Better than this

I’ve been trying to write about tomorrow’s election for a couple of weeks now, but I’ve struggled. I read Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel The Circle over the weekend – binged on it, really, and if you haven’t read it, I urge you to – and it made me incredibly conscious of how many opinions we now try and absorb on a daily basis. Facebook, Twitter, your news outlets of choice, Instagram, Reddit… We’ve all got at least four tabs open at any one time and it can be exhausting. Trying to unscramble the facts from the fake news, the truth from the hot takes, is almost a full-time job, and I don’t think this constant connected-ness always brings out the best in us.

Especially at times like this, when we need to be thoughtful, and really consider what it is we’re voting for. On Tuesday, Drummer Boy came home to find me furiously skim-reading both the Labour and Conservative manifestos. (Incidentally, based on branding alone, Labour wins hands-down. The lay-out, the colours, the language – it’s incredibly readable. The Tory one is all grandmother-navy and Times New Roman, and, at first glance, looks more like a Catholic pamphlet on the sanctity of marriage than a 2017 party manifesto.)  I knew some of what was in each – let’s face it, we all focus on the issues that are most important to us – but was determined to do a bit better than that.

Anyway. The last thing you need is my opinion, isn’t it? You’re sick to death of opinions. We all are. We’re all Brenda from Bristol, sighing gusty sighs at the thought of stepping into the polling booth for the third time in two years, wiped out from the endless news, the Twitter spats, the hissing of withering comments at the speakers on Newsnight and Question Time.

The only thing left to say is: be honest with yourself.

When you pick up that little pencil, make sure you’re brutally honest with yourself.

What do you want this country to look like? What do you want the tone of our national conversations to be? Loud, angry, polarising, hot and tightly-wound? Or cool, calm, considered and reasonable? Do you want ideology to dictate what we do, or do you want to look at what works – “for the many, not the few”, as Labour neatly phrase it?

How do you want this country to be seen by the rest of the world? Are we open-minded, co-operative, collaborative, progressive? Or are we small-minded, scared of the future, seduced by soundbites and easily led by tabloid headlines? I have a fair idea of how we look right now, as things stand, but it doesn’t have to be like that.

Are we too lazy to inform ourselves, too intimidated by “experts” – or are we willing to learn, open to being challenged?

Do you think that maybe, just maybe, if we’re going to try and properly address extremism – in all forms; Jo Cox was murdered by a white man, remember – we do need to look at our foreign policy, as well as in our own back gardens? Do you not think that stepping out of an international organisation at a time when globalisation is accelerating and bitter conflicts continue to rage is quite a poor idea?

Do we not need to share resources, intelligence, ideas? Should we not try and shelter those who desperately need it, in the knowledge that the gap between Aberdeen and Aleppo is luck?

Is Theresa May’s ‘prim headmistress’ shtick enough to lead us through years of complex negotiations? Does her cavalier approach to the Human Rights Act concern you at all? Does her woeful lack of understanding the things that would make the internet safer worry you in the slightest (hint: it’s probably not reading people’s WhatsApp messages)?

Does her complete and utter U-turn on Brexit make you think twice at all? She made a speech early last year in favour of Remaining. Now she’s like one of those dolls that utters a handful of phrases when you press their hand: “Brexit means Brexit”, “strong and stable”, “no deal is better than a bad deal” – what does that even mean? What happens if there’s “no deal”? Does Noel Edmonds jump out of a box, naked and hysterical? I bloody hope not.

Does May’s complete and utter U-turn on the so-called “dementia tax” give you pause for thought?

Does her incredibly patronising response to a nurse who asked about stagnant wages make you worry for the future of the NHS? Does her insistence on talking about “parity of esteem” rather than ring-fencing actual funding when it comes to mental health bother you in the slightest?

Have you seen certain factions of the press and public laying into Corbyn about his “links” to the IRA, and wondered if those people are equally concerned about the future of Northern Ireland and its borders post-Brexit? NI voted to remain. Tell me what happens when they’re no longer part of the EU – and it’s not the will of their people, clearly – but the Republic still very much is.

Can you understand that Corbyn’s reluctance to say that yes, he would indeed approve the use of nuclear weapons, is entirely reasonable? World-changing, war-mongering decisions can’t be explained in a short answer to a quickfire question, and it is immensely infantile to expect that they can. For nuclear war to ensue, monumental things have to fail first – like those talks and negotiations certain people are so scornful of.

Have you Googled ‘austerity’? The Conservatives have been pursuing it since the recession began, but austerity only works if you apply the measures during boom times. For almost a decade, our leaders have been acting on a principle that doesn’t actually work. (I’m no economist, I just read some stuff.)

But like I said, you don’t need my opinion.

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