This is a story of denial, delusion and illusion: All themes that ran through the 2019 General election campaign.
Jo and The Libs
The rise, or rather the inflation of Jo Swinson is not the only story in town, but the themes are strong in this one. I’d have been hard pushed to pick Jo out from an identity parade until she made her claim that she could be PM. As our collective memory gradually starts to write her out of our consciousness, it only remains to pick over those shards of glass from that “Glass Ceiling” resignation speech:
Did we judge her on her earrings, her accent, her youth and ambition? No, we judged her on her voting record during her office as part of the 2010 Tory/Lib Dem coalition government. We judged her support of austerity; the bedroom tax, welfare benefit cuts, her immediate and unquestioning enthusiasm for the nuclear button.
Did we like her? Well, apparently not. Sometimes appearances do matter. Did Jo try to create a character, or maybe several characters? The earrings are fine. Was the changeable accent fake, her persona an illusion? Maybe it was the real Jo whose lip quivered with emotion for herself as she laid out her feelings of “dread and dismay” due to the disingenuous “Nationalism on both sides of the border.” That, along with a series of claims from a variety of Lib Dems that it was “sexism and ageism” that brought down their leader. Are these claims delusional? They are certainly bereft of responsibility for the failure of the campaign. At around 3 AM, the air changed, as fresh hope was elected in the form of the SNP candidate Amy Callaghan.
Johnson and the Tories
Where to start with this one. Smoke and mirrors, snake-oil salesmen and sheer deceit worked like magic on over 13 million voters who wanted to Get Brexit Done, say No to a 2nd Indyref, or generally bamboozle the rest of us, who cannot fathom their motives.
In truth, the illusion took form on the side of a bus in 2016, when voters were promised £350 million extra a week to spend on the NHS, instead of the EU. That lie was almost respectable compared to the racist stirrings about Turkish immigrants, later denied by Johnson in an attempt to re-write history.
By the time he was awarded the Premiership in July 2019 Johnson no longer had to deny, or apologise for racism, homophobia, sexism, domestic abuse or the undemocratic proroguing of parliament. Nor did the deeply anguished concerns about increasing violence towards women MPs, and the memory of Jo Cox deter him in his bullish “die in a ditch” war of attrition towards any opposition to Brexit.
Nor did it deter those who bought the illusion of Boris the Clown. The lovable wag, whose gaffes should be taken with a pinch of salt. No amount of fridge hiding, phone snatching, Andrew Neil shaming or empty chairing, or deceitful Tory tweeting, nor the shameful editing of keir Starmer’s interview, could prevent Johnson’s machine from riding roughshod over an electorate gagging for Brexit. Had the shallow slogan “Get Brexit Done” been accompanied each time by a clown’s hooter, would it have made any difference? Maybe not.
The Scottish Tories joined the circus in their denial of a previously held remain stance, their concerns about Ruth Davidson’s departure waved away by the now consistent Tory rewriting of history. Thankfully Scottish voters proved to be considerably less, but not completely immune from the chicanery. Indyref, fish and plain old died in the wool Tory-ism likely held more sway here.
When the public have been holding aloft, as principled, a series of old Thatcherites, you know that something is dangerously weird.
The Labour Party
As I write, a mini revolution appears to be taking place in the mindset of Scottish labour, several of whom are now contemplating a seismic shift in attitude to the democratic right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future. This clearly comes in light of the near sweeping of the board of seats by the SNP, and, for the second time in less than 5 years, a purging of all but one Labour seat.
If this is what it takes, so be it. It’s to be welcomed, and it would be entirely disingenuous not to recognise the ongoing influence of Labour for Independence, and now, the open letter from Scottish Labour for Radical Democracy, a group of activists demanding a new and radical look at the constitutional issue.
Sadly, however, an interview with Scottish leader Richard Leonard characterises the rich seam of denial and that has driven them to their current state of disintegration. As part of an otherwise conciliatory post-election statement he said;
“…in 2021 I am determined that our 14 years of opposition will come to an end in the Scottish parliament. This is certainly ambitious, but we should not apologise for our ambition.”
Let’s leave this here for now shall we Richard. Whether this emerges as delusional in Jo Swinson proportions, or actually is within the bounds of reality, will be heavily influenced by the continued opening of the channel that appears to be taking place in terms of the Scottish constitution, by MSPs such as Monica Lennon.
To date, Mr Leonard appears to have shifted from his entirely undemocratic opposition to a 2nd independence referendum, to a belief that an SNP majority in the 2021 would form the only basis for a right to one (if he is not FM by that time). Some of us still see an arrogance there, and an ongoing denial of our democratic right to choose. It’s a kicking and screaming thing Richard, but hope you’ll get on board. We need good socialists.
If Scottish Labour can begin to face the inevitable truth that the constitutional question absolutely must be embraced in a democratic fashion, sadly the wider reaction by numbers of defeated Labour MPs throughout the UK has been to immediately scapegoat Corbyn for the defeat. No matter how you would wish to describe Corbyn in terms of his leadership, his presence, his handling of media demonisation, his Brexit stance, he has shown himself to be the dignified adult in the room in defeat. At the bottom of it all, he really was an honourable man.
Or, Fun with Figures, if you prefer the movable feast presented by the Tories. In another game of Smoke and Mirrors, it wasn’t long before the existing mandate, strengthened by SNP seats amounting to 47, was reduced by the Tories and elements of the media to only around 45% of the electorate. Or, less than half of the seats, the majority being Unionist votes.
If we want to play that game, we can note that around only 43% voted Tory, or, around 13 million voters. Does that give Johnson a mandate for Brexit, when over 17 million voted for it? I think the political arguments will prevail over that one, somehow!
Last but not least. As it’s Christmas, (something that I have been in denial of myself,) I’ll try to be kind. However, somehow, the government’s own Yellow hammer report, which should be enough to allow for a logical vote against Brexit in working class communities was ignored.
For the great mass of apolitical people, the lure of getting Brexit done, and out of the way, so that we can get back to normal, and get on with the Christmas shopping, may have been a factor, alongside or apart from the lure or forgiveness of the catalogue of Johnson failings.
Why the denial, or even lack of interest in the blatant warnings about a disastrous downturn for the economy and lost jobs and industries? I’m going to give the last word to the media on this one. It was you wasn’t it. You monstered Corbyn. You made him worse than Boris the Crazy Clown, and plenty bought into it.
At the moment, I feel like a rescued pet, grateful for a shelter from the storm, impressed by the activism, humanity and commitment of the membership, and in awe of the stamina and leadership shown by Nicola sturgeon throughout the election period, and beyond. We know that we have a fight ahead. No denial there. One last plea to the leadership though, that in these rapidly changing times, where the grassroots are swelling with activism from all sides and colours of the movement, that you don’t deny us all our place in the struggle, in the months and years ahead.