Nobody Knows Anything
It may be only for this weekend, it may be an anomaly in the polling, it may not take account of the fearsome intelligence of local campaigning in key marginals as practised by the dark artists of the Tory Party Machine…but what was universally assumed to be a Dead Cert Tory Landslide in the General Election is looking like being a bit of a nail-biter. It looks like the Tory party have pulled off the trick, for the third time, (Better Together in Indyref 14, Remain in EUref16), of turning an unassailable lead into a narrow squeak…and that the hung parliament that everyone thought was going to happen in 2015 actually might happen this time instead.
Now, bearing in mind what happened in 2014, when one poll result set the Hearts of Oak aflutter…and mobilised the unionists, this may just be a blip, but even if that is all it is, it is beginning to look like “Received Political Wisdom” is fish and chip paper. If nothing else, if Theresa May ends up delivering a majority that will make every vote on Brexit into a constitutional crisis, leave alone a SMALLER majority than now, which leaves the SNP anywhere near a “balance of power” situation (a few by-elections permitting) then every single assumption that the political classes have made about the prospect of Tory hegemony in the UK for the foreseeable future is, like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove caught in the headlights of their unexpected and unwanted Brexit victory last year, left mumbling pale faced and traumatised: “Christ on a bike! That wasn’t supposed to happen!”
Brexit suddenly isn’t the settled will of anyone anymore…the party in government can’t rely on an electoral boost from a terrorist outrage, the Labour Party might find themselves winning a on a Right Wing Issue like Police numbers with a Left Wing (ish) manifesto. And here in Scotland, we might well find that the historic “SNP Tsunami” of two years ago leaves us with a Thatcher era number of Tory MPs with the SNP having directly replaced Labour, virtually seat for seat, as a somewhat despised “establishment” party of devolution…the “feeble fifty” de nos jours.
Honest to God, I’ve no idea what’s happening. I’m thinking of trading in the Crystal Ball for a Ouija Board.
Maybe part of it is to do with history having a sense of humour: that the democratising advent of social media, like the advent of printing five hundred years ago, is making the world both more promising and more scary at the same time. Maybe Twitter and Facebook and the demon algorithms aren’t so much (or not only) making politics less polite and more open, but are also sealing it in a bubble of specific leisure activity…that this hermetic form of what has always been “show business for ugly people” is now entirely divorced, in the public mind, from the “real world.”
Certainly, from the Socialists in France, the Democrats in the USA and the SPD in Germany to the Labour party in Scotland (to name only the most recent casualties) it is the parties of Social Democracy that have suffered the most from the sundering of the two parts of all of their names. The Social, with all the work and housing and shopping, is over HERE…and the Democracy, with all the politics and opinions and shit, is WAY over there on Facebook…and paradoxically, it is the comparatively de –classed cohorts of North London Radical Labour who find themselves, in England, wholly against expectation, to be doing much better, at this moment, than I’m sure they ever thought was possible.
(I don’t think John and Jeremy had any expectation of EVER assuming the offices of state, any more the afore-mentioned Boris and Michael saw themselves as the signatories of an ACTUAL suicide pact for the British economy.)
People voted for Trump…and Macron…and maybe will for Jeremy…and maybe even for Oor Nicola…not just because they might have actually WANTED to be represented by a thuggish moron, a slippery unknown, a retired geography teacher and a National Treasure respectively…but because, what they hell, it’s just Facebook. Everything is unfixably crap, democracy is a crock of shit, so we might as well be entertained.
This state of the public zeitgeist, would be, of course, for fascists and populists, a consummation devoutly to be wished…and if this is anything like what is going on, it probably has something to do with the breakdown of the neo-Liberal Globalisation project, and the consequent exposure of the moral vacuum at the heart of it…just as Islamo-fascist terrorism does.
Global trends have local consequences.
One of them, on these islands, has been the rise of nationalisms in Scotland and England, with what optimists like Robin McAlpine have described as “Trade Unionism for the People” on the one hand, and Never-Neverland pre-Suez Nostalgia on the other. Maybe everyone is voting for time machines, either to fling us into a bright, imagined future or into the warm glow of the imagined past. I still think of the Glasgow Taxi Driver who told me he voted to Leave the EU because he wanted to restore Full Employment on the Clyde…”because we used to have that before we joined.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“Maybe everyone is voting for time machines, either to fling us into a bright, imagined future or into the warm glow of the imagined past. I still think of the Glasgow Taxi Driver who told me he voted to Leave the EU because he wanted to restore Full Employment on the Clyde…”because we used to have that before we joined.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
Maybe the present tense, for young and old, is unbearable. Maybe there’s nothing new in this. Maybe this discontent is a constant of our human condition. Maybe I should stop there before I get too philosophical. Maybe, like William Goldman so wisely said about trying to predict successful movies in Hollywood, “Nobody Knows Anything.” As a fully paid up member of the Political Nerd Club I am probably entirely unqualified to comment. All I know for certain about this election, this weekend anyway, is that the way it’s shaping up is making me feel very excited and very, very old…all at the same time.