A Nervous Night

If this morning’s projections are right, we are headed for another overall majority of seats for the Tories, on the basis of 40% of the popular vote. That will allow May to do whatever she likes, contrary to the wishes of 60% of the voting public (and many more of the electorate at large). Few other countries would tolerate such a grotesque and undemocratic outcome. (I’ve blogged on this before: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/29/first-past-the-post/.) And that’s quite apart from Tory gerrymandering, the spreading of ‘false news’ to an almost Goebbels-ian degree, and the overwhelmingly anti-Left bias of the media, including in this election even the BBC. The result will probably be the end of the few remaining vestiges we in Britain have of the post-war social democratic settlement, and of any hope for an optimistic future. The late capitalist behemoth will have shed its flimsy restraints, and be free to career madly onwards: either towards a great new liberal utopia, or to its own and the planet’s bloody self-destruction – who can tell?

The election campaign has been an exhilarating ride while it lasted. Theresa May, elevating her own ‘leadership qualities’ to the forefront of the debate, was revealed to have feet of clay. Everyone accepts this, even on the Right: that her electioneering was disastrous, though her admirers – of whom I suspect there will be very few left soon, even if she wins – claim that this is no indication of how she’ll perform as prime minister. The Tory campaign was almost entirely negative, relying mainly on endlessly repeated clichés, much mocked (‘strength and stability’), and the character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn on the grounds that he is an old hippie throw-back to the 1970s. Most commentators assumed that this would be enough to ‘do for’ him. I’m quite proud to say that I was not one of them, from quite early on. Firstly, I didn’t think that the 1970s were that bad a place to go back to, if we needed to go back at all: https://bernardjporter.com/2017/05/11/back-to-the-future/. Secondly, however, with my much longer-term historical perspective, I knew that supposed ‘lost causes’ do often spring back into life. The example I gave was the ‘pro-Boers’ of circa 1900: ridiculed in almost exactly the same way as Corbyn was a year or so ago, only to be proved right, and victorious, in a relatively short space of time: https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/08/07/bernard-porter/whos-a-dinosaur-now/. Most politicians and political journalists who claim to have a knowledge of and feeling for history don’t go back that far.

The Labour campaign, by contrast, was glorious, with an excellent manifesto – again, even the Tories admitted that; a fantastic campaign of mass meetings – 10, 20, or 30,000 at a time, contrasted with May’s couple of dozen ‘trusties’ meeting in secret – I reported here from one of Corbyn’s: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/07/31/jeremy-in-hull/; Corbyn a far better speaker, and proving to have the ‘common touch’ in a way May emphatically doesn’t; and a real movement developing behind him. In over fifty years of fairly active participation in British party politics, I’ve never experienced anything remotely approaching it. It has got the blood coursing again in the veins of a demoralised old man.

If we could give extra marks – or votes – for political enthusiasm, the Corbynites would have run away with this election. But then the enthusiasts only represent certain groups. Young and first-time voters are the most remarked upon, if they can bother to actually vote; if they’d done so last year we’d still be in the EU. A lot of effort is being put this time into ‘getting the youth vote out’. Then there are public employees, especially in the NHS, schools and universities; scientists; the artistic establishment; grey-haired old idealists like me; some (not all) of the absolutely and relatively poor; and – in general – the better educated. Also, I think, women, but only marginally. (It will be interesting to see the post-election social analyses of voting patterns.) Scots will vote, again, for their Nationalists, who seem ‘progressive’ enough at present to work in harness with a Labour minority in England and Wales.

The trouble is that this leaves many millions of others: those who have a material interest in Conservatism – low taxation, for example; who are ideologically attracted to what they call ‘freedom’; who have a ‘conservative’ temperament in the literal sense of the word, being afeared of ‘change’; who are easily scared by bogeymen (bogeypeople?) and, more reasonably, by the dreadful threats they see, or read about, around them; who share prejudices and hatreds of various kinds (though obviously Leftists also have their own); who have all their political impressions filtered through the Daily Mail, the Sun or even the shockingly ‘centrist’ Guardian; and who are prone to sheer stupidity. (Which, again, is not to say that you can’t vote Labour for stupid reasons too.) Most of these are not enthusiastic, but are easily swayed by the minority on the Right which is. These were what made up Theresa May’s constituency, and will probably determine the result of the election in her favour. The grey, stodgy porage will come to the top.

But this is being written in the afternoon of polling day. This evening Kajsa and I will be watching the returns all night, with two bottles at our side: one of whisky to drown our sorrows, another of a good red wine to celebrate, if I and all the experts turn out to be wrong. If they do, it could be the prelude to the most astounding and significant revolution, or counter-revolution, in modern British history; and elevate silly old Jeremy Corbyn, together with Bernie Sanders, his soul-brother across the water, to be two of the great heroes of our time. Wonderful. I’ve been waiting a long time – since the death of Bobby Moore, in fact – to have a hero to worship again.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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