Like most of my friends, I am utterly disappointed. The polls were so far off the mark. Why? There are two mysteries: why did so many people vote Tory? And why did voters disguise their intentions in the polls leading up to the election? I don’t think we have a clear understanding of what has happened yet and I look forward to some concrete explanations from people who have better information in the coming weeks. In the meantime, these are my hopeful thoughts.
I watched the news from my laptop in Cairo. I stayed up all night waiting for the exit poll to be proved wrong. I am too full of hope. Egyptians were not very sympathetic. At least we have enough security to have an election. At least we didn’t elect the Muslim Brotherhood. At least, there was no wide scale fraud (said my dearest Iranian friend). I get what they are saying but it was still painful to be far away from other angry British voters. A couple days later, I am feeling more optimistic.
Because they are right, this election isn’t the end of the world.
First, we live in interesting times. Will British voters realise the importance of having Scots in Westminster to protect the NHS and other foundations of the welfare state? For Labour voters and for those who voted Tories because they wanted security (but might have underestimated the radicalism of the Tories’ plans), this is our last chance to see why Scotland matters to the rest of the UK and why we should fight very hard to keep them in the union. As someone who went door to door for the Labour party in Edinburgh, I am happy that the SNP is on the centre stage of British politics. Let the English and the Welsh know how the Scots feel!
Second, this ISN’T the end of the world, more like the tremor before the quake. Please let this election serve as a wake-up call to the Labour party- not to lurch back to some Blair-like centrist position but to find out what British voters actually think and believe, and make a strong, crystal clear case for a modern progressive politics that appeals to them. The Labour party failed to win support because it lacked a coherent message about economic growth and prosperity. I am not so naïve to think British voters are particularly radical. I also know that the structure of the economy has changed. We need a progressive politics that accounts for the shape of today’s economy and explains why austerity and tax avoidance are very bad for our country’s long-term economic prospects. It is not just about wealth distribution (although this is very important!) but about long-term economic competitiveness and social mobility. In short, Labour can’t just oppose Tory plans. It has to suggest an alternative ideology about economic growth and communicate it effectively and aggressively. We need a combination of clever economists (and political economists), effective communicators and well-organized social movements to actually agree on a strong platform and make the case to the electorate. We need policy coherence!
Third, this election has made people aware of the dangers of disinterest in politics. People have made fun of Russell Brand’s flip-flopping but it also signals the dilemma of people who dislike Labour but are unhappy with a Tory majority. I think the next few years will be exciting because anger can be productive.
Inshallah!* * Perhaps my hopefulness is getting the better of me.