Are we there yet?

Amina Lone

22 June 2017

Confidence is a wonderful thing. The general election 2017 saw a cocky Conservative party turn into a bumbling wreck, while Labour transformed despondency into a resurgent movement.

Various rationales have been offered. Trying to make sense of this kedgeree, I reflect on my own doorstep experiences. The uncertainty was palpable. Like many others, I spoke to hundreds of undecided individuals. The continual daily conversations I have reflect the chaos of the nation. What does the election mean? Is the inconclusive outcome positive or negative for democracy in Britain? 

The two-party system has been revived, with both sides seeing an increase in vote share despite the Tory electoral car crash. May’s gamble of a ‘strong and stable’ Brexit mandate was instinctively right. She was just on the wrong side of the bet. Brexit remains a significant factor with both Remainers and Leavers coming out in droves. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to have been a major shift: the country remains as tightly spilt as ever on this issue.

My natural optimism is damped. While many on the left rightly cheer the results, I remain cautious about the future. The volatility and unpredictability of recent elections shows no sign of abating. We are riven with a deepening identity crisis and lurch from election to election. It feels as if we are thrashing our way through, without considering the long-term consequences of short-term actions.

The Conservatives failure to address the European issue internally will continue to ravage them. Similarly, their inability to neuter the far right in their midst has cost them dearly. Cameron’s and Osborne vision of a more cosmopolitan, diverse and socially liberal party lies in tatters. It will need to be resuscitated if the Conservatives hold any desire to have a healthy majority in Government.

Under Cameron’s leadership, BME communities were prepared to give the Conservatives a chance, discarding tribal affiliations with Labour. Theresa May’s experiments with an exclusionary, far-right politics have cost the Tories heavily with BME communities, who overwhelmingly supported Labour in 2017.

Getting in to bed with the DUP is also out of step with a mainly secular, progressive and moderate UK. Aligning with a party holding extreme views is bad enough, jeopardising a fragile agreement is incredibly rash. In a time of heightened insecurity and an increase in violent terrorism, it seems like an act of madness.

Labour has its own set of challenges. To win a majority Labour needs to not be complacent. It cannot take BME communities for granted and must root out inequality within some of its own support base. Turning a blind eye to gender inequality within some religious communities is not acceptable and must be challenged by the leadership. Action must follow. Equally it cannot claim to be the party of equality, when no African or African Caribbean males were selected as candidates. Identity politics must be phased out and Braraaderi Bradford style politics should be shunned for the backward practices they are. Individuals have multiple identities and intersectionality of gender, class and race are ignored at Labour’s peril. I am interested in how working class young people, especially white working class young men, are going to be engaged and empowered. Often the most marginalised, they seem to be our society’s forgotten people.

Brexit could end up making mincemeat out of Labour. The Shadow Cabinet’s conflicting and contradictory messages about single market access and an unresolved freedom of movement debate will be scrutinised intensely in the next general election. Winning over older working-class voters who supported Leave and the Conservatives, while retaining younger and/or middle-class Remainers, is no easy task. The electorate, armed with technological access and a renewed vigor of democratic engagement will not trade their votes lightly. A majority on both sides of the European question must be won over for either party to form a stable government.

This election results has demonstrated my long held belief the UK is a centrist country with a strong moral core. It may be politically divided but an innate British sense of decency and fairness, coupled with a progressive pragmatism, seems to be the order of the day. Lack of affordable and decent housing and out-of-control free markets are rightly seen as unfair. A precarious future for the next generation, and the possibility of shrinking to a narrow island nation in an inescapably connected world, will have motivated the under-45s when they marked their ballot papers for Labour.

Modern politics is both volatile and transactional. Voters are fickle and want to know what they are getting in return for their support. Yet the majority are not merely selfish. They place hearts over minds, and want a positive vision for the future.

Whichever party can inspire; invest in the majority of people and places; tap into a patriotic sense of fairness and moral core; and build a vision of Britain as part of a progressive global movement will win big. I wonder when either of the main parties will be able step up and lead us to that destination.

Amina Lone is a Labour Councillor for Hulme Ward, Manchester, and director of the Social Action and Research Foundation (SARF). She is a Commissioning Editor for Renewal.