I was working in Athens when the General Election results came through. Walking out to meet my colleagues in the lobby of our hotel, I burst into tears. It wasn’t a great day. And in the inevitable aftermath of accusation and navel gazing, a narrative emerged that just didn’t ring true in terms of the people I had met and talked to during the campaign. The media told me that the electorate didn’t trust the Labour party on the economy or on immigration and welfare. The party needed to move towards the right. And then Labour supporters I knew on twitter retweeted their articles so it felt that everyone believed that this was the reason.
At a party, I endured conversation with one man who spent an interminably long time name dropping all the people he knew in political and media circles, using this to declare as a universal truth the ‘fact’ that “Unless we move to the right, we’re finished. The country has moved to the right and we need to follow.” And I politely sipped my wine, pointed out that only 24% of the electorate had actually voted Tory and perhaps we ought to focus on the vast majority who didn’t vote at all. Or at least I started to say that but he interrupted for the 50th time. I gave the secret wink to my husband that means he has 30 seconds to whisk me away before I thump somebody. Obviously I’ll never be a politician.
During the campaign those I spoke to simply said they didn’t know what the party stood for. They couldn’t tell the difference between them on policy and so better the devil you know. They didn’t have much time for Ed Miliband – not because he was too far left, but because they felt he was insipid and he had a stuffy voice like his nose was blocked. Shallow? Yes, but that was what I heard. And I had some sympathy with the view that politics was more like a celebrity reality show. Witnessing a dearth of regional accents and career experience, people just seemed tired with being told what to do by people who had gone from closeted schooling to closeted higher education to a career so closeted that they have their own door straight into the office from the Tube station. They were bored and politics seemed irrelevant.
When Corbyn entered the leadership contest, I had never heard of him. I was drawn to Andy Burnham – at least the lad has an accent and a state education behind him. But I got caught up in the Corbyn campaign – people I knew who had never even bothered to vote were sharing pictures of him getting the bus home, and his expense account details saying “here is someone worth our attention”. I liked his policies – I’ve never really considered myself very left wing, but I really can’t see the sense in Trident. I thought I was aligned with Michael Portillo on that score. Here was a man who would visit constituents rather than take VIP tickets to national sporting events. I liked him. So did my Mum – he was the first politician she’s liked since Margaret Thatcher. She said she might vote for him.
When the result was announced, I felt a sense of hopefulness and optimism that I hadn’t felt about politics in a while. And I wasn’t alone. My phone started beeping and my social media streams were full of people literally tweeting for joy. Now this isn’t ordinary. I don’t remember ever greeting a leadership result with anything other than mild interest. And I don’t remember social media going so wild. Many of the people feeling so joyful were young – lots of them ex students of mine. They had ‘discovered’ politics and were over the moon. Ok, perhaps there was the underdog effect, but there was also hope for a new beginning – genuinely a new politics. So it’s doubly disappointing to see people so determined to crush that new hope before it’s even had time to find a voice. Not only for me, but for all those young people who were engaging with politics for the first time. I see many of them walking away, angry that their votes are being dismissed and disparaged.
Just before Christmas, I found myself sitting around a dinner table in Manchester after an event I’d taken part in. Most of the people there were Labour supporters – a couple of them had been unsuccessful Labour candidates in the last election. But as we went around the table and introduced ourselves, there emerged that enigmatic creature – the floating voter. He told us he had voted Conservative in the last election, but that he liked Corbyn and would consider voting for him in the next. He thought he had integrity. To my shock, the next hour was spent listening to Labour supporters telling this man, considering switching from Tory to Labour, why he was wrong. Their antipathy to Corbyn was so strong, it seemed, that they would rather lose voters than see him supported. I was stunned.
I’ve followed, with interest, the conversations about Corbyn on twitter and beyond. And the nastiest, sneeriest comments come from people claiming to be Labour supporters. It is a misnomer to me. I didn’t like Tony Blair particularly, nor Ed Miliband, but I loved the party and I supported and campaigned for them both. Now I find myself behind a leader and falling out of love with the party. I don’t think I want to be part of a group of people who can’t get behind a democratically elected leader with a mandate to lead. Or who would rather see the media rub their hands with glee, lining them up for quotes, than show unity: who would rather hand the next general election to the Tories, than roll up their sleeves and fight for greater equality, exposing the shocking impact that Tory policies are having on our poorest and weakest. Why on earth would you rather blog (and I know it’s ironic), about how little chance the leader has of winning an election while at the very same time, reducing his chances of doing so? Because I tell you, if he can win my Mum over by being nice, he can win over all those people who wouldn’t vote for a man with a stuffy nose.
Let’s stop this nonsense now. Because while we all bicker among ourselves, our NHS, education system, safety nets for the poor and vulnerable, mental health services and care services are all being decimated by a government that simply can’t believe its luck.