Friday, and it was around 8am, waiting for the Ed Balls career change blues to start playing, when I remembered that last sleeping sometime around Tuesday wasn’t going to ward off hallucinations. Beyond the shakes, the nineteen cups of coffee I’d consumed over the last few hours were having negligible effect, and when the clan of 12ft high Dimblebys started prowling around my peripheral vision, destroying Lib Dem dreams with that old laser-beams-from-the-eyeballs trick, I knew I was in trouble.
I? We? After all, the UK electorate had just given the party of Estate Agents and Internet Shysters a surprise mandate. The neoliberals had won, and sales of “We’re all Foxtons now” t-shirts were said to be booming. What does it all mean? And more importantly, who – or what – is going to save us from such peril? Caroline Lucas? Francis Urquhart? Paddy Ashdown’s fucking hat?
In so far as all elections are weird, this one behaved as you’d expect – unexpectedly. That exit poll was fun, John Curtice emerging from the gloom of the BBC Election studio balcony like a schoolboy summoned to explain why he’d defecated on the headteacher’s car. That is, fun right up until the results started trickling (then gushing) in, and we realised that not only had we all been working on a false narrative for months, but – of far greater importance – that the proportion of voters who don’t visit Twitter to flaunt their left-leaning credentials was even higher than we feared.
Because we’re pack animals we tend to surround ourselves with political fellow travellers; as such, it can sometimes arrive as a shock to understand just how many people holding insidious opinions there are out there. I know precisely one Conservative voter; the hundreds of others, they’re at worst woolly liberals, and at best: members of Situationist International. And yet in England at least, this yoghurt-eating/King Mob spectrum appears to be heavily outnumbered by those who yearn to repeal the Human Rights Act, bring back foxhunting, and – with 3.8 million votes for Ukip candidates – tow the British Isles a few hundred miles further west, lest all those immigrants with AIDS start trying to swim the channel.
I’ve long ceased attempting to second-guess the behaviours and prejudices of others, the Tory heartlands of Middle England a Narnia of maliferous self-interest. “Fuck you, sunshine – I’m alright” wasn’t the title of the Tory manifesto, but – under the guise of fiscal responsibility – it may well have been their campaign strategy. A message that, to be fair, was consistent and well articulated – to the point where George Osborne in High-Vis became ubiquitous; after all, nothing says “you can trust us with the economy” better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer struggling to operate production line machinery in a Staffordshire warehouse.
In contrast, Labour’s message suffered from a fog of confusion; I’m not necessarily saying that their policy offerings were ill-thought out, but if their campaign were a record, it would have experienced dreadful production values.
Continuing with the music metaphor, there’s also the lead singer issue. Making derogatory remarks about Ed Miliband’s public persona is a lousy, cheap shot, and the fact that modern politics is attuned to image at the expense of political ability is a travesty (I doubt that Clement Atlee would ever have made it to No.10 were he around today – far too unassuming for primetime TV – and to that extent we’ve all become Joey Essex). However, Miliband’s discomfort on the campaign trail was a constant, his expression that of a politician desperately trying to remember his media training.
If there’s one image that sums up Labour’s campaign, it’s undoubtedly the “Edstone” omni-shambles, which proved that satire is extraneous, and that lots and lots of people are shit at Photoshop. Yet beyond the car crash publicity stunt values, the actual content etched upon this monolith was revealing by its very vacuity. Six meaningless focus group statements, at least half of which being indicative of a party on the defensive, reacting to the headlines in the right-wing press rather than setting a progressive agenda? Labour voters expect better than that, and for this alone they didn’t deserve to win.
I’m not going to deliver Labour’s inquest for them, but I will help the Liberal Democrats: don’t go into government with the Nasty Party. A piece of advice they can have gratis (and having squandered £170,000 in lost deposits, they could probably do with a freebie). Watching Nick Clegg trudging into the Sheffield count looking as if a ghost had just pissed in his mouth was one of the highlights of the all-night election coverage. As – of course – was enjoying the parade of politicians you don’t particularly like, grimacing painful smiles as the Returning Officer read aloud their political death warrants. Esther McVey AND schadenfreude? Oh Dimbleby, you’re truly spoiling us. And whichever wag that tweeted George Galloway was now free to concentrate on his Victorian ghost-hunting psychic detective agency is of a far sharper wit than me.
In Scotland of course the roll-call of high-profile Labour and Lib Dem grandees lining up for the firing squad was impressive. Danny Alexander, Margaret Curran, Charles Kennedy, Douglas Alexander (the latter defeated by a candidate who, just five years ago, was tweeting semi-literature insults as if she were a fifteen year-old… oh; five years ago, she was a fifteen year-old)… yes; as you may have noticed, something rather seismic was playing out north of the border, and whilst the SNP landslide (50% of the vote; 56 of the 59 seats) is remarkable in itself – swings as high as 39% simply aren’t meant to occur – it’s also pertinent to the wider debate on neoliberal values.
As discussed on a previous article on this site (and this time I promise that this is the final political rant hereabouts… well, for five years at least), the attraction of the SNP to the Scottish electorate is not based upon any desperation to avenge Flodden. Many are drawn to independence because the concept of Scandinavian-style Social Democracy segues with the national predilection for compassion and solidarity with others, and by cannily campaigning on an anti-austerity ticket rather than an “independence now” platform, even more voters were prepared to lend SNP candidates their vote.
In other words, neoliberalism as peddled by the Westminster homogeny has been decisively rejected by one part of the United Kingdom – which, perhaps paradoxically, is what Labour and the London media still fail to understand. Watching arch-Blairite Jim Murphy lose his seat was THE highlight of the night; duplicitous, charmless, insincere, politically narcissistic and an all-round rotter, the defeat of the Scottish Labour leader was treated with jubilation, precisely because he represents all that’s wrong with the party (and – whilst I’m at it – possibly all that’s wrong with humanity). Labour needs to deal with some serious, soul-searching issues over the months ahead – where do we stand? What do we believe in? How can we effectively engage? – but the question that should be top of the list: how can we fire Jim Murphy into the sun?
2am, 3am, and I was still fairly lucid as the Scottish results rolled-in. But as dawn threatened to break the weirdness crept back into the room, pride at what Scotland had achieved totally undermined as the BBC kept increasing the size of the Conservative victory, over and above a complete majority nobody had foreseen. For the reality is that Cameron’s been unshackled, and he and his back benchers are free to steer the country toward their Thatcherite dystopia at whatever speed turns them on, pausing to kick the “feckless” and the “work-shy” on the way.
Oh England, what have you done?
Still, the campaign trail mantras – the Tories’ “Vote Labour, get SNP” warning to English voters; Scottish Labour’s “Vote SNP, get Conservative” equivalent – whilst both crocks of shit, do suggest a degree of establishment fear around anti-austerity voices… which is probably the message that those of us opposed to what the narrow Con-Lib-Lab bandwidth offers should take forward. The next five years, and they have the potential to be rather grim indeed should rampant self-interest not be top of your list of reasons for being here – “If you want a vision of the future, imagine Katie Hopkins’ boot, stamping on a human face – forever” – but whilst we have hope, dissident voices, and hard drugs, hope remains. See you for the 2020 Election results (even if only for a giant David Dimbleby, shooting fire from his eyeballs).