The election has left our nation divided

Lewis Thomas 9 June 2017
Image Credit: Kasia Ruszkowski

Another fine mess.

The election has not ended anything- it has simply thrown us into a period of uncertain havoc.

Only Theresa May knows what was going through her mind when she called the election, but I suspect it was a mixture of arrogance, hubris, and simple stupidity. Drunk on poll leads and the sycophantic murmurings of her two aides, Timothy and Hill, she gambled and called an election, convinced that it would give her an increased majority to do with as she wished.

That gamble has failed spectacularly. The Tories have fallen short of a majority and look set to engage in a period of internal bloodletting, all the while cobbling through a government dependent on DUP support. Labour have exceeded expectations, shoring up their core vote, preventing the feared losses in the North, and even taking a couple of Tory scalps. This isn’t the night of long knives for the Tories- it’s more brutal than that. This is an existential gut punch; a rejection of the programme with which their leader convinced herself, and much of her parliamentary party, that would sweep all before it. May has failed by every measurement, including those which she set herself- if she steps down (as looks likely), she will most likely be replaced by the boorish charlatan that is Boris Johnson, or whichever candidate emerges from the parliamentary soup and enthuses the base. Regardless of who leads them, the Tories are in deep trouble.

There are positives for the party- they remain the largest party in terms of both seats and vote share, and have profited from a unionist a resurgence in Scotland at the SNP’s expense, with Tory MPs being returned for rural constituencies and Labour MPs moving back in to their old offices in Glasgow. After ten years of ascent, the reckoning has come for the SNP, and it looks set to get worse between now and the 2021 Holyrood Elections. IndyRef 2 is, to all intents and purposes, dead.

But these positives and negatives for the parties pale compared to the result for the country- make no mistake, this election has been a disaster. Called for cynical gain, it has backfired completely on its creator, and has plunged the country into uncertainty. We are now facing EU negotiations without a PM, and without a government. At the moment, the most likely government is composed of the Tories and the DUP, an uneasy alliance holding up a wafer-thin majority. The pound has nosedived, the markets are uneasy, and our negotiating position (such as it was) has been taken out the back and shot in the head. During the campaign, the Tories warned us that we risked going back to the 1970s in this election- well, we did. Slim majorities, a reliance on the Irish parties for votes, and a looming general election in the Autumn- it’s time to party like it’s 1974. Corbyn cannot form a government; let’s not forget, he did lose the election. Both the Tories and Labour are in a deeply problematic position. The Tories have made a pact with the DUP, a party which counts former paramilitaries in its ranks and espouses deeply malignant social policies, while Labour face a strengthened Corbyn and an enthused base- they remain afloat, but are making no effort to strike out for shore.

I left the Union last night immediately after Corbyn won his seat, and the chamber erupted into cheers, treating a win in one of the safest of safe seats as an astounding victory. A mate of mine went ballistic- a Labour member, he feels as if he has lost his party, with the representative institution aimed at bettering the lives and rights of the disadvantaged taken over by a personality obsessed clique without ambition, drive, or respect for those their party used to represent, happy so long as their heroes stand up in front of rallies, bark platitudes, and make approving noises in the media. Labour are, to his mind, no longer the party of the South Wales Coalfield and the London Docks- they are a protest movement with a parliamentary wing, bent on gesture politics and uncoupled from the pragmatic decision making necessary to take and retain power.

I am inclined to agree with him.

We are a deeply divided country. We are split between young and old, urban and rural, North and South. If we wish to deal with the challenges facing our nation, then we need to move beyond government by soundbite. We need to move beyond bearded demagogues and stern faced leaders too incompetent to take an open goal. As students, but more importantly as citizens, we need to take responsibility for our future and engage with our process. And that means getting our politicians off their podiums. That means working out what we actually stand for, and what our ideals can stand for now. That means demanding action within our process, and participating to ensure that that action happens.

Whether this will happen is in our hands.

There’s a quote by Solzhenitsyn- “what is all the joy about?” Standing in the Union last night, I felt that line ringing in my head- as people cheered over a victory for their man that was guaranteed, and ignored the havoc looming over us and the problems in our country, the whole celebration seemed to be a vapid sham. We will most likely have another election by the autumn, and are set to enter Brexit negotiations with an uncertain platform, uncertain leadership, and a government which will potentially rely not on the wishes of the country, civil service, or Parliament, but on the whims of ten DUP MPs determined to get their money’s worth.

There is nothing to be joyful about. There is much to be fearful of. In the past few decades, we have sowed the wind with cynicism, personality politics, gesturing, and blatant short-termism.

Last night, we started to reap the whirlwind.