In 1992 I had been living abroad for several years and was in New Zealand before going back to the UK. Then, I heard the news. Inexplicably, in spite of the damage they had already done, the Tories had won another election. That win felt devastating, even from the other side of the world. The lovely people I met in Dunedin had lives that offered a good alternative to Tory Britain, so I joined them and lived there for another two years. I was very lucky to have that option, to remain outside of a catastrophic failure. I copped out because it seemed that England would always be wrong and I had the option not to deal with it.
This morning I got a message from one of those Dunedin friends basically saying ‘mate, I’m gutted for you,’ And I cried again. Then, I spoke with my two daughters on Facetime, and we took it in turns to cry. They both believed that all was lost forever. The NHS, compassion, the arts, safety for non-white people, dignity for the disabled, anything that mattered. I told them about the election in 1992 to help them see that, though the Blair years were by no means the sunlit uplands, we can expect more, we can expect and fight for things to change. They are still learning about hope and resilience and the endless misery of being a human watching other humans fuck it up. And they are still learning the precious value that we find in our fellow fighters along the way. They do know this already because they are generous, big-hearted and curious young women, both artists of one kind or another. They just haven’t made, yet, the experience of applying that knowledge over and over again to the harsh realities of politics.
But this election is a huge, painful blow, with real consequence today, tomorrow, for years to come for many people. It is horribly easy to think about blame. Was it a failure of Labour leadership? Of Labour policy being ‘too radical’? Or was it a failure of flaccidly mutable imagination that lead people to believe that socialist policies are actually, literally, dangerous? Was it a failure of care in the Conservative voters? Or is it the fault of politicians who are living out the destiny of their own entitlement with as little self-analysis as is applied to their breathing?
I am angry with all of the people who felt sufficiently safe, sufficiently part of the team not to vote on behalf of those who aren’t. I am sad how horrible a betrayal that must feel. That Emile Sandé song, You Are Not Alone, used in an ‘ordinary people’ election video for Labour is playing constantly in my head as though I have been to a funeral.
I‘m trying not to wish the people who voted this dangerous, recklessly harmful government in to power, in spite of Windrush, Grenfell, NHS, schools, food banks – for god’s sake, there are hungry children in every town in the sixth biggest economy in the world – I am trying not to wish that they suffer the harms they have created so that they learn what they have done. I try not to wish it because this isn’t a Shakespearean tragedy. Tragedy is perhaps the most human art form because it allows us to experience and then round off so many terrible things. Life isn’t like that. Our tragedies are awkward, cussed, unframed and ugly. Complacent voters will only ever cry ‘betrayal!’ when harm falls directly upon themselves. A vanishingly small number of them will ever say ‘I was wrong, I get it now’ – let along raging on a heath with flowers in their hair.
But in times like these, we find our tribe, and we salute the members of that tribe who have been fighting longer, harder, more devastating battles that certainly I, in my relative insulation, can ever imagine. We remember that more than half of us didn’t want this government. Thousands of us fought for that. Thousands fight in different ways, every day, so that they can say, with their hand on their hearts, You are not alone.
So, I am going to learn from them. For a beginning I want to find out if I can set up a free art class for disadvantaged children whose schools are too stretched to be able to do that, or for the children who might just want an extra chance to flex their vivid, creative minds. I’ll find a place that will let me do it for free, turn up with a sack full of cheap materials and starter ideas, let those beautiful young imaginations make them something spectacular, as they run into all the corners, find all the seeds and sunshines and storms that exist, in them, somewhere in all of us. And I’m going to keep fighting. There will be another election. There are different battles all along the way, and things change, they change a lot.