* Fashion witterings temporarily suspended. Return to regular order will commence soon. Also, contains swearing. I’d say sorry, but I’m not. *
If you’re living in Britain, then this morning will have been… interesting. Depending on your political beliefs/ moral compass/ general awareness of individuals other than yourself, then it may have been the kind of day where crawling back under the covers seemed the safest option. Yesterday’s tentative mood of optimism has curdled. The Conservatives have a majority.
My thoughts are still spinning a little too much to form anything particularly coherent. Plenty of communication with family members and friends has been couched in that universal language of dismay: swearing. Many more ‘fucks’ than David Cameron gives about the NHS.
I’ve realized though that it’s very easy when you’re surrounded by like-minded people to be lulled into thinking that Conservative rhetoric isn't taken seriously: a lexicon of hard workers and shirkers, brighter futures, tightened belts, dangerous immigrants, getting the economy back on track, blaming the most marginalized for EVERYTHING. All those shiny, hollow words constructing a clear set of divides between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. But it is taken seriously – and there’s a huge amount of business and press interest balancing on it. Murdoch wanted the Tories to stay. Bankers wanted the Tories to stay. Weirdly, a lot of other people did too.
But lord is their rhetoric is scary - reliant on fear, on value judgments, on a weird kind of “we know best” paternalism. It divides up the country into the deserving and the undeserving, and all it takes to move from the former to the latter is losing your job.
A lot of what the Conservatives will do over the next five years won't necessarily affect me personally (other than things relating to housing, wages, arts, the environment, healthcare - oops ok, maybe it will). Yet I am fortunate enough, at the moment, to have a family who are pretty stable both emotionally and financially. I’m aware of how huge a privilege that is. But I still give a fuck. Two fucks. All the fucks.
Because that's what you're meant to do as a human being – look beyond yourself. You care about more than your own immediate, limited circumstances. I’m pissed off about how it’s going to affect my ability to rent anything other than cardboard box size rooms. But I’m more pissed off for those who are caring for disabled children, or who are reliant on benefits, or who need access to a food bank, or whose jobs suddenly look much more precarious, or can’t get anywhere near their chosen career because they don't have the support or contacts. I’m pissed off about cuts left, right and center – it’s easy to see a service as non-vital if you don't need it yourself.
I was talking this over earlier with my wonderful friend Katharine Sian. As she said to me, “I grew up with my unemployed, single parent mum in Cardiff. We were extremely lucky because my father and grandfather had managed to buy us a small semi-detached house but this doesn't mean we didn't struggle from time to time to make ends meet. Benefits should exist to ensure that everyone has a good quality of life, even amid struggles. However, under austerity it is evident that they are failing.”
She’s directly involved in a lot of activism as a result. “In April 2013 I was lucky enough to meet a disabled activist in Cardiff who was at the first protest against the Bedroom Tax. Linda Philips spoke powerfully to the crowd saying that we should "use our own small whispers of individual voices in crescendo to a scream of national outrage until its volume is actually heard within Westminster itself". She spent the following years paying bedroom tax on the spare bedroom used by her carer and eventually died under austerity, sooner than she should have done.”
That’s the ugly face of our previous coalition – now one that’s no longer even going to be tempered by the Lib Dems. People died. Suicide rates rose. And instead of getting angry about that, the public has been fed a narrative of prejudice and othering by the press. Blame it on anyone from anywhere else. God forbid the responsibility should nestle in Westminster, or all those big corporations exploiting tax loopholes. Profit over people. Business as usual (and indeed, Foxtons' shares are drastically up).
There are a few silver lights. Caroline Lucas as Green MP for Brighton Pavilion – brilliantly articulate and clear-sighted. Stella Creasy remaining in Walthamstow. (I love her. Please can her and Caroline sort out this mess?) A slight increase in female MPs. Nigel Farage losing in South Thanet. But these are counteracted by some pretty terrifying results – not least the number of votes given to UKIP.
In the wake of this, the most natural feeling is one of overwhelming frustration. What can we, as individuals, do – other than run away/ hide under those bedcovers? There are an awful lot of people who are really, really angry right now. We need to harness that – translate it into action, in whatever way is best. The image below (first posted here) is a distillation of what I want to work on myself. As my dad said to me on the phone a few hours ago, “all you can really do in response is be a good person – do your bit, fight injustice, take part in your community.” I want to use all this disappointment and fury productively and proactively; mark it as a moment to galvanize change.