Friday, 9 June 2017

Why I'm Allowing Myself To Be Hopeful...

When I walked down to my local polling station, yesterday, there was a queue waiting to go and vote.  After I'd popped a cross in the box on the ballet paper, I wandered into town and, as I approached another polling station, an enthusiastic lady asked if I was on my way to vote.  When I said I already had, she gave me a thumbs up.

A General Election is always a chance for the people to have their say, but yesterday, for the first time since I became of voting age, I felt a little sliver of hope that maybe, this was going to be an election that had the potential to bring about real change.

We've lived under Tory austerity for years.  We've witnessed our police force being cut and our NHS being decimated.  We were hurtling towards a hard Brexit that half the country definitely didn't want.  

And yet, there seemed to be hope.  There were opposition MPs standing up and saying "no, we want to offer an alternative."  There whisperings that young voters could, if inspired to vote in large numbers, sway the election result.  For me, a Liberal voter, there seemed a real possibility that we could unseat our current Tory MP and return to our previous Lib Dem one.  And Jeremy Corbyn was out, meeting the electorate and holding enormous rallies, whilst Theresa May was... Well, hiding from public debates, to put it bluntly.

But, despite that sliver of hope, the polls seemed to be suggesting another Tory majority was almost inevitable.  Theresa May, having called what was essentially a vanity election, looked on course to get her much-wanted/needed "mandate" to take the country through a hard Brexit and continue snipping away at services.

I wasn't planning on staying up too late to watch the election results.  To be honest, the thought of seeing Tory win after win was too depressing.  But I figured I had been vocal during the entire election campaign, so I may as well watch for a bit to see how it all went.  The plan was to be in bed by midnight.

Then one o'clock came.

Then two o'clock.

Three o'clock.

The thing is, from very early on, exit polls were predicting that Theresa May wasn't going to get the landslide she had initially expected.  In fact, the polls were predicting a hung parliament.  In other words, Theresa's unnecessary election had blown up spectacularly in her face.

I couldn't look away.  It quickly became a matchsticks-in-eyes, drinks-on-standby, glued-to-the-telly affair.

My only regret is not having snacks.  You don't know pain until it's 3am and you're desperately craving literally ANY kind of crisp.

By 4am, I had to admit defeat and go to sleep.  But, not before it become almost absolutely certain that neither the Conservatives or Labour were going to get a majority and that a hung parliament was now definitely going to happen.  Someone was either going to have to try to scrape by with a minority government, or form a coalition with someone else.

I won't lie; the Lib Dems' outright refusal to consider a coalition with Labour annoyed me, immensely.  They may be a traditionally centrist party, but their manifesto had far more in common with Labour's than the Tories' and it felt foolish to instantly rule it out.  But, at that point in the proceedings, I wasn't sure what the final numbers would be and whether Lib Dem support would even be enough, so I lay down, closed my eyes and tried to force myself to stop trying to work out what kind of coalition - if any - could force the Tories out.

When I woke up, it was to the news I had expected; the election had resulted in a hung parliament, the Tories were the biggest party, but had lost several seats, Labour had made major gains and we were now all just waiting to see what would happen next.

Now, call me naive, but a big part of me expected that what would happen next, would be Theresa May's resignation speech.

After all, this was a woman who had hid from public debates for the majority of her election campaign.  A woman who had called an unnecessary snap election, at a time when she was predicted a landslide and who had appeared shaky and obstinate when the polls predicting her majority started to slip in number.  A woman who had resorted time and again to cheap smears against her opponents, rather than providing real answers about the costing of her manifesto, or what exactly she wanted to achieve in her Brexit negotiations.  I shouldn't be shocked by that, seeing as Theresa May is a sock puppet for the soundbite: "Brexit means Brexit," "strong and stable," "No deal is better than a bad deal," but you know... Some answers would have been nice.

Now, we were watching as Tory MPs lost their seats to Labour, including in places such as Canterbury, which were assumed to be safe.  Theresa's snap election had surely proved to be her undoing?!

But... Nope.  

Instead, Ms Weak And Wobbly herself, insisted that she would be staying on as leader of the Conservatives and indeed, as Prime Minister.  She called up Northern Ireland's DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), with the aim of getting them to shore up her minority government and push them into majority territory.

Despite the DUP having an appalling track record on LGBT rights, women's rights, climate change and having the kind of links to terrorism that the Tories had insisted made Corbyn an unsuitable choice for PM, May was willing to climb into bed with them, in order to retain power.

She pootled off to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen for permission for form a government and then gave a genuinely stunningly arrogant victory speech, during which she never even mentioned how divided the country now is, the fact that she had lost her party's majority or the fact that she is (for now, at least) responsible for governing a country of people that showed by the election result, that they are not prepared to give her the mandate she wanted.  There was no mention of listening to opposing voices.  No humility.  In fact, given her speech, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Tories had won the landslide they were originally predicted.

So, why am I hopeful, in the face of all this?!

Okay, so this is a slight exaggeration...

Because the tide is turning, that's why.

By not giving Theresa May the blank cheque she was expecting, the country has said a firm "no" to a hard Brexit, to further austerity measures and to the chopping up and selling off of our NHS.

By voting for Labour's progressive, inclusive manifesto, for the many, not the few, the people are proving that they're aware that a change is needed.

By voting Labour in droves, despite the despicable smear campaign run by the right wing media, people are proving that it's us who control election results, not The Sun or The Daily Mail.  And they're proving that they will not have their hands forced by fear.

By voting in larger numbers than they have in years, the young people of this country have shown that the future could be brighter.  That they are politically aware, engaged and not prepared to accept a harsh, right wing agenda.

Theresa May's position is now surely untenable.  Her vanity has stripped the Conservative party of their majority and she is so unwilling to relinquish power, that she has cosied up to a party whose politics are wildly at odds with the majority of decent people in this country.  Even in the relatively unlikely event of her own MPs not staging a vote of no confidence in her, the people have very little confidence in her, now.  And when she is inevitably forced to step down, a new leader will not have been publicly elected and it is highly probable that there'll be another election long before the end of the five year term the Tories now want to serve.  And honestly?  I think, with the swell of support for their fairer and more inclusive policies, particularly from the young, Labour would win it.

I'm allowing myself to be hopeful, because this election has proved that your vote does count and that voting can make a real difference to the status quo.  I'm hopeful, because people are saying "hang on, no; we don't want a Tory/DUP coalition!"

Eventually, people's voices will just grow louder and louder until someone has to listen.  

Corbyn already has.  

If the Tories don't follow suit, they're signing their own death warrant.

And that makes me hopeful.

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