God, it’s been a strange day. Personally, I’ve wandered round in a headachey daze – when I wasn’t in the office – unable to meet anyone’s eye in town, because I know that over 20,000 people in the Horsham constituency voted Conservative. Of course, I knew Horsham was a safe Tory seat, but when you see the figures in black and white, you have to accept that the people who surround you in the leafy streets, in Boots, in Sainsbury’s, have voted for another five years of… well, you know. It’s an odd thing when your hometown becomes hostile, as @florencedora put it so excellently on Twitter when the exit polls were announced:
@gutter_flower I am so so baffled by that poll. Feels like the country just turned a bit sinister.
— Flo Holt (@florencedora) May 7, 2015
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js And Twitter was the place to be last night – if only for writer John Niven’s timeline, who needs to be awarded the title of “Most Creative and Inventive Swearer in the Known Universe”, and who did a tremendous job of articulating the collective sense of frustration and anger. It was reassuring, really, checking Twitter at intervals throughout the night – everyone was as confused and worried and angry as one another (I mean yes, it helps if everyone you follow agrees with you). Say what you like about social media; if it helps people feel less alone during dark times, I’m all for it.
And it has been a dark day, really. I don’t know what I was expecting – a non-decision of some sort, I think; days of confusion followed by a coalition. The one thing I’ve been saying as the election campaigns have gathered steam is “another five years of a Conservative government genuinely scares me”. It’s been hard not to stop people on the street today, and grab their arms and say “do you know what you’ve done?”
Let me be clear – this is not a selfish anger. This is not the sore-loser sulking of people who voted for a party that didn’t get in. We’re all adults here, we can take losing. I am not worried for myself – I’m fine, I have a job and a supportive family; money coming in, friends, a stack of books to read. I’m worried for those who can’t work, who do not have supportive families, who have physical and/or mental health problems that mean life is that little bit harder for them than it is for other people. For those who are currently unemployed, for young people who have not grown up with loving parents in warm homes, for all kinds of minorities. It feels like everyone who voted Conservative yesterday voted selfishly – “I’ve been OK for the last five years, and that’s what matters”. I understand that it’s a human tendency to stick with the familiar when the alternatives seem like a gamble, but come on. Five more years of increasing food bank use, of benefit sanctions, of cuts to health services? Where’s the compassion? As DB said, “how can you expect compassion from people who support a party whose very name means the opposite of progress?”
Scarier still is the rise of UKIP, who received over three million votes. Mind you, it does make you think – if that tweedy racist rabble can call themselves a political party and gain actual seats, surely we could start something at a kitchen table, based on kindness and good ideas and intelligence?
And I’m OK with seeing the Lib Dems become largely irrelevant. I hope it becomes an example to other parties – if you’re going to u-turn so blatantly, then by God, you will pay.
There’s three things we need to take from this. The first is this – can we agree, here and now, that if they try and dismantle the NHS completely, we kick up an almighty stink? We get revolutionary. If shit needs to burn to keep a national health service, so be it. It may currently cost the best part of a tenner for a prescription, but you don’t have to pay to see a doctor in order to get it – for the love of the NHS, let’s keep it that way.
Two – we need to remember this feeling. The anger and the disappointment – remember it. I have a wine-soaked, half-baked theory that it might, in a strange way, be good for us, like flossing. We will remember how it felt to not get what we hoped for, and use that feeling to motivate ourselves to always always always vote. And to encourage others to vote, and to tell our children to vote. We mustn’t let how we feel today turn into apathy and disillusionment when we’re forty. You know what changes when you sigh, sit back and huff, “ah well, nothing changes, they’re all bastards anyway”? Nothing.
And three. The most important one. We must all be very, very kind, and much, much slower to judge. For the next few years, we’re going to be governed by a party that has, time and time again, shown itself to be so very UNkind, UNcompassionate, UNcaring. We must make up for that. In spades. The next time you catch yourself thinking something judgmental about someone, just think “their life is different to mine. They had a different upbringing” and leave it at that.
But I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t say that it’s what happens in the meantime that worries me.