On the 2019 Election

Growing up, my parents and grandparents were very quick to repeatedly tell me that getting angry about something helps nobody and accomplishes nothing.  Any time I showed even the slightest bit of raised frustration about something, they’d immediately jump straight in and use their wisened mature grown-up understanding of the situation to invalidate such feelings as childish and unhelpful.  They’d also do much the same thing were I sad or upset, albeit in a less harsh know-it-all parent manner than when anger happens.  “There’s no use getting upset,” they’d say.  “That doesn’t solve anything.  What’s done is done.”  They still do that to an extent, despite the fact that I am now 25 and lean way further left than their centre and centre-right beliefs.

So, fuck that.  My feelings are valid.  I am angry.  I am upset.  I am disappointed.

Last night cut deeper than even my most cynical expectations had assumed it could.  I was never under the assumption that Labour would win.  Hell, I never entertained the notion that a rainbow coalition could form that would keep the Tories out.  At best, I thought maybe there’d be a hung parliament, but my stomach had been telling me since the second the election was called that the Tories were going to win.  I saw this coming a mile away.  You know that I was there in 2016 when the fateful Brexit referendum came in and plunged British politics and society into a seemingly unending tailspin, and I’ve been under no illusion that anything has meaningfully changed or been learned in the years since.  But even more than that, I remember being there for the 2015 general election, the first time I personally could vote, and watching this exact same shit go down in almost the exact same way.  The fact that Labour lost, that progressivism lost, that compassion and decency and hope lost does not surprise me.  The sheer magnitude of the loss, however, absolutely does.

Near the end of Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, Steven Yeun’s character Squeeze, in response to Cash’s incredulity that exposing some majorly fucked-up shit has resulted in total public apathy, makes an observation that’s absolutely gutting and has stuck with me for how truthful it is.  “Dude, people knew that calling their congressman wasn’t gonna do shit.  If you show people a problem but don’t provide them with a real solution to it, then they’ll just learn to live with the problem.”  I find that quote truly gutting because it gets right to the heart of the ingrained apathy and learned “both sides”ism of our modern political discourse.  When faced with two equally bad options, people will go for the devil they already know out of a defeatist complacency.  If this election had been between two rather interchangeable parties, neither of which were offering real solutions to the mess we were currently in, I’d at least accept and understand the sociological reasons for this massive rightward swing.

But a solution to the past decade of problems was shown.  It was in the hands of the opposition and it went against everything that Tory austerity and hatred had been sowing since their rise to office in 2010.  Was it radical and unattainable in the span of five-year fixed-term parliament lifecycles?  Almost definitely, but it had to be in order to even lay the foundations to repair a rot which stretches back 40 years to the first Thatcher term as successive governments, inarguably including the neo-liberal Blairites of the 2000s, systematically tore down and sold off vital parts of our British society for selfish short-term profit.  Corbyn’s Labour offered genuine comprehensive reform, whilst the Tory manifesto was so wafer-thin that it genuinely had to pad out its length by listing things it wouldn’t do.  More of the same problem or a genuine alternative solution.  And 43.6% of the two-thirds of the country that turned out to vote – 67.26%, less than the 69% which turned out in 2017, utterly disgraceful – decided that living with the ever-worsening problem was preferable to the solution.  This is like living in a house with an expanding sinkhole in the front room and deciding to just accept it as a normal thing because your xenophobic uncle once heard a rumour that the man who could fix it would close down MI5 like that’s got fucking anything to do with it.

So, I am angry.  I am upset.  I am disappointed.  At a lot of different people.  Allow me to list them.

I am upset and disappointed at Jeremy Corbyn, albeit not in the ways that many on the Left and within his own party are right now.  He tried to make a difference.  I personally think he would’ve made a great prime minister and he should absolutely be commended for swinging Labour back to its socialist roots after two decades of Blairite and Millbland neo-liberalism which had dragged the party towards the centre out of the misguided belief that winning elections no matter the cost to party values should be the only thing that mattered.  His policies would’ve helped me, my friends, my most vulnerable friends especially, and millions others like us.  For that hope, he was unfairly demonised at every turn for absolutely everything by the media to an extent that I have never seen a party leader be demonised in all my 25 years of life.  I really think he could’ve helped this country, this union.

But he also fucked up, most obviously by refusing to immediately apologise for the anti-Semitism scandals, which he allowed to get out of control in both the narrative and the party, and by how long it took him to put together a coherent a steadfast Brexit position, although I refuse to mark his planned commitment of neutrality in a potential second referendum as a fuck-up (that impartiality is inarguably what should happen in a public referendum on an issue not tied to party politics).  Mainly, however, he fucked up because he insisted on playing a game – compassionate politics, policy-focussed, shying away from personal attacks and getting dirty, placing misguided trust in the process – that nobody else displayed any interest in partaking.  It made him look weak, foolish, naïve, borderline-arrogant and every single person outside of his core faithful ate him alive because of it.  He is right to stay on until the new year to look over the wreckage and aid in the course for what comes next, every political leader should be forced to stay on after a failed election to deal with the effects of their failure rather than just bolting for the lifeboats the second the iceberg comes into view, but stepping down as leader is the correct call.  He’s done.  His spirit needs to remain, but his body needs to leave.

I am angry and upset at the Labour Party as a whole who have spent the past four years repeatedly and systematically undermining their elected leader at every single turn rather than unifying to fight the real enemy.  From the day of his election to leader in late 2015, there has been mass self-sabotage and demonisation that the Tories, the news media, the general public, and several garbage corners of the Left seized upon to tarnish and smear his image to such an extent that even when he delivered hope and promising signs (as in 2017) you still couldn’t just let it stand.  Ceaseless infighting, points scoring, dredging up ghosts of governments past for their utterly irrelevant takes – fire Tony Blair into the goddamn sun, that war crime committing shite – and all the while sending out messages to your own voters that the best chance to defeat the government responsible for inflicting the last decade of cuts, division, misery and chaos isn’t actually worth all that cop.  You disgust me, all the more so for the fact that I know you’re not just going to yeet Jeremy out of the bath but also the bathwater of his genuinely hopeful and helpful socialist (which IS NOT a dirty word) policies that could aid the working class voices you keep losing to the fucking Tories.  Congratulations, you fucked this.

I am angry and upset at the news media for their invaluable role in allowing this to happen.  Obviously, I am fucking furious at the hateful, overwhelmingly right-wing tabloid newspapers which have been whipping up hatred, division, scaremongering, and actual propaganda for the Tories all decade; having long-since abandoned their remit to inform people, or even to speak on behalf of the people, instead for yelling hatefully on behalf of the richest immune from any consequences of Conservative party policy.  That’s a given.  But what I am most angry and upset and disappointed in has been the BBC, a media organisation whose idea of impartiality has been shown up this year as a total ineffectual joke and has evidently learned fucking nothing from 2016.

At best, they have been blindly operating on the misguided assumption that every political party is playing by the same trusting social contract of “not lying” and genuinely just have no idea how to deal with it, in much the same way that Corbyn mis-estimated what this election was going to be about and how it would be fought.  At worst, they have been wilfully complicit in the Tory campaign’s intentional strategy to do nothing but lie and the BBC’s refusal to call spades spades, liars liars, and racist rhetoric racist rhetoric, instead wrongly insisting that doing so would be a breach of impartiality rather than DOING THEIR FUCKING JOBS YOU ARE JOURNALISTS, is endemic of them having a vested interest in the status quo and somehow believing the venomous cobra they’re vehemently defending isn’t gonna turn around and bite them in the ankle too.  Considering the fact that Laura Kuenssberg and Norman Smith still have jobs with the corporation, I’m more inclined to believe the latter.  Either way, their election coverage these past few months has completely failed the public interest because it refused to act in the public interest.  They are a fucking disgrace and serious reform needs to be enacted now.

(And before anybody starts: yes, I would be saying the same thing if Corbyn had been uncritically vaulted into power.  The job of the BBC’s impartial public service remit, as well as all journalistic institutions, is to inform the viewer of the objective, or at least as close to objective as is possible, truth of the matter.  It is not to present both sides uncritically and without correction even when one side is flagrantly lying, as one party has done all election long, and just expect viewers to take both with equal weight.  It is also not supposed to deliberately mislead viewers by blatantly editing content for favourability, or actively replacing negative footage with more favourable archive footage, and never apologise for such indiscretions on-air.  Also, whilst I’m at it, fuck vox pops.  They don’t contribute shit and assailing the uninformed to allow them to parrot their unformed sensationalised opinions – I’ve had friends who’ve been asked to do vox pops – is not journalism.)

I am angry at first-past-the-post voting.  Not that proportional representation would’ve stemmed the bleeding in this particular case – and also because I took history all the way through to university, so I have proven historical evidence that such a system doesn’t work in the way its most idealistic proponents clearly hope it would – but this system is broken.  Irreversibly so.  We need something new, something better, something more reflective of the country at large rather than an arbitrarily and biased gerrymandered outmoded process which causes cognitive dissonance on who to vote for, where you’re voting both local and national at the same time but where the latter of the two unfairly holds all the weight.  I don’t know what that new system would or should be, I just know that electoral reform is needed.

I am angry at the political Left as a whole.  At the most important time, when we needed unity, when we needed to organise, when we needed to put aside grievances and personal preferences and hold our nose for flawed but necessary candidates and campaigns, we instead chose to squabble and name-call and get the knives out.  The body wasn’t even cold and already I saw people smugly getting up on their high-horses sticking the boot in about how this never would’ve happened if they’d just ditched Corbyn and Momentum and appealed more to Tory voters and fuck you.  Sincerely and truly, if you fit that description, fuck you, you self-righteous prick.  You evidently learned absolutely fucking nothing from 2016, with both Brexit and Trump, and now we are all going to suffer for your stubborn arrogance.  This was not the time.  You knew the stakes, you knew what needed to be done, and when the chips were down you balked.  If you didn’t vote tactically, then this is just as much on you as it is those who voted Tory.

But most of all, I am indescribably angry at anybody and everybody who voted Tory and (even though they thankfully scored 0 seats) Brexit Party.  Christ, I can barely form coherent sentences with this paragraph.  I am just so angry and so confused as to how anybody who considers themselves even remotely compassionate or decent as a human being could vote Conservative.  How do you spend the last NINE YEARS watching everything go to shit, hear the people driving us into shit spend their every waking moment LYING OPENLY TO YOUR FACE, having said lies and broken promises be PROVEN MATTERS OF RECORD ALL THE TIME, and yet still go “these seem like the right folks for the job?!”  How do you square that?  How do you justify five more years of the exact same austerity cuts; the exact same squeezing of the NHS; the exact same relentless baseless demonisation of migrants, Muslims, Blacks, the poor, the homeless, the disabled; the exact same financial crunch and economic devastation?  Because this affects you as well, not just some nebulous other you’ve been conditioned to think is subhuman or the cause of all your problems.

I have been politically active almost all of my life, so I have seen first-hand the effects of the last decade of Tory government on my hometown of Scunthorpe (a constituency which decisively flipped Tory).  My mother works in the NHS, she knows first-hand the unsustainable strain a decade of Tory rule upon that institution has caused.  My grandfather was a paramedic for the NHS right up until the recurrence of his cancer in the last few months in his life.  I have friends who came from the poverty-stricken areas in the North and Midlands most affected by the Tories’ callous disregard for the working classes who reside there.  I have met migrants, several of whom I can call friends, who have attempted to make this country their home, as is their human right, only to be met with bigotry both casual and major even in places where the general mood is supposed to be inclusive and liberal (university).  I, with my Type 1 Diabetes and myriad of mental health issues, am fundamentally reliant upon the NHS for my continued survival.  So are many of my friends.  We have seen this country be torn asunder by Tory policy and their gradual shift towards a hard-right borderline fascist-ideology.

And to be told that we are somehow making politics “very nasty,” as Nigel Farage this week mewled to a sycophantic media determined to legitimise his extremist tantrum-throwing for the past decade?  To be told that insulting Tory voters, to have been fighting against them, to not have tried hard enough to win them back over to our side so this is actually our fault?  Fuck them and, if you are one of them, fuck you.  I am so sorry that me and my friends treating politics with the life-and-death urgency it deserves inconveniences or bothers youPeople have fucking died because of the party you just sent back with the biggest majority it has seen in decades.  People are fucking dying directly because of austerity politics and racial epithets legitimised and propagated by your party.  Friends of mine have fucking died because cuts to mental health services left them feeling like they had nowhere else to turn and no other options.  Your party did this and so much worse to so many other people, yet you sent them back in to keep up the hard work because you didn’t like the way Corbyn carried himself or because you’re tired of hearing about Brexit and somehow think the man who couldn’t adequately negotiate selling a fucking football stadium can navigate that complex economic and social quagmire or because fuck you got mine.

If you voted Tory or Brexit or any party in a seat which ensured the Tories could take it for their own: fuck you.  I cannot forgive you, not when you yourselves have demonstrated to be completely lacking in compassion and decency.  I am angry.  I am upset.  I am disappointed.

So.  Now what?

I am angry.  I am upset.  I am disappointed.  These are good tools.  Thursday’s results are supposed to strike a crippling blow to anybody with a vested interest in building a better, sustainable, progressive society.  My heart hurts so very much for the generation who just got the opportunity to vote for the first time, entered the process excited and hopeful, only to be stamped out with a firm insistence that, actually, their voice does not matter and will now take that to heart.  Four days ago, BBC Radio Humberside pre-empted my friend Kofi’s show for a pre-election series and kicked it off by playing that clip of Brenda going “not another one!” when vox-pop’d in 2017 about the announcement of that snap election.  They – the establishment, the media, the lying deceitful fucks who (again) lied ceaselessly their way back into power – want everybody outside of their core base to become just like Brenda.  Jaded, apathetic, resentful of having to partake, nihilistically “both sides”ing “every politician is as bad as each other” their way into believing things cannot get any better so why even try.

The worst part is that I understand this mentality and it’s only going to get worse over the coming months as the Tories run roughshod over a parliamentary process and constitution they had already proven, in the four months Johnson was unelected PM before calling this election, to have zero respect for, whilst Labour and the Left at large tear themselves apart in an endless self-defeating circlejerk trying to figure out what nebulous thing Corbyn or the opposition did wrong rather than meaningfully self-critique.  Rage and anger demonstrate passion, but they’re difficult to maintain over such a sustained period of time and in the face of such overwhelming and stubborn opposition.  Soon enough that anger may dissipate or, worse, course its way in the direction of distraction targets which don’t deserve the ire, as unstructured anger so often does.

And that’s assuming anger hasn’t already been skipped in favour of straight-up despair.  I know that I personally spent Thursday night wanting to log off and go to bed only to be completely incapable of doing so, waking up this Friday morning having not slept feeling utterly numb and on the verge of collapse as I checked the news and discovered that this had indeed come to pass and I wasn’t hallucinating it all in the midst of a psychotic break.  This rotten nation, which has never ever been Great – not for the hundreds of thousands in the underclass of these supposed glorious Empire days who lived in squalor, dropping like flies from various diseases and poverty, and most certainly not for the nations England relentlessly subjugated and profited off of in order to make itself Great – really did blow its nose off with an elephant gun to spite its face.

But then, whilst driving into work, I had a moment of clarity.  My continuing existence as a working class, proudly progressive, borderline-socialist, mentally disabled, NHS-dependent queer Northerner angers people.  It angers them so much that they will vote in droves to try pushing me, and others like me plus marginalised and demonised and criminalised folks who have been the target of this group’s ire, into an early grave.  They want me to quit, to give up, to stay in bed and die along with the rest of our makeshift kind.  My being alive is itself an act of resistance.

I say this completely aware of my privilege.  I am White and can pass for a man in almost all social circles.  I have never had to deal with open hate-speech and racial or religiously-targeted attacks on me.  If it weren’t for my parents willingly putting in the additional work to continue financially and socially supporting me, and refusing to push me into an ill-fitting job due to my fragile mental headspace, I would likely have been on the streets dead a good two winters ago.  Even though I feel at risk due to my NHS dependence, I am likely not going to be irrevocably affected by this returned government in the same way so many of those less fortunate than I will be.  I may not have loads, but I do have a support system of friends who try to make themselves available for me (and I for them) whenever I need them.  So, to those who are going to be worst affected, saying “don’t give up, I’m not going anywhere” may smack of privilege and insensitivity.  I understand that completely.

But that’s all I have left and it’s what I am going to continue to do.  I am going to continue getting out of bed.  I am going to continue to exist.  I am going to continue to try wherever I can to be a good person.  I am going to continue to try and help my friends and family and strangers and those who need it most.  I am going to continue hating hate at every possible turn.  And I am going to do these things – despite my small platform, despite my barely-solvent financial state, despite the reality of how small my voice is in the grand scheme of things – because I know them to be right.  Because no matter how loud the part of me which is crushed and heartbroken and beaten-down by the selfish monsters in power and all those who enable them tell me it’s not worth caring, there’s still the smaller louder part of me which knows that the alternative to this is not an option.  Because whenever my garbage disposal of a body finally gives out or whenever this beautiful planet which is currently on fire has been sucked dry and made inhospitable, I want to be able to say I at least tried the best I could.

I am alive.  I am hopeful.  That is all I know how to be and it rightly scares the wrong people.  That’s a start.

Callum Petch

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