Reflections on My First General Election

The dust has settled, I have largely recovered from the hangover and sleep deprivation of Friday and Saturday and so the time has come to get my thoughts in order.

Five years ago, I was three months too young to vote. I was idealistic. I entreated anyone who would listen to vote with their conscience, not with what tactics suggested. I hoped that we could send a message about the disturbing way our electoral system skews results in favour of the major parties. The morning after the election, I awoke to discover that David Drew, who had served as labour MP for Stroud for 13 years, had been publicly fired some time in the small hours, in favour of Conservative MP Neil Carmichael. I have struggled to see politics in the same light ever since.

This time around, I was not so naive. I voted for a good, electable, left-leaning local MP, though my own views are better aligned with other parties than his own. I was pleased with my local result. However, as anyone who has talked to me or seen my facebook over the last few days will know, the national results have left me sad, angry and scared.

However, even looking at share of the votes, it is undeniable that the conservative agenda has the largest support base. With the electoral system as it stands, they can form a legitimate government, and we must accept this. Personal attacks on conservative voters, blanket insults and violent protesting before a government has even been formed are unjustified, unfair and unreasonable. Nor will such actions help left-wing politics. Clearly, the Left needs re-invigoration. Liberal strongholds in the south-west have been destroyed, as has Labour’s hold on Scotland; both parties have clearly failed in the eyes of their electorate, who have looked elsewhere for representation. The reason for this lies at the heart of the election campaign. Economic issues were allowed to dominate discussion. Other issues were discussed in terms of their effect on the budget deficit and how they might be funded. In such a context, it is not surprising that the party which focuses on balancing the books through limiting spending comes out on top. This seems like an easy solution until one looks at the human cost. Focusing on valuing people is deeply challenging when the only metric is Pound Sterling.

The way to address this is to create a discourse which focuses on people and on building a culture where people are valued and allowed to flourish. Anyone who has seen Rent will know that measuring a life requires a view of many more factors than earnings and assets. To create such discourse, the Left needs to revitalise its leadership. Grace Petrie, a left-wing singer-songwriter asks, in one of her more politically charged songs “who’s gonna be my Martin Luther King… Who’s gonna be my Harvey Milk”? This question is a challenge to us all. Ideally, of course, visionary new leadership will not be faced with assassination; a better question might be be, “who will be my Tony Benn, who will be my Nye Bevin or Paddy Ashdown”. The Left has five years to answer that question, recharge and re-engage on its own terms, rather than letting the right dominate and direct our politics

The next five years will be deeply challenging. The left must face these challenges, and strive to provide vibrant opposition, which starts with people, not finances or votes. I personally hope that the SNP will chose to use their spectacular results to provide genuine opposition in Westminster, not simply use them to justify increasing isolationism. We do still have a union and we must make the most of this fact. I can think of few parties whose policies provide a better foil to the conservative agenda and I hope that the SNP recognises that they have a duty to serve not just Scottish interests, but those of the whole United Kingdom.

And we, too, have a duty. We cannot leave the job of creating the kind of society we want to see to the 650 men and women who sit in Westminster (by the way, 30% of MPs are now women, good work people). We have a duty to both support and demonstrate the kind of politics we want to see realised on a wider scale. A politics which treats people as an end in themselves. A politics where all are valued as unique. If we do not bear witness to this hope, how can we expect our elected representatives to do so?

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