and, while engaging in the schadenfreude of watching them agonise after this Election, it is a sobering thought that nothing has yet really changed, and even Gove is back in the Cabinet. Time, I guess, to keep the pressure up, to keep pushing and stay united against what, for me, is a group of people who do not in any way represent me or my values. I hope that I am in the majority in thinking that, the last few days has given me greater hope that I may be.