There are many things in life I don’t understand; people who are capable of genuine cruelty, or who are abusive to people online and yet can’t bring themselves to say the same things to a person’s face, or who are either politically apathetic or so politically tribal that they are completely incapable of considering alternative points of view or befriending people with a different view.
I am fascinated by politics; I’m not obsessive to the same extent that people who work in politics have to be to commit to the hours, but I am fascinated by the trials and tribulations of the political world. Political decisions affect all our lives; from big and decisive topics such as Brexit, fuel prices, and foreign relationships, to the small and local decisions that still affect our towns and neighbourhoods; bin collections (when I worked for a local council in the customer services team, that one was the single most-complained-about topic), policing and hospitals being local enough, and leisure activities. Politics affects everything that we see and use locally and nationally, and yet so many of us are dismissive of politicians and decision-makers … especially when they don’t agree with us.
I’ve voted in every election since I was 18 (I’m 40 as I write this), and I’ve even been a clerk at a few polling stations (the money certainly came in useful, and it was lovely to feel like I was doing a little something to contribute to the right to vote). I remember one man coming in during the Brexit vote who must have been in his early sixties; he proudly proclaimed that this was the first time in his life that he had voted, and he doubted he’d ever vote again. All these years later, I wonder if he has ever changed that view, given how the 2017 and 2019 general elections were dominated by Brexit. I couldn’t even begin to understand why somebody wouldn’t want to vote on any important issue – or for the people who are going to be making the important decisions on my behalf.
I’m not very tribal; I’ve never belonged to any political party, and I’ve voted all different shades over the years. In the 2019 election, I voted Green, mostly because I live in a pretty safe Conservative seat – my vote won’t make much difference, and I didn’t want to vote for a major opposition party with a leader I didn’t feel comfortable with; I struggled to see Jeremy Corbyn as a Prime Minister. I wish there had been some kind of coordinated tactical voting campaign in my local area; I might have considered “lending” my vote if there were plans and a party I could trust with it. So far, not a lot of luck …
I don’t believe that I have one particular party that I’d always vote for; I liked the “One Nation” branch of the Conservatives due to their views on social issues and being pro-EU, I was generally pro-Blair, and I liked the concept of the Liberal Democrats and the Greens offering a different point of view to the two bigger parties. That does rather mark me down as someone who is on the centre-left, although as you can see from my comment about the Conservatives, this is not an obsessive following. I am also friends with someone who would disagree vociferously with my assessment of Jeremy Corbyn … but our friendship is unaffected by our disgreement (unless she is inwardly seething and I’m missing out on all the signs).
The old traditions of “left” and “right” have started to blur, especially in the recent years PBR (Post-Brexit-Referendum); some on the “hard-left” and on the further right joined together in anti-Brexit sentiment. They then splintered back into their old factions and, sometimes, some new ones as well. It’s depressing to realise how factions can easily start up again after a brief alliance, and how tribal some people can be. There’s so often a total acceptance of one “side’s” position, without any critical discussion of their positives and negatives. On the other side of the Atlantic, Trump developed an almost cult-like adoration amongst his faithful followers, enshrining a view that he was absolutely perfect and must not be criticised under any circumstances.
This is a depressing example of a wider problem in society; a lack of ability to hear an alternative point of view without collapsing into a heap and yelling, “Don’t bully me!” Even making that simple statement will undoubtedly make some people very angry, believing that I’ve written it about them … and that’s equally as frustrating. I’m content being fairly centrist, and on the “left” – but I’m probably considered a traitor by those on the far left for not condemming every single Conservative as a fascist. I’ve also tried to talk to people about Brexit, and I’ve noticed that some get frustrated with me because I try to have a nuanced conversation of the history behind it and why I passionately disagree with it whilst still understanding the case for the EU needing reform.
When did we lose the ability to be nuanced? Why are some people entirely unable to cope with the challenges to their world-view that a discussion opens up; “I could never be friends with a Tory” is one such example, but that just shuts us off an open debate where we might actually learn something.
Most issues aren’t specifically left or right; you can be a fan of Margaret Thatcher and believe strongly in closer European integration, or be a socialist with a strong sense of fiscal responsibility – and if you disagree with either possibility, then you’re more rigid in your thinking than you might believe. We don’t have to fit into a specific vision of what a centrist, leftist, or rightist “should” look like; I’m centre-left because that’s where most of my views sit … but if a few of my opinions sit on further left or on the centre-right, does that make me a traitor to the group I identify with? No, of course it doesn’t; it means I am capable of holding a range of views in my head at any one time.
I don’t understand tribalism in politics. Our views change over time, so why can’t we shift political allengiances as well? I tactically voted Conversative once solely because Nigel Farage was standing for UKIP in my constituency, and I did not want him representing me in Parliament. As a result, my MP is far to the right of me on some issues, and I’ve never voted for him again. I didn’t particularly want to vote for him the first time, to tell the truth; not because I dislike him (I don’t – I’ve only met him three or four times), but because I disagree with his opinions. I don’t believe that he’s a traitor because we have different views; I do believe he’s wrong (and he’ll inevitably think the same about me if he ever happens to read this blog, which I doubt). Life is complicated, and it’s often full of hard choices.
Every decision we make has consequences (as the writer and podcaster Steve Richards would say). No political system is perfect – I am drawn towards proportional representation as a way of selecting MPs, but I know there are imperfections with it as well – but I’m proud to be something of a mish-mad. I like to think I look for kindness and compassion in my leaders, but also confidence and a willingness to listen as well as act decisively. If I see them working with compassion as wlel, then gives me some hope for the future.