If you’re anything like me, you’re a loser. A habitual and repeated loser, to a humiliating extent. You might even be, like me, a lifelong loser. You’ve become so familiar to losing, it doesn’t hurt any more. You’re inured to it. You don’t actually care, because it no longer makes any difference. You have grown to expect it.
I’m not talking, at least not yet, of being a loser in life (even if that is also true of me personally). I mean an electoral loser. A person who has voted repeatedly for what they thought would make a difference, because they needed it to make a difference, and found that voting has counted for nothing.
My losing voting record is astounding, even if you discount Eurovision and several series of Stars In Their Eyes, and just concentrate on political ones. The Prime Minister has always been from a different party than the one I voted for. I’ve failed to elect most of my local councillors. And now, I’ve been on the wrong side of three referenda in a decade – on proportional representation, on Scottish Independence, and on the European Union. Ironically, losing that first one even precipitated the third one, which I also lost.
So what? That’s democracy, eh? You lose some, you lose some. Move on, mate.
It is a kind of democracy, agreed. A “tyranny of the manufactured majority” democracy. A democracy where marginal voices go unheard, dissenting opinions are consistently steamrollered, alternative options and lifestyles systematically left unconsidered, where everything must be subjected to the cruel justice of a binary system, just to keep that system working, above all to keep the system working, because it’s working so well for everyone, isn’t it? It’s a “mustn’t grumble, think yourself lucky, keep calm and carry on watching your life get flushed down the toilet” democracy.
Sure, to some of us, it might feel like our countrymen and women in this blessed union of nations, this sceptred isle, are continually voting to sabotage our existences, even, in some very tragic cases, to end our lives through public policy, but hey, get over it. That’s life. What does it matter? You just get on with it, and muddle through. We “heal divides”. We “unite the country”.
No, we don’t. This is not a football match. We don’t all go back to work on Monday (mainly cos loads of us don’t have jobs), joke about the shocking referee, and look forward to next Saturday. For some of us this is an existential crisis, not a mere political one. Some delicate flowers in cosmopolitan London who were on the losing side of Brexit are now in turmoil because their “sense of belonging” has been challenged. Diddums. Welcome to our world. Some of us have been made to feel we don’t belong our whole lives.
Of course, unity always sounds great. “Hey, man, don’t you just, like, totally hate division?” “Yeah, man, I so do. Division’s lame, dude.” The very word “unity” is imbued with positivity and can be wielded like an all-slaying weapon. Tie anything to this concept of “unity” and anyone who questions it is seen as obstructive, hostile, even dangerous.
But there are many ways of “uniting a country” and the one opted for seems to consist of those who don’t agree with what’s happening AND HAVE NEVER AGREED TO ANYTHING THAT’S HAPPENING, being told to swallow their hurt (again), bite their lip (again), and accept what has happened (again), as if it’s simply a matter of agreeing to disagree. “Uniting the country” means moving as quickly as possible back to business-as-usual, as if nothing has changed, when in fact everything has changed, and has been changing for decades, and will go on changing.
The divisions in the British Isles are numerous and huge – young and old, Scotland and England, Unionist and Republican, town and country, British-born and immigrant, rich and poor, home-owners and renters, sick and healthy, North and South, employer and employee – and this has been obvious for years. Yet uniting the country after a hideous general election and an even more hideous referendum is happening on the terms of the very marginal winners. Witness the haste with which the Tories have installed their next “saviour” as if none of us would notice, in full expectation that within a few months everything will be smoothed over. May’s name, “2016-” gets stencilled on the roll-call of glorious captains on the clubhouse wall, below the Gladstones, and the Peels and the Lloyd-Georges, and Britain rolls on as it always has. The future of the isles in the midst of the greatest upheaval for 70 years has come down to whichever faction of the Tory party got its shit together first. It would be hilarious, if it weren’t so tragic, that these people still think the way forward lies in a crumbling 19th century palace on the side of the Thames.
A parliamentary democracy that has proved spectacularly that it has outlived its usefulness should not be the automatic solution to the situation that faces these islands. Big trouble calls for big thinking, and none of that is in evidence from any quarter.
Why has no-one suggested uniting the country on non-partisan lines? Why is there not a coalition government of national unity, such as at wartime, with members of all parties working together to provide some sort of stability of governance while we sort this shit out? Why has no-one proposed a grand constitutional convention to solve the multitude of problems we face, with everything on the table? Why is one of the options not a British Isles Union made up of England, Ireland (reunified or not, tbc), independent Scotland, and a semi-autonomous Wales? Why are none of our elder statesmen and women being called out of retirement one final time to put their minds to work? Get Paddy Ashdown, Michael Heseltine, Shirley Williams, Ken Clarke, David Owen, Johnny Prescott, whoever your personal favourite politico is, round a table, thrash some of this out vaguely altruistically without careers to build or nests to feather. Rather them than the epochally poor shower of parliamentarians we currently have.
Uniting the country on the terms being dictated to us by a divisive Tory party is no longer possible. Lives have been ruined in the past three and a half decades, not by war, or famine, or economic cycle, or the many fates that can jointly befall a country, but by adherence to a failed ideology that benefits the few, an ideology as failed now as communism was in its day. Teresa May can stand on the steps of Downing Street and spout fine words for forever and a day. She might even genuinely mean them (although I would lay 100/1 against her actually achieving them). But if she has visions, like two centuries full of her predecessors, of being A Prime Minister For The Ages, and thinks she can do it within the existing set-up, she is delusional to a dangerous degree.
Because, Ms May, you, our overlords and ladies, you Camerons and Mays, you Blairs and Browns, you Digby Joneses and Fred Goodwins and Philip Greens, you were the drivers of this vehicle when it went off-road. You were the ones who ignored the warning lights. You were the ones who forgot to test the brakes. You were the ones who put your foot down and crashed us through the central reservation. You were the ones steering when it tumbled spectacularly off a cliff. And yet, you, your cohorts in business and politics, you all had airbags. We were the ones that got flung out the windows and doors, and got crushed beneath the wheels. You do not now get to order us, the injured and maimed, back on the same bus and tell us we’re going to carry on the way we were going. You do not get to sweep your shit under the carpet again.
Maybe those of you reading this are, like me, a loser in many, many other ways too. You have no job. You have no income. You have no benefits. You have no prospects. You have no children. You have no pension. You have no future. And if, by some strange quirk of fortune, things did start looking up, you’d already be too ruined to take advantage. You’d be like Theon Greyjoy, freed after years of torture in the prisons of Ramsay Bolton. Theoretically, you’re in clover, but you’ve had your entire mental framework rewired, and your dangly bits hacked off. You’ve been made half a person.
Maybe, like me, you were born at an unfortunate time, the breaks didn’t come your way, you didn’t get into property by shacking up in your early twenties in an up-and-coming part of a big city, you didn’t end up in the right career at the right age, and now, no amount of personal effort or talent or perseverance is going to turn your life around, and no-one in authority is helping you do so.
Maybe, like me, your aspirations for the future have become, on a good day, not to have to rely on the charity of partners or friends or family to pay the bills, or, on a bad day, for a swift heart-attack to finish the job. You’ve learnt to deal with it as best you can, not to dream, not to hope, not to expect.
Your entire adult lives have been a process of managed decline, and yet, hilariously, you’re faced with a governing class who haven’t realised that their only job is also to oversee a process of managed decline. A process of managed decline of the entity formerly known as the United Kingdom, to allow something very different, and pray God, better to grow in its place. They are so unaware of it that barely days since we’ve had a new PM foisted upon us, they are voting to play Billy Big Bollocks with nuclear weapons, as if that is the priority.
It is time for a diversity of nations, peoples and opinions to again thrive on these islands, in co-operation, not in forced bondage to a monolithic, central, neo-liberal, neo-colonial fantasy empire run from a few acres of Central London, one that is ruining people’s lives, recreating the feudal system along corporate lines. That is what the public have consistently voted for, however cack-handedly it has been expressed in the voting booth. Your job, politicians, is to make that happen.
Because anyone seriously interested in the ridiculous concept of “making Britain great again” as so many promise, needs to be thinking Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, the Bill of Rights 1689 – a radical new interpretation of the relationship between the ruled and the rulers fit for the 22nd century and beyond. If even us losers can see that, why can’t you?