Cometh the hour, cometh the man

As I said in an earlier post, exit polls predicted a hung parliament. They did that in 2015 too and we were left with a Conservative majority (albeit a small one). But this time the polls were right. The Conservatives are still the largest party, however. This is disappointing, although not hugely surprising. I don’t want to get into a rant here about why people have voted Conservative and Brexit and that we will very likely be worse off after a Conservative Brexit than a Labour one, nor do I want to push the point that under a Conservative government, the NHS as we know it will likely disappear and be privatised.

In fact, I wrote and planned this post a few days ago. I was going to say something different, based on how I perceived the vote would go. I was rather despondent. But now I’ve actually had a good day.

The result I would most like – a Labour majority – was not realistically going to happen. But a hung parliament was the next best thing. It a) shows that the Conservatives are weak (especially Theresa May, which called the election to ensure a mandate for Brexit) and b) there’s some fight in the old Labour dog yet.

Indeed, on the latter score, whatever you think about Jeremy Corbyn (and I admit I was on the fence for a while), Labour have run a decent and popular campaign. It all started with their manifesto. It has been described as radical – socialist even – yet compared with what happens elsewhere in Europe, it’s very much mainstream, and popular. In fact, if you ever wanted an underdog story, this is pretty much it. Labour went from over -20 points behind the Conservatives in the polls when the campaign began, and when it finished it was within touching distance. Most of that came from Corbyn – who surprised many by his solid and strong performances; the Labour manifesto, fully costed (unlike the Conservative one), with popular policies which reached across the party; and disasters from May and the Conservatives.

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Me explaining the election to a student in the office this lunchtime.

The Labour motto, ‘For the many, not the few’, obviously resonated with people, and why not? It represents ideals that we do not and should not only think about ourselves, that it’s good (and right) to help others, that we are greatest when we care for the weakest and poorest in our societies and that, at the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do. I wear my heart pretty much on my sleeve. I tend not to be that vocal, but several of my colleagues are not, shall I say, that enlightened. I’m not only saying they are Conservative, which is bad enough, but they are not that open to new ideas. Their response to International Women’s Day is evidence of this. Similarly, although many Chinese people don’t have an interest in British politics, those who do, such as the mother of one of the kids I tutor, thinks Theresa May is good and that Brexit is good. I explain my opinions and where I am coming from in terms of my beliefs, which she says she understands, but I’m never really sure whether she does (for example, today she told me she wasn’t sure about Labour’s tax plans. I said that they were good because they tax the rich and go after those who don’t pay taxes. I response what typically vague Chinese: ‘I see’).

One of the Chinese English teachers here, when I explained how I approach things in terms of politics, what I do and what I believe, he asked if it was because I had a strong Christian conviction (helping the needy etc). I said no, simply that it was the right thing to do….

Labour have exceeded their own – and everyone else’s – expectations, winning over 30 seats from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party. They have a resurgence in Scotland and reclaimed much of Wales. Are they perfect? No, but this was a very good manifesto and a very good campaign. It was positive, hopeful, whilst the Conservatives’ one was negative and focused on character assassination.

I’ve said it before, watching politics from afar is interesting but also can be quite depressing, knowing you can’t influence people that much. Sure, I can post stuff on Facebook and Twitter, which I do, and I donated small amounts of money to Labour and other progressive parties, but being on the other side of the world means that I don’t have the same opportunities to talk to people about issues (which may be a good or bad thing, I’m not sure). I try and find the positives in all this, and so here are some.

Firstly – Labour has increased its number of seats. In 2015, it had 256, which fell to 232 after the election. They now have over 260. Corbyn has proved himself as an energiser of the party and is a popular candidate, putting forward an excellent manifesto. They took seats from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (they had one seat in Scotland after the 2015 election; now they have seven).

Secondly – Blackburn retained its MP. In the grand scheme of things, maybe it’s not so important, but it’s a Labour seat and it remained Labour with an increased majority.

Thirdly – this was the Conservatives’ election to win – and they haven’t. Labour won by losing; it was a victory in defeat, denying the Tories a majority.

Fourthly – there are now more women MPs than ever before. No, we do not have an equal number yet but it’s good that the number has risen and not fallen.

Now some disappointments:

The Conservatives still have the largest party. The Green Party failed to win a second MP, though retained their one seat in Brighton Pavilion. The Women’s Equality Party, and the National Health Action Party also both failed to achieve political representation.

Nevertheless, this has been a far more interesting, and exciting (and tense!) campaign than in 2015. I remember that election night. I went to bed thinking maybe there would be a hung parliament and woke up early, turned on the news to find that actually the Conservatives had a majority. I went to work depressed, along with several of my colleagues, to be greeted with the glowing, happy faces of my Conservative-supporting workmates. That was a miserable few days.

Being in China however, it means I don’t need to stay up through the night, as results come out in the morning, and also this feels all different. There are more positives, it seems. It reminds me of a quote from the third Lord of the Rings film, ‘The Return of the King’. About Sauron, Gandalf says, ‘Men are not as weak as he supposed. There is courage still, strength enough perhaps to challenge him’. Perhaps that’s an analogy which could also be used for the Conservatives, about Labour….

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