In the agony of an unexpected Tory majority government being returned in the general election and the rout of Labour and LibDems, resulting in the resignation of the leaders of both, the columnists, pundits and blogsters have been provoked into a roil of activity.
The corpse of yesterday’s progressive political offer is being dissected in a thousand different ways. The countless analyses of why Labour’s offer was rejected so emphatically fall broadly into two camps: those that believe Labour under Ed Miliband was too left wing for a risk-averse public, and those that think it wasn’t left wing enough. That’s a tricky reconciliation for the next Labour leader to negotiate.
Many ask why the pre-election polls got it so dreadfully wrong. The only answer being proferred so far seems to be that, at least in the last few days, the data didn’t lie, but the pollsters did – the results they were getting in were at such stark variance to the previous polling that they were dismissed as rogue. If so many people did change their voting intentions at the last minute, it would be interesting to find out why: incumbency effect; something in the Tory approach that struck a particular chord; or a tactical mistake by Labour?
There’s a good deal of comment regarding how we allow social media to construct a protective shell of like-minded opinion around ourselves. I’ve written about this before, elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong or artifical about it – it is, after all, only what we do with our circles of real-world friends – but it is slightly different to those analogue friendships. Social media encourages us to comment immediately on those events that either enrage or delight us; and furthermore, gives us a platform from which we can rant uninterrupted. We offer our opinions on politics and current affairs far more freely through social media than we do over a coffee or down the pub.
But what I wanted to offer my two penn’orth on is the explosion of comment, written in understandable anger and chagrin, telling voters how wrong they were. They are mostly variations on three approaches. Some kindly (if patronisingly) explain the web of Tory lies and flummery that took them in. The angriest rants attack them for their moral evil, often suggesting that they have been hypocritically concealing their turpitude under the guise of looking like ordinary, decent humans. Others set out the prospectus of disaster and societal ruination that their selfishness has brought down upon our collective heads.
But explaining to people that they voted incorrectly (or yelling at them for having done so) misunderstands what elections are about. There isn’t a right or a wrong answer; you can’t vote ‘wrong’. Before the election, we all knew that; we posted that it didn’t matter who you voted for, the important thing was that you put that X on the paper. Well, people did: and I and countless others didn’t get the result we hoped for. But others did. That’s elections for you.
Yes, we can argue (and I do) that the first past the post system is a piss-poor mechanism for democratic representation; the catch 22 is that any party which achieves, through FPTP, the power to change it, loses the inclination to do so. You don’t cut the ladder out from under your feet. But notwithstanding the inadequacies of the electoral system, those of us who are seeking moral and political change for the UK have to recognise that the left’s offer has been firmly rejected by the electorate. Whilst hurling blame around is a natural response to a shocking disappointment, it is entirely unproductive. The business in hand is to examine what went wrong, learn from it and set about creating a compelling case that progressive politics is better for everyone.