(Picture credit: https://twitter.com/faizashaheen/status/1190647615962144775?s=20)
We’ve been warned before. Kinnock warned us in 1983 not to be old, or sick, or young, or ordinary. We now face an election against a backdrop of falling life expectancy, thousands dead due to the economic policy of an uncaring government, a hostile environment against those who we deem ‘Other’ to us, a mental health crisis, stagnating wages, a climate crisis, and perhaps the greatest political question this country has faced since the Second World War.
Our current government has responses to these problems: fudged figures, pork-barrel spending, ramped-up xenophobia, tax cuts for the wealthiest, the least climate-friendly cabinet for twenty years, and a party still in hock to ERG hardliners who are willing to dance over the burning remains of our political norms if it means remaining in power. We have a Home Secretary who has stated that she wants to bring back hanging, a man who has been actively contemptuous to Parliament as a senior advisor to the Prime Minister, a Prime Minister who has built a career on lying, who referred to the city of my birth as ‘wallowing in our victim status’ and who impugned the memory of the Hillsborough dead.
The Labour Party is not a perfect solution to the problems we face. The Social Review has published articles critical of the leadership, and I would be lying if I were to write that I am thrilled with the party’s handing of myriad issues. But we have the electoral system that we do, not the one we might wish for. As such, there is one lever you can pull to remove Boris Johnson from power, and it is the Labour Party. Johnson, as Julia recently argued, cannot be allowed to win.
So what is to be done? Against a backdrop of misery, it’s very easy to throw your hands up. Indeed, that has been the standard response for years, and is the response on which political parties often rely. We have written at length in the Social Review about ‘Capitalist Realism’, but the point is worth reiterating here: for the past 30 years, we have lived in a socio-economic system geared towards making you believe that nothing can ever change, that you live in the end of history, that there is one system of politics and economics that can exist and that the only control you can have over your life boils down to aesthetic preferences or consumer choices.
It doesn’t need to be like this, though. I am a Catholic – albeit a bad one who really ought to say his Rosary more – and frequently joke that the doorstep serves a similar purpose to the confessional, in that it is something I can do to temporarily alleviate the generalised guilt one feels from living; either in sin or late capitalism. This election, campaigning should be cathartic. Take all the anger you feel; the anger that Brexit will impact you until you’re in your forties, that your community will continue to get left behind, that we will continue to use state power to harass those fleeing to our shores in hope of a better life, that things for the past fifteen years have felt like they will never change, and yet somehow get slightly worse year on year. Take that, and turn it into something positive. Talk to your friends about why you’re voting. Ask them to vote too. Campaign for a party you believe in – or one you don’t, not really, but recognise as better than what we have. Tweet about what you think, send emails to community campaign groups and see how you can help. Whatever happens, don’t let politics be something that is done to you. Make it something you do. If you are on the left, it is hard not to read the speech Bernie Sanders gave at his recent rally in Queens, New York without thinking of the situation we find ourselves in right now in the UK. Sanders asked his audience a simple yet pressing question: ‘I want you all to take a look around and find someone you don’t know… My question now to you is are you willing to fight for that person who you don’t even know as much as you’re willing to fight for yourself?’ It is this fight that we find ourselves in now; and we are called to fight for others as hard as we fight for ourselves.
We are often driven by the Hegelian conception of history, the belief that each passing year represents another step towards human freedom where things keep getting better. Yet we have never been in a more unequal society, and climate change represents a genuinely existential threat to the life of all humanity that we have not faced since perhaps the Black Death. In short, Kinnock’s words no longer do the situation we find ourselves in justice. If Boris Johnson wins this election, it doesn’t matter if you are old or young, sick or healthy. You face five more years of growing older and poorer as the world around you gets sicker and warmer. The timing might not be right. The polling might not look good. You might not like the leader. You may wish that this – all of this – need not have happened in your time. That does not matter now. We are in the fight of our lives. We have to decide what to do with the time that is given to us.