This is a guest posting by Rob Hudson, a photographer I know who is based in Cardiff.
Is there an emoji for feeling completely and utterly depressed? Because that’s all I felt like posting yesterday. Honestly I don’t recognise this country anymore and I don’t suppose for one second I’m alone. I suppose I was privileged to be born into a humane country, where for the most part people cared about their fellow citizens (even occasionally citizens of other countries), but I surely won’t die in one.
I feel like taking the first boat out of here, but there are people here who’ll be all the more reliant on me after this election. The country is broken, the NHS is in mortal danger, the poor, the weak and the young and elderly will be sacrificed to the vagaries of the unfeeling, unthinking free market.
It’s the sense of disbelief that’s most palpable here today. We really are a nation divided, divided ideologically, philosophically and morally. Forget national geography for a moment, this is neighbour against neighbour, town against country, city against City. And that gulf is enormous, I actually find myself hating, fearing and despairing of my fellow countryfolk and countrywomen today. How could they do it, how could they vote for self-interest and against caring for those in need? It’s hard to believe we will ever be reconciled, it’s like we were born on different planets. What they voted for is evil and I don’t know how I’m going to talk to them again.
I have heard rumours that perhaps 30-60000 of our fellow citizens have died after being declared fit for work, more after their benefits were sanctioned for the most trivial reasons. There’s an FOI request imminent (the DWP have been sitting on it during the election, despite having been ordered to release the figures in February) and I do hope Tory and UKIP voters will feel sick when they see the bold facts. Because with £12bn in unspecified welfare cuts it is only going to get worse.
But will they feel sick? Are they so self interested or sociopathic that they will think that an acceptable toll for a £5 a week cut in income tax? I hope you spend it wisely, because it’ll be little use if you lose your job, become ill, are young or get old.
No. I can’t think that negatively about the people I grew up amongst. I don’t believe we’ve become inhumane overnight. I believe we (in England and Wales) were not offered an alternative in the form of a party with the remotest chance of power that could inspire us.
Labour offered no serious critique of our situation, allowed the Tory lie that they were responsible for the deficit through overspending to become commonplace. They failed to propose an alternative to austerity, an alternative electoral system, to propose reform of an inequitable tax system, failed to propose any meaningful response to the huge growth of inequality and fell into the Tory trap of failing to propose an anti Tory alliance with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. And on top of that ignored the environment.
I speak as someone who joined the Green Party last year and it’s amazing how taking that stance has enabled me, in my mind, to critique what had formerly been my party of choice – Labour. But I feel guilty; I take some of the blame because I have not been nearly active enough. And that makes me even more depressed.
Yet it’s little wonder Labour lost, they tried tinkering at the edges under Blair and Brown, and that’s simply led to large numbers of disenchanted Labour voters, who’d seen no real change, to switch their allegiance to the bigots, homophobes and thinly disguised misanthropes of UKIP. I hesitate in calling them racists, but suspect that hesitation is unjustified.
There is one glimmer of hope and that comes from Scotland. Whilst Plaid Cymru made little progress outside of their language based heartlands, the SNP were elected in nothing less than a political tsunami. I thought I might have more to say about Plaid, but I really don’t. They’ve made little progress; they are essentially still a political irrelevance. They obviously have much to do to convince the electorate that they no longer represent the interests of the minority of Welsh speakers alone. In essence they are where the SNP was thirty years ago. It’s not to say their message won’t have impact in the future, they are undeniably a progressive party.
I know many of you in England and Wales base your opinion of nationalism on an analysis based in the 1930s. But what that fails to recognise is that the nationalist parties learned from the experience of Nazism, and rejected ethnic nationalism to become what are now known as ’civic’ nationalists. The SNP aren’t the evil Scots rising up to steal your babies as portrayed by the Tory press, the Tory Party and depressingly Ed Miliband. They are what we might have once called broadly social democrats before every major UK party moved to the right of social democracy, including Labour. They believe in government close to the people who elect them, as I do, and I include Wales and the English regions. Most importantly they offered something of an alternative to the cold winds of free market austerity.
But it’s not nationalism or even particularly regional democracy that I want to agitate for at this time, that’s an argument for another day. What is really important is the way the independence debate engaged and politicised the electorate. How grassroots activism has sustained and (in Scotland) elected a party that presents a genuine alternative to the status quo.
We, south of the border, need to come together too, we must offer an alternative. We need to become active citizens: screw your online petitions, join together, and actually do something. Join a political party, join a union, form groups of like-minded people outside the current broken system. Take every opportunity to protest and to inform your fellow citizens because you can be sure the tax avoiding non-doms who own our press won’t. You can be sure the newly enfeebled BBC won’t.
There is no Tory majority; they simply have the most seats in the discredited first past the post system (in fact only 27% voted Tory). Politics comes from the people and that means you and me folks, because there isn’t anyone else, we are the people. And if we don’t, if we stand by and let the new government literally kill tens of thousands of our citizens and unleash yet more evils of neoliberalism; what does that say about us, other than we are complicit. Because alone in our despair we are weak, but together we can find hope.