Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood.
Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
The general election is over, and the Conservative party now has what the Financial Times described as a ‘stonking’ majority. Emotions are running high both among the winners and the losers.
Particularly on the losing sides, there is a lot of fear and anger. And a desire to do something – anything – to make it all better. And as fast as possible.
This desire is understandable – I share the feeling myself – but it is not the most productive path: actions taken today will have far-reaching consequences, so they need to be the right actions.
Long-term success requires us to proceed calmly, with a determination to stick to the facts, to avoid blame and build unity, and to increase the pressure for positive change.
Sticking to the Facts
At a time of high emotions, two of our major political parties, the Lib Dems and the Labour Party have to take decisions which will influence their future success, and the future success of the United Kingdom.
There are two ways they can take these decisions: quickly, through internal discussions to reach a consensus; or slowly, after a period of research to make sure that they understand the problems before they choose the solutions.
Instinct says, “act quickly.” But this could be counter-productive.
A process based largely on internal dialogue risks reaching conclusions based on the loudest voices and the most persuasive rhetoric, rather than on reality. Groupthink can then cement these conclusions in place, and the strategy is set for the next few years.
The Labour Party, for example, has to choose a new leader, and revise its policy programme. So much is obvious.
But it is not clear that it fully understands the reasons for its failure in this election. I have heard confidently-expressed explanations including:
- “this is all down to Corbyn – he was never electable: with his background, people just couldn’t trust him”
- “our messages were confusing: Boris had three words; we had 107 pages”
- “it was our failure to deal with anti-Semitism that really hurt us”
- “this is entirely down to our Brexit position – it was too complex: neither Remainers nor Leavers liked it”
- “the British electorate simply isn’t ready for such left-wing policies; we need to tack sharply to the right and compete in the centre ground”
- “we were too nice: they lied, and we didn’t really call it out”
- “we are not working-class enough – we’ve left behind our traditional voters”
- “this is the result of media bias: most newspapers and the BBC were far from impartial in their reporting, and it was impossible for us to get our messages through”
- “we would have won if we had made an electoral pact with the LibDems.”
- “we were massively outspent on social media, both by the official Tory campaign and by unofficial backers”
The people saying these things are all passionate, and probably all of these factors weighed with at least some voters, so they are all partly right. But it is unlikely that any one of these factors tells the whole story.
If, hypothetically, it was the even-numbered points which largely sank Labour’s campaign, their key challenge is communication; if by contrast, it was the odd-numbered points, then they need a root and branch review of leadership, policies, membership, governance, etc. And of course other combinations would have other implications.
The only way to win enough voters back is to understand in detail which factors persuaded which people, and what strategies will be most effective in changing their minds.
Furthermore, it is not yet 100% clear what Johnson will do: will he reshuffle his cabinet and replace the market fundamentalists to govern as a one-nation Tory, as he seems to be saying; or will he keep them in post and ruthlessly implement his manifesto, turning Britain into Singapore on Thames? The Labour party cannot yet be quite certain what it is opposing.
It takes real courage to admit, “We lost. And we don’t even know why we lost.” But that is the reality Labour must face if it wants to have any prospect of returning to Government.
And the LibDems face similar questions.
The Twittersphere is full of recriminations against those who voted the “wrong” way.
This tweet has been retweeted over 27,000 times and more than 110,000 people liked it. It speaks for many.
Many friends, and even family members, will find themselves on opposite sides of this argument. The Brexit vote was polarising; this one could be even more so.
But that would be the worst possible outcome. If we assume that the premise of this tweet is correct – that hate crime will rise, that Brexit will bring turmoil, and that the NHS will be transformed for the worse – then there will be many people who voted Tory last week and who will become bitterly disappointed by the outcome. There will be a large disaffected group who have been left behind and who could form part of the pressure for change.
If, when they moan, there is a ‘welcoming committee’ waiting for them, then in future there may be a large majority of people opposing such changes. If they are simply told to “get to fuck,” they will not support the opposition. They may double down on their support for the Tories, or even for worse parties.
And similarly, divisions between and even within the opposition parties are already beginning to appear, just at a time when effective opposition is most important.
Determination to Create Positive Change
Many people are in a state of shock, dismay or fear about what is coming next. Those of us who wish to preserve our post-war social contract, must help them by providing a space for calm reflection, for discussion without recrimination, for support and for action.
What we need is not knee-jerk reactions; and even less is it further divisions in society, pitting one part of the 99% against another.
What we need is a period of sober analysis and fact-based strategy on the part of the losing parties (and some of the ex-Tories who are horrified about their party being taken over by an extreme right-wing faction). We need an inclusive – cross-party – effort to motivate and align all those who are opposed to the market fundamentalist agenda. And we need to find new ways of applying pressure to get policies to address mass impoverishment.
That is exactly what the 99% Organisation is setting out to achieve. Now, more than ever, is the time we need to spread our message and build our influence.
Thank you all for your help.