A couple of weeks ago, I got approached to write something for a politics website – an opinion piece, if you will. But not very in the spirit of She Can & She Does, I declined. I’m not the authority on politics, I told myself, there are tons of people better informed than me; what if I say something WRONG? What if I don’t know enough to make a valid point and end up looking STUPID?
The editor came back disappointed. She had read a post I’d written on my reaction to the US election result and said she could relate. She believed I had things to say even if I didn’t.
Again, I refused. Politics is a minefield and, knowing me, I’d walk straight into a trap. The truth is, with the general election coming up on 8 June, I’m still trying to make sense of my thoughts. It’s really, really hard to separate fact from spin when so much information is biased or fabricated. Like most of my generation, I get much of my news from social media, so my views are largely reinforced by algorithms that have me seeing stuff I already agree with. And that’s assuming everything is true. What about the posts and memes that filter through from friends’ feeds? Even if a particular friend has similar beliefs, how can I be sure what I’m reading isn’t made up or wildly exaggerated if I don’t recognise the source?
So, with the politics piece I chickened out, but I struck a deal with myself to write something on here instead. Something that would force me to do a bit more in-depth research, not only to structure my feelings but to hopefully encourage others to do the same.
For a bit of background (and not because I’m trying to influence), I’ve swung my crosses around the Labour / Lib Dem sections of the polling card for the last couple of elections – but not confidently. Where I put my cross this time will be with no more conviction. While I don’t doubt Jeremy Corbyn is a ‘principled’ (don’t we hear that a lot?) man of integrity, I don’t have faith in his ability to lead the party or the country – even if I can get on board with his manifesto. The way he rolled over during Cameron’s tax-avoidance dalliance was disappointing. As was his seemingly silent reaction to the last Tory election expenses scandal. Not to mention his limp effort in support of remaining in Europe. (Again, I’m not saying any of this to influence your vote, I’m just explaining how I’ve arrived at mine.) Whether he wears a tie or not is his own business but you can’t gloss over the bigger issues – half the Labour party won’t, and, frankly, I’ve seen more solidarity over a box of fish fingers than with him and his team recently so it doesn’t instil faith. That said, for me, the alternative is bleak. I can’t bring myself to leap in to Tim Farron’s camp if religious beliefs end up meaning he’s not quite as liberal as his party’s moniker would have us believe. And I don’t think that now is the time to place a protest vote in, say, the Women’s Equality Party box, if I genuinely don’t think they can win a seat in my constituency. So what to do? WHAT TO DO? Ultimately, I will be voting Labour albeit reluctantly, because the things that matter to me most – the education and welfare systems – will suffer irrevocably if left to the current government. I can’t bear to watch portions of the NHS slowly being sold off through the back door. Neither do I agree with the way state schools are presently being governed. So without confidence, there is only one way I can vote, and it’s with the intention of getting more red bums on seats so the blue bums don’t have carte blanche to do as they wish. Not a vote that expects victory but a tactical one to hopefully offset the predicted landslide.
So there you go, that’s how I’ve arrived at my choice, but how will you come to yours? And what are you basing your decision on?
Like I said earlier, it’s really hard to extract useful, impartial information (although, The FT, Reuters, Private Eye and the BBC are said to be the most non-biased). I’ve never found leaflets pushed through letterboxes particularly useful and who genuinely has time to sit down and go through all the manifestos with a fine tooth comb? The problem is, when you don’t commit to a bit of research it’s very easy to be influenced by noise. Whether it’s a cabbie, a newspaper columnist or a militant Tweeter, a self-assured rant can get in your ear, but it doesn’t mean it’s right or the whole picture. ‘The loudest voices aren’t always the most well informed’, the politics editor reasoned with me in our exchange. A bit like how headlines can mislead if you don’t read a whole article. Or a slogan on the side of a bus can tell porky pies. Perceptions can deceive and I’m not immune. I’ll let you into a dirty little secret of mine. Filthy, in fact. When Cameron’s arse fell out over the referendum result and Theresa May replaced him, I was actually pleased with the appointment. Maybe it was relief at her being what seemed like the best of a bad lot, but I felt hope. Watching her take to the podium, I listened to her speech and felt inspired. Maybe she was exactly what the country needed? She wasn’t elitist, and her common sense approach seemed sensible when the country was so divided. Whatever her ambitions, no one could deny she was accepting a poison chalice, so I kind of admired her for taking on the job and believed her position (as a Remainer in the European Referendum) made her better placed to make rational, considered decisions going forward. In a nutshell I thought it was going to be OK.
Thing is, rewind to the period post-Coalition/pre-Brexit; I’d got so disinterested with politics I could barely name three MPs and their positions within the cabinet. This meant I knew nothing of May’s values prior to that ‘strong and stable’ speech. But, as time went on and I unearthed nuggets of her track-record, my ‘hope’ faltered. Discovering I didn’t agree with her stance on immigration, human rights, or her dealings with the police, the brief infatuation came to an end. But this was only because I bothered to scratch below the surface.
When I started this blog, one of my goals was to take more interest in politics, but you can’t really do it with half a heart. Once you’re in it’s like getting stuck in a rabbit warren, there’s no beginning or end, it goes off in all sorts of directions and everything is interlinked. Having said that, I would recommend Adam Curtis’ Hypernormalisation documentary on the iPlayer as an eye-opening introduction to world affairs if you have a spare three hours, but I digress.
For many of us, politics is not an appealing subject to sink our teeth into. And sometimes when things are hard to get our heads around we leave them in our mental in-trays until the last minute, secretly hoping someone else will deal with them. But that’s the worst thing to do in this situation. So, firstly, make sure you are registered to vote (click here – it takes less than five minutes) – you only have until the end of today to do this.
Secondly, and one of the best pieces of advice I ever received on understanding politics, is to read from a variety of sources. This means getting material from the left and right-wing press irrespective of whether you think it would be better used as chip paper. It’s a bit like that saying ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’. But it also helps you take off any rose-tinted glasses you may have been wearing if you’re staunchly one way or the other. Force yourself to play devil’s advocate.
If you’re starting from a neutrally confused place, take a quiz to set you on your way. It might not be watertight but it’s something to build on.
Depending how involved in politics you are, this post might be akin to ‘teaching your grandmother to suck eggs’, as the saying goes. But my intention isn’t to dumb down, more to remind us that there are few experts in this field and if you are any less than that, please don’t let it stop you going to the polls. It’s OK to be scared of getting it wrong, it’s less OK to think it’s somebody else’s responsibility. Discuss it with your friends, use the links in this post to brush up because you can’t get it ‘wrong’ if you’ve at least tried to figure it out. Channel your inner Mrs Banks, because the only wrong thing to do is nothing.