In these difficult times, it is an essential task to persevere with empathy in politics, Daniel Reast writes.
First published in December 2019.
The most accurate representation I can give of my utter despair, having seen the exit poll on election night, is a mutated mix of Edvard Munch’s The Scream and a collapsed citrus-flavoured jelly. Truly, I regressed into myself for three days. I can’t have been the only one who felt older and more bitter after staying awake for nearly 24 hours. It felt as though three and a half years of crises, with the last 12 months particularly, were all for naught witnessing that blue surge.
A difficult, jagged pill to swallow. Comparing the response to a grieving process is one way in which victims of this terrific disappointment are coping. I’m on acceptance, leaning towards misery. Some Labour Party loyalists on Twitter are refusing to move to this stage, living through a conspiracy that Jeremy Corbyn could not have lost - he’s too impressive and saintly, clearly.
just checking into Corbynista twitter to see what’s going down pic.twitter.com/Uxm9fZF6f9— Jim Pickard (@PickardJE) December 16, 2019
Also, it’s Christmas next week... I know right! Who else forgot about that little whole end-of-year celebration thing we do? I was too busy counting seats and parsing through Labour leadership hopefuls’ histories to be singing songs of joy and festive cheer. But as we approach the end of the decade (also a reality too incredible to believe) it’s vital for us to face facts, clear heads, and walk back into the plaza of truth. Here follows a number of basic realities we must accept.
The Remain movement failed
Any election which preluded a possible second referendum would always be accepted as the ultimate opinion poll on whether such a vote was a popular choice. The Tories won – by a landslide – and thus any talk of new referendums or People’s Vote is now defunct, buried in the big blue fields this country now grazes.
All those marches, all that work, all those questionable crowdfunds – a failure. To put it even further to pasture, some of the biggest promoters of a referendum are now ex-MPs. Indeed, their political roles have ceased to be. Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, Dominic Grieve, and Jo Swinson all failing to win their constituencies. In terms of a decisive ending, you couldn’t get more impactful than such a loss.
The question of Remain or Leave is also now a passing identity. Brexit is happening – a truth every activist must accept or risk a torturous few years of self-doubt. In this reality, while the UK’s political colours have changed, our thoughts must turn to activism for the rights and freedoms of EU citizens, migrants, and those plunged further into limbo. Our future is uncertain – theirs has been made insecure. Hashtags and EU flags, spider emojis, and blue berets should all be demobbed. There cannot be a healing process if some cling to false hope. Turn to our friends, not the past.
Former Tory deputy PM and Remain supporter Michael Heseltine has told Sky News that Boris Johnson's win means the UK will leave the EU.— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 14, 2019
Read more here: https://t.co/GmJHZqAi8u pic.twitter.com/90nrx1LzGk
Boris has a blank cheque
The issues of Brexit are not set to simply vanish. We’ll be dealing with the fallout of such a decision for decades. However, the Conservatives won an astounding majority with which they can completely transform the UK should they wish to – and they do wish to. Their manifesto was threadbare on genuine pledges. 50,000 new nurses, 40 new hospitals, more funding for infrastructure, a partridge in a pear tree – it’s all debunked and revealed as less than honest. And as their policy plans were so few in number, their administration will be formed of any and all ideas they care to pursue.
They’re already making large-scale changes in Whitehall. The Department for International Development, which overseas the foreign aid budget, is being shut down and incorporated into the Foreign Office. So that 0.7% of GDP spent of economic developments in other countries is likely to become much more politicised, and subject to more stringent criteria. The Tories have wanted to lower the foreign aid budget for years – Jacob Rees-Mogg being a keen proponent of this close-minded and selfish act. I believe the Daily Express has a quota for how often it’s reported on frontpages. Which is to say, mauled to death by Diana’s goons.
Labour’s going to get messy
To call the election a victory for the Conservatives is not quite astute – a defeat for Labour is certainly truer. They were decimated. In their ‘heartlands’ where a Labour MP has sat for decades, sometimes since before the Second World War. Old mining communities, seaside towns, coalfields and deep working-class rooted communities – turned blue like a moulding loaf of Hovis.
What is to blame for this catastrophe? For some, this is a subjective question. Corbyn’s loyal followers are blaming the switch to Remain and insistence on a second referendum. Ian Lavery, the miner’s bursar, set the flames alight for an argument which will no doubt burn for years. Many MPs and commentators are reflecting more on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, suggesting (quite strongly) that it was a major factor.
“I’m desperately, desperately disappointed. I am surprised, in some ways, but unsurprised in others”— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) December 13, 2019
Labour party chair Ian Lavery says “17.4 million people voting for Brexit, and basically being ignored is not a good recipe”https://t.co/feN65Kctaq #BBCElection #GE2019 pic.twitter.com/1C0K38qJuk
Who is right? As a non-member of Labour, it would be improper and pointless to give an agreeing side to this debate. But, surely the best way to find out why Labour lost is by listening to voters? Not just in the electoral sense, that much was clear, but by moving forward using empathy and understanding, instead of the current perpendicular volleys. A grand listening exercise would be a way to figure out a route forward, away from the petty rivalries and factionalism. And as ever, nuance is not dead. There can be multiple causes ripe for an A-Level Politics essay. Ruling out any of them is dodging the truth. Attempting to avoid certain subjects for whatever reason would not constitute a decent resolution - which we all desperately need.
A new Labour leader has a lot of work to do
The race to be the leader and deputy of the Labour Party will be a difficult one to watch. It won’t be a 400m Olympics finals, or the Oxford/Cambridge boat race – a bitter grudge match between factions and personalities. Names are being touted like a desperate guest list. Each name has their own past, their own loyalties, their own cock-ups. No-one is perfect. And while many are eager to see the old Corbyn team go, including myself, a quick thrust into a leadership contest without any significant learning from the election will only precipitate further insecurity.
The right-wing press monstering every Labour leader is not the reason Labour lost, it's a permanent condition that must be factored into political strategy. It wasn't, and the leadership made elementary mistakes on top. We've got to be honest about that or there's no way back.— Ellie Mae O'Hagan 🏴 (@MissEllieMae) December 16, 2019
Seriously, Labour needs to start talking to itself. This election was a wake-up call to the party for all sorts of reasons. We’ll be hearing a lot of buzzwords. ‘Socially conservative’ is the latest reintroduced neologism – an idea that Labour should pander to regressive social policy. Roy Jenkins must be spinning anti-clockwise in his grave. Nonetheless, candidates to this high office, as well as the deputy role, should be mindful of what just happened. Ignoring people’s reasoning for switching votes will surely lead to another five years after this already depressing situation. Patronising voters has already done enough damage.
Tactical voting didn’t really happen
There was a huge effort by politicians and activists to push tactical voting. It was an explicit measure to ensure a hung parliament, limiting any potential Tory reach. As we can see from the results, such tactics failed to blossom. Close races between Labour and the Lib Dems in seats like Kensington, Finchley and Golders Green, Wimbledon and Esher & Walton all came close to a non-Tory MP. Loyalties stayed strong due to the refusal of Labour and the Lib Dems to formally cooperate. Caroline Lucas, who frankly should be given a medal, has publicly blasted the efforts suggesting all progressive forces needed to work together. With such a strong Conservative presence, it would be in the best interests of many in the UK for formal cooperative talks to begin. Other than the SNP, all progressive parties failed to make gains. Any associative action to prevent a future landslide, with a government such as this, should be considered.
Scotland is ready to burst
The SNP had another good result, with only 11 of the 59 seats in Scotland going to other parties. This will provide the nationalists with an impetus to demand a second independence referendum. But as Boris has already, on numerous occasions, totally ruled out the prospect of such a vote, the potential for a underlying constitutional crisis is high. No doubt every vote or legislation will be ammunition for the SNP to fire as a demand for independence. Nicola Sturgeon is a stronger operator than most Westminster politicians – whether such a vote will happen will surely include the other opposition parties in that decision-making process. Watch this space.
There are problems a-plenty with the worrying new House of Commons. Beset by despair and misery, many will no doubt withdraw from their interest in politics. Apathy will grow large as our exit from the EU and dive into five years of radical Tory hegemony will be a tough shell to crack in the coming months. It’s not all Sunday driving for Boris and his team of constitutional sadists.
Though I fear for our future. In these difficult times, it is an essential task to persevere with empathy in politics. We must reach out. Many are worse off than us and will be affected substantially by any changes, or indeed are anxious over the results due to their race, religion, income, or sexuality. Our tolerance should be matched by a gritty resolve, not to resist this new reality, but to continue our lives as best we can. That is the unfortunate truth of these results – where our survival overrides progress.🔷
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