It was about twenty years ago that, following one of her traditional Sunday roasts, my darling Granny managed to serve someone’s portion of rhubarb crumble with mayonnaise. It went down in Parnell-Helyer history, and became a kind of family shorthand for an act of foolishness: “it’s all gone a bit mayonnaise-on-the-rhubarb”. Whenever I recall it now, it doesn’t fail to make me grin.
To this day, I don’t know how she did it. Maybe she was caught up in a conversation or a joke as she went to the fridge to fetch the cream, and perhaps her glasses were parked on the dark wooden dresser instead of on her nose. The thing that baffles me most though is how none of us stopped her before the dollop of mayo landed in the bowl. We wouldn’t have been that engrossed in our conversations – it was pudding, for goodness’ sake. There would have been at least five of us gathered round the kitchen table – did we sit and wait to see if she’d notice? Did we just not notice?
After almost three weeks of uncertainty, the Conservatives and the DUP announced their agreement on Monday. It’s a “confidence and supply” deal – which, let’s be honest, sounds like a cop turning a blind eye to a cannabis farm in return for a “gift” every now and again. Or a long-separated couple agreeing to carry on sleeping together because neither of them are having any luck on the dating scene.
Our governing party is now being propped up by another smaller, right-wing, homophobic, misogynistic party that was founded by Christian fundamentalists. As a resident of the mainland, I don’t remember seeing the DUP on my ballot paper, do you? This is a desperate, grubby power-grab from Theresa May and the Conservatives. What do we do – do we just watch it unfold?
Because politically, it throws several fragile things carelessly into the air. Power-sharing in Northern Ireland collapsed in January, and the DUP and Sinn Fein were supposed to have come to their own agreement by Thursday of this week. This deadline has now been extended to Monday, and as all students and former students know, when you’re pleading for a deadline extension, it’s usually because you’re in quite the pickle.
Sinn Fein, being the staunch Irish Republicans that they are, don’t take their seats in Westminster as a matter of principle, and the Conservatives, as the governing party of the UK, have a duty to remain impartial with regard to keeping the peace in NI. (Phew, deep breath, nearly finished.) If the DUP can now say that it’s secured over £1bn in funding for NI, how can a) the Conservatives fulfil that responsibility to be impartial? And b) how can the DUP themselves pretend they’ve done anything other than accept money in exchange for increased influence?
Who you align yourself with matters. Who you choose as your leaders, your role models, your support – it tells undeniable truths about you. Who among us didn’t do a double-take when the USA voted to swap Obama for Trump? (And who hasn’t stopped reeling since?) Who among us didn’t breathe a sigh of relief when France voted for Macron over Le Pen? The sheer hypocrisy of accusing Corbyn of being a “terrorist sympathiser” and then joining up with a party that has its origins in Protestant fundamentalism beggars belief. The hypocrisy, again, of warning of a “coalition of chaos” and then brazenly entering into one. And that’s before we get on to the DUP’s stances on LGBT rights, abortion, climate change and Creationism. It may not be wholly fair, but it’s wholly true that if you buddy up with someone who’s notoriously homophobic, people start wondering if you harbour similar views. If you get friendly with someone who’s vehemently and vocally anti-abortion*, people may start to think you’re rather misogynistic. And so on.
*The announcement that Northern Irish women will no longer have to pay for NHS abortions on the mainland came as a surprising bit of good news this week. But do not forget: Northern Irish women still can’t have them in their homeland. They still have to fork out for a plane fare, or a ferry ticket, perhaps accommodation. They still have to make a long journey to undergo a procedure that’s unpleasant at best. No woman in 2017 should have to go that far, pay that much, for control of her own body.
When you’re on the losing side – of anything, be it a democratic election, a referendum on membership of the EU, or an argument with a stranger on the internet about feminism – often, the first thing you’re told is: don’t be angry. Anger doesn’t solve anything. It’s only fuel on a biting, raging fire. No-one ever changed their mind from just being told they’re wrong. And most of the time, this is correct. Snide retorts and snark only send the person you most need on your side far, far away. Simply put: being a dick only ever ends with you staring, seething, at someone’s back as they turn away.
But sometimes, anger is the right response. Because there are two kinds of anger: the insular, backward-looking anger fuelled by false nostalgia and fear of a changing world, and there’s the other kind: the eyes-front, determined, steely kind, fuelled by a refusal to just accept inequality, and a fierce sense of justice. Anger that’s destructive and anger that’s hungry to create. And isn’t it high time the latter drowned out the former? When there are nurses who haven’t had a pay rise in eleven – yes, eleven – years, and Conservative MPs have the barefaced audacity to cheer the decision to keep the public sector pay cap, our anger is long overdue. The government’s response to Grenfell has been alarmingly lacklustre, and when their critics have suggested that maybe, just maybe, austerity measures may have played a part in this totally avoidable disaster, those critics have been told not to politicise it.
The thing is, everything is political. Politics is simply the admin of human lives. It’s how often your bins get collected, whether you have a local library, a local A&E department, your schools and roads and pay-cheques. No-one gets to opt out.
I was at the Whitehall protest organised by Owen Jones a couple of Saturdays ago, and found myself standing next to a well-spoken woman in expensive sunglasses, with a neatly-painted MAYHEM sign. I overheard her say, “I grew up under Thatcher. And compared to this, it was a socialist utopia.” I don’t doubt for a moment she was exaggerating for effect, but her earnestness made me strike up a conversation. “I’m from Windsor,” she told me. “You know, nice, leafy, middle-class. But I’ve just had enough of this government. There used to be a ladder, you know? You could go to university without worrying too much about fees, being able to buy a house was much more achievable. And now…”
When fully-paid-up members of the avocado-eating classes are out on the streets bearing banners, you know – or you hope – the tide is turning.
And now. We cannot carry on watching the Conservative government take both its voters and its opponents for fools. I ask again: who here on the mainland voted for the DUP? Who here realises that while you may not have gone to your GP or NHS walk-in centre yesterday, you might have to tomorrow? Who feels sick at the thought that for an extra couple of quid per square metre, the safer cladding could have been used on the Grenfell tower? Who still can’t get their head around the fact that in the UK in 2016, a female politician was murdered by a right-wing extremist?
We cannot keep watching them fail us. There comes a point where inaction becomes complicity, so let’s halt that change in its tracks. Engage with your local MPs. Make sure your news comes from at least two different sources and political stances. Go on marches and peaceful demonstrations, if you can. Write, if you enjoy it. Don’t just watch things collapse. Resist, and be there for the rebuilding. Resist, and do what you can.