12.30 on Saturday
I was out in the park when the result was announced. I called my Mum to hear the numbers, a landslide by any reckoning. I had a vote and I cast it for both winners. I don’t feel jubilant like many supporters of the new leader, instead I feel uneasy. The coverage of and commentary on the election campaign has found and driven a wedge into the fissures that surround my beliefs and what I want to see happen in politics and ultimately the country. I’ve been told, almost unequivocally, that a vote for the policies that most closely reflect my personal beliefs is a vote for electoral annihilation. I have to say that I think that’s a fair analysis and a possible, perhaps likely, outcome. (I was interested, however, to hear a couple of medium term tory voters dragged in front of the Five Live microphones in the immediate aftermath of the declaration saying that they would consider a vote for the new leader over the others as he represents ‘core labour values’ rather than being a ‘tory in disguise’. Minor, anecdotal, unimportant, but interesting).
The alternative I was offered – to be frank almost all commentators were herding us all towards it – was to vote for electability by supporting a candidate who did not, on the face of it, share my values and who would, from the little I could gather about them, implement policies I could not support. To be able to do anything, you have to be able to win. That’s fair. But why should I support a winner who will do things I would rather they didn’t, or, if they would do things I would be happy to support, are too scared to come out and say so because they don’t want to upset a press and public that don’t support them anyway?
I’m sick of being asked to support a party that refuses to attempt to articulate an alternative to the destructive, discriminatory, devastating ideology of the Conservatives. ‘We’re a bit nicer than them’ just is not good enough. It never was. Every time I hear a Labour MP talk about being a party of aspiration my blood boils. Fair enough, people have aspirations. Most people, given half the chance, will take steps to better their lot, sometimes at the expense of others, especially if the impact on others can be successfully obscured or ignored. I’m no longer going to support a party that supports individual aspirations over the needs of the less well off. If you want to talk about aspirations, be clear. Have the courage to stand up and say that we should all aspire for the least well off in our society to be safe, secure, fed, housed, educated and healthy. That’s my aspiration. I want to be able to vote for a party that will look me in the eye and tell me I should pay more taxes for the benefit of the poorest people. Because I should. Why can’t this party face down the rest of us and tell us that this should be everyone’s aspiration. If they did, who knows? People might even vote for it.
I’m off track now. Jeez I hate that aspiration schtick.
Ultimately, if I ever wanted to see a genuine attempt at a left-wing political movement in 21st century Britain, then how could I vote against it now? I have no idea what is going to happen next. In truth, I’m fearful. The end of the Labour Party or a bounce back even further to the right seem two entirely possible outcomes. But the alternative was to vote for politics that I do not support, so that politicians could get elected to enact policies I would not support. How could I do that? If there is ever to be a grass-roots politics in this country that articulates a genuine collective alternative to mean-spirited, selfish, money-grabbing toryism, then it has to start somewhere. I don’t know if that somewhere is here, but, for now, I’m an optimist. A fearful optimist.