Signs of hope and despair in a baffling election
Do not come here looking for incisive political analysis. I have been as bemused as everyone else since Big Ben struck ten on election night and the exit poll announced that the Tories might not get a majority. Here are the moments that have stood out for me, and the first is from retired school teachers in Canada.
Christine Archibald was a 30 year old social worker from British Columbia who worked with homeless people. She was visiting her fiancé in London when she had the ultimate misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when she was killed in the terrorist outrage on London Bridge.
Within 24 hours, the Archibald family issued an extraordinary statement. Their daughter and sister, they said, had room in her heart for everyone and believed strongly that every person was to be valued and respected. She would have had no understanding of the callous cruelty that caused her death. Please honour her, they asked us, by making your community a better place. Volunteer your time and labour or donate to a homeless shelter. “Tell them Chrissy sent you.”
A week after the horrifying events at London Bridge, I am still moved to tears by the compassion of a grieving family on the other side of the world who told us so clearly how to start putting this terrible world to rights. If we want to do something to stop people becoming marginalised, dehumanised and radicalised, we need to get out there and build stronger communities.
Tearing up the human rights laws is not the answer. They were designed to protect our way of life. Putting more police on the streets may help redress austerity has cut too deep in every part of our public life ( but can you remember a brave Home Secretary taking on overmanning in the police in 2010? ). The real answer is to reach out and welcome strangers even if will take years of effort and may not stop other acts of terrorism in the meantime .
My other stark memory from the final week of electioneering was during the hustings in my church in Prudhoe. We were asked whether we wanted another vote on the terms of leaving the European Union. The audience was not selected for political balance – though bear in mind that Prudhoe had for the first time in living memory elected two Conservative County Councillors. ( Sorry Conservative and Unionist as they are now known). I knew most of the people in the room. On a show of hands, they were split down the middle. I realised that Brexit still deeply divides us.
Despite a referendum and now a general election called to seek our views on leaving Europe, nothing is resolved. I doubt that many of us would claim to fully understand the issues or the nuances of negotiation that lie ahead of us. In less than a year, the reputations of two Prime Ministers have been trashed. There is an overwhelming case for pausing for a summer holiday, perhaps walking in Wales again, accepting Ruth Davidson’s plea to “ look again” and considering Yvette Cooper’s suggestion of a cross party negotiating team, before more damage is done.
I was then intrigued by late developments in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. You may have switched off the television set before the last election result was declared there on Friday evening. After two recounts, Emma Dent Coad was elected by 20 votes making her the first Labour MP ever elected in a constituency which boasts the richest street in the country, just along from Kensington Palace, where the average house price is around £20m.
Kensington is home to the trans global elite, moving in from the Middle Est Asia and Eastern Europe, and also to international investors who buy fabulous properties and then leave them empty on purpose. Since the constituency was redrawn in 2010, it also includes the tower blocks in Ladbroke Grove and the multi racial communities in Notting Hill.
The economics of neo liberalism may have benefitted the few oligarchs and hedge fund managers but it has failed the many watchers on. In this cameo of political life in Kensington, the poor edged it by 20 votes , thanks to the resurgence of a Labour party promising to end austerity through increased taxation on the very wealthy. I admit to a moment of excitement.
Finally, spare a thought for apparatchiks, of whatever political persuasion, who are sacrificed to save their leaders heads. By all accounts, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill rode rough shod over their colleagues but it is despicable that the servants fall on their swords whilst the mistress stays in post, for now at least.
It is as if nothing has changed. The same top team are around the Cabinet table. The same gang head off to Brussels next Monday, shaken but still in charge. How long can this last? The lessons I draw from a tumultuous time are that we need to get out more, be friendly in Europe and deal urgently with excesses of inequality. Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly as the Prophet Micah once said.
published in Newcastle Journal 13th June 2017