Friday 8 May 2015

'You know nothing, Jon Snow'

Jon Snow knows nothing. Evan Davis knows nothing. ICM knows nothing. Ipsos-Mori knows nothing. Lord Ashcroft knows nothing. Party HQs know nothing.

In particular, I know nothing.

I'm not so stupid as to think that my social and social media circles reflect the views of the man and woman on the Clapham omnibus: my Twitter feed is disproportionately middle-class, PhD-heavy and privileged in a number of ways, as are my friends and family in meatspace. And yet, and yet. I've been out on the streets delivering leaflets for Labour in this depressed city. My students are culturally diverse and virtually all working-class. I read political coverage on paper and online every day. Although I expressed worries about a 'shy Tory' vote in the days running up to the election, I genuinely thought – as did every pollster and commentator – that Ed Miliband was advancing on a gentle wave of personal and political support, and that Labour would lead an administration of some sort.

I do not know how the pollsters got it so wrong. At this point, having demonstrated that I know nothing, further speculation from me would seem utterly pointless. Dick Tuck's 'The people have spoken – the bastards' might be gracelessly witty, but it's lurking in the back of my mind. Why would people vote Tory? The xenophobic campaign against the Scots appears to have paid off amongst English voters. The Scots seem to have abandoned any faith in pan-British parties to represent them and put it into the SNP in the hope that they really are a progressive post-68 nationalist party and not crypto-Tory ethnic essentialists. Labour in Scotland has rotted from within over the decades, the inevitable result of complacency, arrogance and all the special (sectarian) ingredients of that nation's politics.

In the end, I'm left with the conclusion that democracy works. People have got what they wanted. You can't blame the political parties - especially the Tories – for their breathtaking cynicism. While they tried to obscure some issues such as where cuts will come, we have to admit that a large enough group of English and Welsh people deliberately voted for zero-hours contracts, for the abolition of the Human Rights Act, for eventual dissolution of the UK and exit from the EU, against environmental protection and clean air, against union rights and workers' protection, for the privatisation of the NHS and the education system, for higher tuition fees, for enhancing our contribution towards nuclear holocaust, for global warming, for racial and social segregation, for total surveillance, for poverty-shaming, and of course for food banks.

Perhaps the famous British class system has never gone away, and the voters actually feel comfortable tugging their forelocks and installing the upper classes in power as though it's 1815, not 2015.

In sum, the voters have decided that there is no social contract, no moral or political bond between us all, that we have no responsibility for the wellbeing of others or our shared commons. The fantasies of Gove, Murdoch, Mensch, Osborne, Ayn Rand, Jeremy Clarkson, the hedge funders and financiers whom we saved at the cost of Sure Start, EMA and all our other social provisions are about to be put into action. We've had no shortage of personal and corporate lies, fraud and deceit over the past five years. The Chairman of the Conservative Party is a proven liar and con-man: we voted for him. The newspapers which hacked the phones of everyone from murdered teenagers to people who shared the same name as celebrities' relatives have been rewarded. The banks which ripped off individuals via PPI schemes, fixed LIBOR and other rates and – in the case of HSBC – knowingly aided drug cartels are going to be encouraged. Tax cheats will be pressed close to the government's bosom. Even more of our schools will be handed over to cranks, fundamentalists and arms dealers.

Meanwhile the elites on the liberal left such as the New Statesman are going to argue, alongside rightwing commentators, that Labour lost because it wasn't rightwing enough. I think they're wrong. The Scots voted for what appears to be a leftwing party. I don't think there's any mileage or point in Labour becoming any more neo-Tory. That's what the Lib Dems did and the voters preferred to go straight for the real thing. Without wanting to make excuses for Labour, it was also faced with an almost uniformly hostile media landscape, from the newspapers owned almost entirely by tax-avoiding non-coms via offshore shell companies to broadcast media which seems so entirely dominated by exactly the same people as the politicians. They mostly went to private schools, then to Oxford and Cambridge, where they knew the politicians. James Langley: Etonian. The Financial Times leader writer who condemned Labour's concern for inequality: a member of the Bullingdon Club alongside Cameron and Johnson. The commentators, whether BBC or not, are almost exclusively the 1% and find it impossible to challenge the dominant discourse.

Can I find any bright spots in this? It's some consolation that my local Tory MP Paul Uppal was deservedly ousted: a smug, lazy, arrogant, untrustworthy property speculator, he was the very definition of mediocrity.

On a very selfish level, I have one of these on my desk.

Despite occasional wobbles, I always thought the British were capable of a generosity of spirit and altruism that would keep life here bearable. After this election result, I'm starting to have my doubts. I like this country and its people very much, but it's not looking this morning like a country whose citizens care about each other very much. Exit from the EU and the break-up of the UK now looks only too plausible, and even if these things don't happen, an administration of Cameron, Gove, Shapps, Pickles, Iain Duncan Smith, Osborne, Jeremy Hunt and co can only produce a country strong on envy, suspicion, xenophobia and meanness. That the British people consciously voted for it makes me wonder whether it's time to look elsewhere. Cowardly, I know, but I'm shell-shocked this morning.

If I don't run, what can I do? Working in Higher Education, particularly at this institution, I feel a responsibility to my students that far outweighs the exchange of teaching for cash. These (mostly young) people have never known a leftwing or even liberal polity. The vicious individualism of loans, debt, privatisation seem natural to them. Collectively, I can work harder (somehow) to rebuild a caring, socialist politics in the face of overwhelming odds. Personally, all I can do is repress the instinct to run and redouble my effort to embody the values of the left, which boil down to one thing: kindness.

I had such high hopes. I thought Ed Miliband was capable of greatness. I thought the electorate, battered by neoliberalism, was ready for a period of thoughtful altruism. I thought that having spent most of the past 40 years wearily fighting against the neoliberal tide that I'd be able to relax for a while, even enjoy life. I was ready for a rest.

I was wrong. As I said, I know nothing.


Steve Murray said...

This is absolutely brilliant and echoes my thoughts entirely. I didn't want to have to read it, of course, but such is life. My faith in the people of this country has been badly shaken. As you say, people willfully voted for this and I'm not sure I can get beyond that. What does that say about who we are? I'm shocked, disappointed and very angry.

davidandress said...

Still, less than 50% voted for the Tories and UKIP- only just, but less. And 34% didn't vote. If this is democracy speaking, it is a broken and crippled democracy. Whether Labour, LDs, SNP & Greens [& UKIP??] can somehow gang up to argue for a better system is the question now.

Incandescent Llama said...

La lutte continue Comrade Citizen. En avant!

Gregory said...


We here in Canada had a far different result this week with the "socialist" New Democratic Party ("ND") winning a majority in the Canadian Province of Alberta. This has put us here in Ontario in an upbeat mood with the prospect that the NDP may also prevail against Canada's Tories in the up-coming federal election this Fall. What can I say about the UK general election results, except, sorry to hear about it. Hang in there.

Alan said...

On the brighter side, locally, Winnick has stayed in Walsall North and you've got rid of Uppal in the Dark Place. The multi-tasking, golliwog-brandishing Cllr Etheridge MEP failed to get another sinecure.

But, yeah, it is pretty gloomy. Prattish remarks from the local rag about Miliband going for his left-wing core vote - obviously not in Scotland, and the rent-a-gob who's your greatest fan gloating that "we" (who?) are not ruled from Glasgow. (But OK to be ruled from Witney, Oxon.)

I voted tactically for Winnick rather than the TUSC candidate. The British left really needs to get its act together.

The Plashing Vole said...

Thanks for your comments everyone from Canada to round the corner. Alan: I think you were right to forego voting for the TUSC candidate in favour of a tactical vote. As for Rhodes and the local rag: beneath contempt. Though the editor recently expressed surprise that I think it's a rightwing paper. Mind: boggled. Very, very pleased about Uppal and Etheridge though.

Greg - great to hear from you. Hi! I've long felt bad for anyone living under Harper, a one-man GW Bush fan-club. The Alberta result was so heartening. I so hoped it was going to happen here.

Incadescent: the battle will continue but it gets harder to strap on the armour after every defeat.

Steve and David: what can I say? I agree with you both but feel pretty gloomy today.

Anonymous said...

I think many of us are pretty down tonight. It's just too early to have any real perspective on this at the moment.

Anonymous said...

You're obviously all too young to remember 1992. The sense of shock and disbelief is just the same. Since then, I never expect good news. This is a conservative country, there's no getting away from it. That means, basically, selfish.

Kat Clifford said...

Congratulations on getting rid of Paul Uppal, at least there is one small consolation to contemplate. I am devastated that the frogs have voted in King stork again, do they never learn?

John Stubbs said...

Spot on.
I 've been waiting for my Irish passport application to clear some difficult administrative hurdles, but now I must apply the whip.
There's a one-word answer to 'Who won the election?'
Rupy had a grufge-match against Ed Miliband but, as always, the personal is political with him.
He detatched the Scots from the Union, using the Scottish Sun to promote separatist instincts there. He lost Labour many key marginals by his Europhobic and Scotophobic campaigning. He's two steps nearer to the disintegration of Europe and the UK, a built-in majority for the right in England and the end of regulation across the biggest market in the world. And if I were in his shoes I would be putting every spare penny into health, welfare, education and prison providers in the US.
The fateful meeting between Thatcher and Murdoch may yet prov the fulcrum moment of the late 20th century.

Alan said...

Nope, Anonymous, I'm plenty old enough to remember 1992. I'd just resigned from Labour, my last action as a member having been to appear as a witness for Nellist in the hearing that chucked him out. I never had any time for Kinnock. Miliband's problem goes back years - to the failure to nail the lie that the Labour gov't was responsible for the global economic crash.

Now, if I were a betting man, the Labour politician on whom I'd put money to be Cameron's nemesis is dear old Gordon Brown. He's more highly regarded abroad than at home and he's a great but flawed man. Among the flaws is, remarkably for a son of the manse, a distinct shortage of forgiveness and other-cheek-turning. Brown is not going to thank the posh boy for using him as a useful idiot over the Scottish referendum.

K said...

Wow, just stumbled across this and totally hear what you're saying. Sorry you're feeling deflated, understandable.

It's unbelievable to think that so many people voted Tory. Deep down I thought people tend to think and care about others and it's so depressing to come to terms with the fact that this is not the case. I do think that the fear mongering in the press had a lot to do with it though and also years of being told by governments in power to aspire to achieve material things for yourself etc etc.

I'm from scotland and voted snp mainly because with first passed the post system they had the best chance of being elected and would oppose UK wide unfair welfare cuts etc. whilst I voted yes in referendum I don't particularly want to be seperated from UK but many of us feel very worried indeed about the social impacts of the Westminster system and saw no other solution. I personally would prefer federalism. If it helps, after the referendum many were very deflated but momentum quickly picked up again and you start getting motivated back into action!

On the plus side, it's a very slim majority government and if labour can regroup, opposition parties come together for the greater good then there is hope.

Thanks for all your efforts, sounds like you're good egg :) x

NMac said...

I find it difficult to come to terms with the logic of disillusioned Lib-Dems, who loathed the fact that their party had gone into coalition with the Tories, in order to punish their party voted for the Tories. Also that the people of Scotland who, generally speaking, loathe the Tories, far from getting Independence, have assisted the Nasty Party to get their selfish, greedy hands on undiluted parliamentary power.

Anonymous said...

If Labour had won every seat in Scotland Cameron would still have had a majority.

Anonymous said...

re''........the elites on the liberal left such as the New Statesman are going to argue, alongside right-wing commentators, that Labour lost because it wasn't right-wing enough. I think they're wrong. The Scots voted for what appears to be a left wing party..........''

hhmmm socialist and nationalist I thought the last national socialist party we had were know as Nazis and they were voted in ! They introduced vast progressive social programs, built VW's (peoples cars) ,peoples hotels etc etc.what was the fly in the ointment of this socialist utopia? They were racists.
Of course the core of the SNP can't be racist because hating the the English isn't really racism at all is it ?
signed an unskilled migrant worker
PS how do I apply for a Scottish passport?