Gloomy December Morning – The Present I Didn’t Want

I’ll be honest, this is not one of the best mornings to be waking up and looking at the news. The Conservatives have trounced Labour in the general election, and its pretty depressing news for me, and I’m sure for many others as well.

I suppose I had done what you have to do at elections, and that is to park one’s cynicism, push aside one’s doubts, and either make the most of a bad choice, or try to focus on the values and the ideas that you  see as most important, and hope that somehow they will be represented in the election debate, and will be shared by enough people.

There will be many arguments now that attempt to explain why about Corbyn and the Labour Party was so thoroughly beaten. For me, I had dared to hope that Labour might do better on the basis of what I thought of the manifesto. I’d hoped that the Labour manifesto would be positive enough to get a reasonable response from the public. It wasn’t to be. The social democratic values that the manifesto espoused were blocked, it seems, by the unpopularity of the Labour leader.

On the other side, the Tory side, everyone had already factored-in their understanding that Boris Johnson is a liar, and acts like a buffoon, so he could do no wrong. With a media that was skewed to the message of the Tories, both consciously and unconsciously, the failings of the Labour campaign were ever-more apparent.

Any Labour campaigner, however, who complains about the media, needs to go back to first principles of politics in the UK. The media in the UK always have, and always will, be biased against the social democratic world-view view. There’s no complaining about it, one may as well complain about the weather.

What compounds the problem, however, has been a lack of understanding by the leaders of the Labour movement that what they used to be able to take for granted has been melting away for decades.

I have never been a fan of the ‘heartlands’ approach to politics. I remember Ed Miliband speaking at the Labour Party conference in Manchester, welcoming the delegates by proclaiming that they were in a Tory and Lib Dem free zone. At that point I knew that the Labour Party was talking to itself, and wasn’t trying to talk to people in different parts of the country, from different traditions, and with different expectations.

This election result is the ending of that long and slow process. Labour does well in the cities, it seems, but it does badly in the towns. Labour, according to Yvette Cooper, can’t talk about the concerns of people who don’t have the opportunities to attend the same meetings, or follow the same causes. The filter bubble is not just confined to social media, it’s also structured into our neighbourhoods, our schools, our workplaces, and our high streets.

Labour, moreover, stopped focussing on the capability it needed to ask difficult questions of life outside the major cities, and be open enough to seek solutions that didn’t fit the Corbyn project. So Brexit, as much as it pains me, has proved the issue that has tested Labour to the point of near collapse. The lack of empathy with the motivations that have been driving Brexit, and however badly they have been expressed, has meant that it is nearly impossible for the majority of Labour remainers to understand – myself included – what is meant by ‘getting Brexit done.’

It’s not helped that Brexit has been sloganized and turned into a simplistic set of dog-whistle responses, and has been used as a weapon to deflect blame for what are otherwise deep and long-term problems. However, the art of politics is to seek these problems and trying to find solutions. So there is no point in crying over spilt milk when one loses an election.

The headline result and tally of MPs also doesn’t take into account that Labour lost its Scottish heartlands some time ago. The SNP has been able to keep building resentment with Westminster as the basis for its appeal to the Scottish electorate. I suspect that a second independence referendum will happen in the next eighteen months, and Scotland will leave the UK and rejoin the EU.

What worries me more, however, is the way that the Conservatives have won without really having any people on the ground. They are a party that is run centrally by a very effective media and public relations machine. One that understands the power of social media, and has used it to devastating effect to lambaste their opposition and create doubt in the minds of enough traditional Labour supporters that they have been able to contemplate switching.

It remains to be seen, then, how this new form of Blue-Collar Toryism will play out? Will the towns in the North of England that voted Conservative get what they want? Will they see the changes happen that they have been promised? Will meaningful jobs return to these places, or will they continue to be affected by changing demographics, changing technologies and changing expectations? They have been promised a slice of the cake, and they will want to be able to taste something pretty soon, or they will become agitated and angry once more. I don’t expect Johnson to be given an easy ride by his new supporters. Look how quickly things turned against Macron in France.

One slight benefit of the Tory route is that the Brexit Party has had a drubbing as well. So it’s time that Nigel Farage and his supporters stopped popping up on the BBC and being given an easy ride by its news teams.

It’s not all doom and gloom, in a way where I do feel more positive, however, is that I feel that there is even greater need to do the kind of work I’m interested in doing with community media. I can’t see how the mainstream media can maintain its grip on our communities in the way that they have. Our mainstream media is in a terrible state, and something needs to change. Consolidation and ownership by corporations and billio9nairs is failing. It’s time to look for an alternative, decentralised model of media.

I can’t see social media as being the solution. Social media is proving to be too divisive and destructive. What suits the tech giants in California, doesn’t suit the needs of people in East Dunbartonshire or Bolsover, Richmond Park or Blyth Valley. It would be a mistake to assume that this election was won or lost on Twitter or Facebook. They will have played their part, but the groundwork was put in place a long time ago. Politics is a marathon, not a sprint, and unfortunately Labour seem to have forgotten that.

There is work to be done, then, to decentralise our media. To reform it so that it better reflects and responds to the needs, the concerns, and the challenges of people who it should be serving in our local communities. This is where I see a role for myself. Helping to train and educate people to take control of their own media, and to share their experiences using the tools of community media so that they can’t complain that they aren’t able to speak for themselves any more.

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