Slowly belatedly coming out of election shock. Still waiting for the continuous after-shocks as the Tories gear up for another five years of punitive policies and dogmatic chipping away at the best parts of our state mechanisms while leaving the over-regulated bureaucratic worst of it untouched. I haven’t yet read the commentary, intelligent and informative though much of it is likely to be, because it feels too much like picking away at an open wound. That sounds over-dramatic, but sorry, it’s how it is.
In January this year I decided to stop shouting at politicians on the TV and radio, and try to be practically useful to the election effort. Until May 8th I spent a day a week volunteering for my local Hastings and Rye Labour Party office, along with a whole lot of committed intelligent wonderful people. I’m not sure what, if anything I achieved, or how useful I was, but it gave me an insight into how local party politics work and into a small part of the election campaign. I vote Labour whoever the candidate but was inspired to meet Sarah Owen, our candidate, and realise that she was good. Properly good, with a grasp of the local issues and significant insight into the national picture. She’s clever and talented, with a strong personality and a Masters degree in Human Rights. She’s worked in Ed Milliband’s policy team and was Alan Sugar’s advisor in the Lords for years. She not only knew her stuff, but has many of the qualities required to represent Hastings residents well in Westminster. Not least of which is being an independently-minded 32 year old woman bursting with integrity and conviction. She will be great in Parliament at some point – but sadly not this time around, despite working her socks off for two years prior to May 7th.
One day in the office I theorised that we would not have another hung Parliament, arguing that despite the polls, many people would see the jockeying for position by the smaller parties as distasteful and nakedly self-interested. “You don’t need to have an in-depth understanding, specialist knowledge or great intelligence to be turned off by all the power-hungry rhetoric that’s being spouted everyday” I said. I thought there would be one clear winner, and I wanted it to be Labour. I didn’t entertain any alternative. “It’s going to be close” said Michael who ran the office.
At the Count I asked what he thought of the BBC exit poll. “Complete bollocks” he replied comfortingly. “Over-compensating for perceived left-wing bias” I agreed, both of us in serious denial. Amber Rudd, the very posh sitting Tory candidate swanned in, and headed straight for the two Hastings Observer reporters. “Oh hello yah, home team” she cooed at them, revealing a far too cosy relationship, as well as her lack of any ‘woman of the people’ credentials. “Benefit claimants move to Hastings for easy access to drink and drugs” she had told the Financial Times, and the area is “a bit depressing” (Times 11/5/15).
We knew early on that Sarah wasn’t going to be successful, and walking onto the Count floor for the official result at 4am was probably one of the hardest things she has ever had to do. Michael Foster, the Labour MP for Hastings and Rye between 1997 – 2010 arrived at about 2am, and was, I thought, beautifully kind to her in a fatherly way. His analysis was spot-on, coming from a place of inside knowledge and connections – but he was also circumspect. Perhaps that’s one of the things that happens with age and experience: you know it’s not the end of the world until it actually is the end of the world.
I’m not old enough for that kind of perspective yet, and I’m still, thankfully, far too invested in wanting our country to be better than it is, filled with kinder, more connected and better educated people than it is. Nick Cohen pointed out this weekend that 58.4% of people voted for parties on the Right, making a mockery of “the comforting notion” that Britain has “a progressive majority”. That makes us a right-wing country, something that has been increasingly apparent to me since the incessant drip drip drip of political poison from 1979 onwards. I have never felt, or experienced Britain, as having that notion of a progressive majority. Progressive people have always seemed to me to be under seige, the exception not the norm. Whenever politicians have blathered on about British values of “fairplay” or “justice” I’ve wondered from what Utopian era they’ve dragged these barely breathing ideals out of, because they’ve never seemed to have much of a secure home in the UK of my 47 years.
This is the march towards the end of the world: this perpetual erosion of a belief in public goods and a progressive consensus as the basis for a meaningful shared society. The lack of general understanding of what a progressive consensus might be enables the continual dismantling of the most valuable but intangible public assets. But if anything has a hope of redeeming society, of trying for a country that is governed for the people, by the people, with the greatest good for the greatest number, then it has to be based on healthier principles than the selfishness of self-protection at all costs.
PS I do hope that all those art folk who made the mass exodus to the Venice Biennale just before election day remembered to complete and send off their postal votes before they left?