Friday, June 09, 2017

About last night

In his braggadocious march on the White House, Donald Trump boasted that Americans would be 'winning' so often under his leadership that they'd get sick of it.
The feeling has been the opposite for many of us in the UK for the past couple of years. I'm talking about the left here obviously.
First there was the 2015 election win by David Cameron's Tories, made worse by the fact that the Lib Dems were virtually wiped out after shouldering an unfair amount of blame for the sins of the coalition - in my opinion.
Then there was last year's European referendum, which Cameron was bounced into when he landed that unexpected majority.
And, of course Trump. How the hell did that happen America?
I'll put aside various local elections and by-elections when it seemed as if Labour was incapable of pulling out of terminal tailspin.
No wonder Theresa May was licking her lips at the prospect of a snap election to lock in her good fortune to be the leader of the government at a time of such disorganised opposition with a leader who was being lampooned by the press and disliked and distrusted by the electorate. What could possibly go wrong?
There will be plenty of amateur and professional pundits picking over that one for years to come. It's still barely believable that Tess May snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The Tories are the biggest party, yes, but with a reduced number of seats, no majority, and now seemingly in bed with a bunch of oddballs, the DUP.
And it is May who must carry the can, although at the minute she seems determined to carry on as if nothing has changed. Whether it was her decision or Lynton Crosby's to focus the campaign on the presidential qualities of May, barely matters now. What is incredible is how unable or unwilling they were to change tack once it started to become apparent that May was a liability.
There were so many cock ups, which could have been opportunities to reset the Maybot and try something new - the regal announcement she wouldn't debate with Jeremy Corbyn; the embarrassingly stagey stump speeches to party members; the robotic repetition of campaign slogans; the inability to think on her feet; the car crash interviews supposedly designed to show her normality (girls jobs and boys jobs, running through wheatfield...), and, of course, the U-turn on the Dementia Tax.
It's surely be an indication of how inbred Tory culture is that in 20 years as an MP nobody seemed to cotton on to how weird she is. She seemed normal to them.
As May became more strange, and the very opposite of strong and stable, Jeremy Corbyn seemed to hit his stride. I'll put my cards on the table and say that I wasn't a fan of him becoming a leader. I didn't rush to join the Labour Party to support him or any other candidate, so this is a purely personal opinion.
His appeal, to me, seemed to be to a group of people who were involved in fantasy politics, and more interested in some form of unrealistic ideological purity than the hard and dull business of winning and exercising power. Having lived through the 80s when it seemed as if Thatcher would never be usurped, my political inclinations are towards the need to compromise and devise realistic policies that won't alienate those you need in the broad church needed to win power.
Mind you, that approach didn't help Ed Miliband, whose 2015 manifesto was so uninspiring it barely stood a chance. The monstering of the right wing press didn't help either.
So while Corbynistas got more and more excited about their man, I harrumphed on the sidelines, much like most of the PLP.
But as the election campaign went on, Corbyn's appeal became more apparent against the strangeness of Theresa May. While she walked around empty factories where Tory supporters were bussed in after the real staff went home, he spoke to people wherever he found them. Both spoke to the converted, but his crowds were bigger, more enthusiastic, and made up of normal people. A lot of the content from Corbyn was old time religion for the Labour tribe, but people lapped it up, and not just party members. While she became more stilted as the campaign went on, Corbs started to find his Mojo, and although he wasn't on the cover of that particular magazine, he made it on to the front of Kerrang! and NME. He sounded normal and like the avuncular, chap that his people had spoken about, whether making self deprecating gags about his allotment, or waxing lyrical about Arsenal to a couple of fans, who obviously thought this old dude was alright.
In some ways, I think Corbyn benefited from having steered clear, or been avoided by, the mainstream media. Lots of people knew little about him, so when his profile began to build, it didn't tally with the increasingly foam flecked efforts of the Hate Mail and S*n to monster him. People liked him.
All of which was all very well, but having awoken enough over the past couple of years to news that your side really wasn't winning, I was cool on Labour's prospects, even as the chaotic opinion polls seemed to show that it was cutting into a Tory lead that had been more than 20% at one point. It could all still change on polling day. Predictions seemed meaningless - anything from Labour dropping to a rump of 150 seats of less, to doing... quite well. Anything seemed possible.
To be honest, I started out not caring about this election. I was angry, and still am angry, about the referendum, which to my mind is a piece of national self harm. I was angry about the people who voted for it and who continue to defend it. And I was angry at the Tories, for... well, reasons.
I was also angry at Corbyn's Labour Party for not getting its act together, and for turning into a kind of self-righteous cult that seemed to have no real interest in gaining power. Everything seemed such a foregone conclusion, what was the point?
But it started to change as the campaign progressed. I don't think that's been unusual. In my constituency, I decided that I was going to vote for the Lib Dem candidate, and four-time election winner in Colchester, Sir Bob Russell. It was a tactical vote. It seemed to be more important to try and limit the inevitable Tory landslide where I could, than vote for a party that I had always voted for.
As the weeks went on, my opinion shifted. There has been a real energy among the Labour people in the town and lots of activity. A poll claimed that Labour had overtaken the Lib Dems - no one was sure how robust it was, so I was still undecided. It didn't even seem to matter that much, as I was convinced that the local Tory candidate would be a shoo in.
In the end I decided as I got on my bike to cycle to the polling booth. My neighbour, who was displaying Labour posters in his window was in his garden and I stopped to chat to find out what he thought was the real state of play in the town. He had been unenthusiastic about Corbyn, but spoke passionately about the people in the local Labour team and how there did seem to be Labour surge in the town, and in the region (well done Ipswich). He thought that Labour had overtaken the Lib Dems, and pointed out that in a growing town like Colchester, who knew what could happen in the years ahead with young people and families making their homes here.
His enthusiasm got to me. He kind of told me what I wanted to hear, so I did vote for Labour candidate Tim Young. He didn't win, but he did come second, and he more than doubled the Labour vote so that they are now near enough to make the Tories sweat. Who knows what could happen next time?
Last night, Charlotte and I sat up doing the Guardian Weekend quiz - we are such cliches - not bothered about turning over to see the exit poll in real time. I wanted to know, but didn't expect much, so the prediction - now fact - that Labour had eaten into the Tories lead, and prevented a Tory majority was gratifying.
As we tuned in, John McDonnell was telling Dimbleby that the Tories had run a campaign based on nastiness and dragging politics into the gutter, much to Michael Fallon's surprise - he obviously thought they were still at the polite chit chat stage of proceedings. That made me laugh, and the prediction made me take a sharp intake of breath.
All day, people like me have had a spring in their step. There were conspiratorial grins from fellow 'saboteurs' on the school run. My neighbour was practically bouncing round the garden as he deadheaded his roses.
Tomorrow there will be a bit of sober reflection. Labour did come second after all. There's a lot that is unclear. Brexit still beckons and there could be another general election before the end of the year. The Tories can't run a campaign as bad as that again, can they?
For tonight though, I'm going to put that to one side, have a beer and feel a bit better. People have voted for hope and an alternative to the Tories offer of more of the same and a seventh year, and counting, of austerity. And in case I haven't made it clear, I have to say that I was obviously wrong about Jeremy Corbyn. The boy done good.