Post election post mortem.
It’s Sunday already. I’ve started writing a blog post about the election so many times since Thursday evening, and Friday morning, but they were stilted, words slowly forced onto a page as my shocked and scrambled head for once didn’t know what to say.
It started with a heavy, sinking feeling as the exit poll data was announced. Based on 22,000 people of the some 41million who voted, and putting the Conservatives in the lead, I prayed it was wrong. For a start, it was the data from 0.0005% of the total number of people who voted. The margin for error was enormous, I told myself, not in denial – as I have been a politics nerd for long enough now to know that nothing should come as a surprise and nothing should be taken for granted – but in hope. Hope that a couple of the digits were slightly here or there, hope for a slight shift of margins, hope for something other than the desolate prediction rolling across the bottom of my television screen.
“It’s another bad result for Labour”, Andrew Neil said of one early announcement of a Labour-won seat. I furrowed my brow. Dimbleby was proclaiming from the off that the polls were right, as the Lab-Con scorecard read 7-2. Bit premature, I thought. The 12th result was deemed ‘the last Labour stronghold’. Strewth, I thought to myself, there’s 638 more results to come. Sports commentators don’t predict the outcome of a football match from the first 8 seconds of the game, that would be silly. And I held that hope.
As the night rolled into morning, the Conservatives edged ahead. And stayed there, the gap between the numbers growing larger and larger. And the majority was secured. A triumphant Cameron returned to Number 10, unfettered by the “great yellow albatross hanging around the necks of the Conservative Party”, as Boris Johnson said in his keynote speech at the party conference in 2013. “We want to tear off that albatross, and drown in it the river!” People stood and cheered. I hovered at the back of the room, shifting uncomfortably at their obvious delight in the violent imagery presented with a veneer of buffoonery. I was there to give a speech on the rise of food banks in Britain, and regular readers will remember that I was banned a few days before (I suppose they finally clocked on that they might not like what I was going to say). A brief but extremely public skirmish later, it was reinstated without an apology. When I turned up, my event was curiously completely unpublicised. Not a mention in the literature, nothing. Odd for such an organised operation, I thought. And then walked into a conference room that was standing room only, packed so tightly that people were standing in the corridor outside. I raged about food bank use in Britain, about its causes, I reminded the people in that room that donating a tin of beans or potatoes was the very least they could do considering they voted for the people who implemented the devastating policies impoverishing ordinary people up and down the country. I raged, I cried, I spoke, I begged, I got a standing ovation at the end of it.
Over the next few years, as benefits are ‘capped’ and the welfare budget slashed, as the NHS is crippled and the cost of living rises, those food banks will grow in number, as will the number of people needing their help. I don’t imagine for one moment I will ever be asked back to the Conservative Party Conference to talk about it again.
I found some glimmers of light in a long night – in a consecutive 52 hours awake and exhausted. Rupa Huq, the Labour candidate grossly and violently manhandled by Conservative Party lackeys on the campaign trail won her seat. Esther McVey, the Conservative Employment Minister who revelled at Iain Duncan Smith’s side as they cut benefits, sanctioned claimants, united against ‘the evils of idleness’, and denied there were any links between cutting support for vulnerable people, and the subsequent deaths of vulnerable people with no support.
I remember reading the article in the New Statesman, where she was handed a photograph of David Clapson, a diabetic man who died alone in his flat after his benefits were suspended. David’s fridge had been turned off, meaning his insulin was no longer effective. When confronted with evidence that the DWP had to carry out 49 peer reviews following the death of a benefit claimant after sanctions and cuts, she acidly responded that “we followed our processes correctly.” In an interview with the Daily Mail, she breezed that “disabled people get better” and insisted that they were the biggest benefit abusers in Britain.
When the result for Wirrall West came in at 5am I made a sort of strangled noise from my sofa, hardly daring to believe it was true. Eight minutes later, still shaking, I tweeted “No result affected me as deeply as McVey losing her seat. For all affected by welfare cuts, DWP shit, ATOS, she’s gone.” And sent her a link to the Government form to apply for benefits. Petty, but satisfying.
Mark Reckless, UKIP, lost his seat in Rochester to the Conservatives. Douglas Carswell, UKIP, held onto his in Clacton. The loudest cheer of the 13 hours parked in front of my television (which is more than I would do in an average month or two!) came at 10:36 in the morning, as a grinning Farage failed to win Thanet South, and resigned as leader of the UK Independence Party. He said in a garbled and slightly manic speech that he had never been happier. I am sure millions of people up and down the country shared the sentiment.
The Greens held on to Brighton Pavilion with the wonderful Caroline Lucas getting 42% of the vote. They received 1.2million votes across the UK, and a single seat to show for it. In contrast, the SNP received 1.4million votes, and got 56 seats to show for it. Thus the fight for Proportional Representation begins again – but with PR must come the realisation that if we had had it for this election, UKIP would have walked away with around 80 seats – 23 more than the Lib Dems had after 2010, and Farage could well have been our Deputy Prime Minister. However with Proportional Representation might come greater voter engagement, as all votes would count equally and people might finally vote for what they believe in, rather than tactically ticking the box of the least worst option most likely to be elected.
Finally, following the resignation of three party leaders on Friday morning (Farage from UKIP, Miliband from Labour and Clegg from the Liberal Democrats), for the first time almost all of the political parties in Britain have a woman as their figurehead. Except the Tories. Harriet Harman is currently holding the reins of the Labour Party. Nicola Sturgeon is still leading the SNP. Natalie Bennett for the Greens. Suzanne Evans for UKIP. Leanne Wood for Plaid Cymru. Sal Brinton for the Lib Dems.
Apart from Suzanne Evans, who is a terrifying cookie-cutter of her predecessor, this is extremely good news for women in politics.
And now, what next? Well, I’ve been crunching the numbers extensively for the last few nights, doing extensive vote analysis constituency by constituency, and am halfway through. I started because I was tired of hearing some old Labour friends claiming that those who ‘vote Green got Blue’, blaming the surge in membership and votes for the Green Party for their failure to secure a majority, or even enough votes to form a coalition. I lost count of the amount of people who sneered at me that I was to blame for voting Green, as though my one vote affected the 84 constituencies that Labour would have needed to form a majority Government. I tried to point that out, to deaf ears. I sort of understand. People are hurt, they’re tribal, they’re angry, they’ve worked hard so need to blame other people as in their eyes their hard work should have been successful. I get it. So I stepped away from the one-by-one discussions and am instead doing a comprehensive statistical analysis, which I will post on my blog in due course. It’s cathartic, it’s extremely interesting, and when everyone has calmed down we can have a conversation based on what actually happened, rather than bruised egos and flared tempers. And I look forward to that, because I like a discussion and a debate, and I’d love to chew this over with some people and get their thoughts – my head has felt full of wasps the last few days, and I think it would be healthy to get some sort of proper, reasonable conversations going.
For now though, I bid you all goodnight. I have averaged two hours sleep a night since Monday, and am looking forward to regaining some sanity.
Remember what I said on Wednesday? If we wake up on Friday morning with a Government we would rather not see in power, if all your dreams didn’t come true at the ballot box, it is not the end. It is just the beginning. You do not have to accept the cuts and austerities and policies that will directly negatively impact on your life.
We can rally. We can protest. We can organise. We can campaign. We can petition. We can scrutinise, pressurise, but we must not give in.
To quote my late friend Hetty Bower, who I campaigned with in 2013, one of the women who – and who died at the age of 108 still fighting against austerity and for the National Health Service: “We must fight. If we fight they might win. But if we don’t fight then of course they’ll win.”
Jack Monroe. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe