This election campaign has been so sad to watch. While Boris Johnson getting elected will be personally devastating, it should make everyone scared and shocked that despite his horrendous campaign tactics, Johnson is still most people’s top choice for prime minister. He has refused to take part in debates, refused to be interviewed like all the other candidates and dodged questions from journalists, while the Conservative party has made one of their Twitter handles look like that of an independent fact checker in order to spread lies about Labour and created a fake Labour website to spread Tory propaganda. There is no intention whatsoever to be remotely democratic, which is a giant red flag, because history is full of people who came to power in democratic systems and then changed those systems to remove the democratic element, to the detriment of almost everyone.
Anyone campaigning to be elected should be expected to adhere to the accepted wisdom of democracy. People who want to change things about the way we live and are willing to campaign ardently to achieve that goal? Good. People who will stop at nothing, however reprehensible or illegal, to obtain power in order to do whatever the fuck they want? Bad. Very, very bad.
From where I’m standing, it’s impossible to look at Boris Johnson and the rest of his Tory cronies and not find them shocking, unpleasant and downright scary. I know – the others aren’t perfect either. But to me, Johnson is so, so much worse. And I want to keep an open mind for why people might feel differently, but it’s hard. Do I understand why people are suspicious of the left, especially the wealthy middle class left? Of course. Do I understand why people immediately balk at the thought of paying more taxes? Sure. But do I understand why so many people – enough to give the Tory party a majority, as the exit polls predict – don’t find Boris Johnson abhorrent, if not for his policies but for his demeanour, statements and general disregard for our political system? No. I’m trying, but it’s a challenge.
But of course, plenty of people are not put off by him and his band of merry followers, who continue to suggest that poor people are stupid and that disabled people deserve to be paid less because they don’t understand money, which seem like pretty abhorrent beliefs to me. In fact, so many people are convinced by the Tories that most polls predict a comfortable Tory majority. Boris Johnson has based much of his campaign on the slogan ‘Get Brexit Done,’ and his comfortable lead despite his terrible statements may well be based around people’s enduring desires to still do Brexit as soon as possible. In a way, this election is a proxy for what the country wants to do about Brexit – or, in the case of the millions of non-voters, how strongly they feel about Brexit at all, which at this point is a vote in favour. It’s not hard to remember that there are plenty of people who despise Jeremy Corbyn as much I hate Boris Johnson, because there are many of them and they are vocal. It’s also not hard to see that the millions of people who remain BoJo fans are probably so in large part because of his Brexit policy.
So my question, two days out from the election, is what if the Tories get elected again? Do those of us in opposition… stand down, and accept that this is what most people in this country want?
Clearly, that sounds insane. History has never seen one side stand down just because the other had a temporary victory (and yes, for all the talk about seeing the nuance, it’s clear that we are divided right now and there are sides). But it makes me question what my expectations are if we did do a second referendum and it went the other way, or if Labour wins the election on Thursday. Do I expect Brexit supporters to go quietly? I haven’t. I won’t. It’s too important – but I suppose everyone feels that way about their beliefs. But if the Tories win on Thursday, saying clearly that, right now, this is what most people want from their country, do I try to internalise that message? Not that the Tories are worth supporting – never – but that that is the majority opinion, and the people who voted that way, and won, deserve to have that respected. Same with Brexit.
Ugh. It’s a nasty situation. Given all the misinformation swilling around this election campaign, the 2017 election and the Brexit vote, I think it’s fair to say that not everyone voting is properly informed. So much of my frustration around Brexit is that the promised benefits of leaving the EU are imaginary. In this election campaign, 88% of the Conservatives’ election ads have been deemed to be misinformation, so it follows that some people will likely be voting based on lies (the corresponding figure for Labour was 0%). It’s not obvious that everyone voting for the Conservatives is doing so based on their actual policies – but is holding onto that ignoring reality? The reality is that lots of people voted for Brexit, and likely still want it. The reality is that the Tories still enjoy widespread support across the country, while Jeremy Corbyn remains disliked. Even if I don’t understand why, that’s the truth. I grew up extraordinarily privileged, I studied at Cambridge, I live in London. My perspective is sorely limited.
I suppose my question is: do we need to respect the outcome of this election, even if it goes against what I want? Would I want the same if Labour won a majority? Should I give up protesting against Brexit if the Conservatives win this election or if Leave won another referendum? Not because my politics have changed, but because I respect that most people want something different than me, just like I would want them to respect a vote to remain. Instinctively, that feels wrong (and is only a thought experiment – you’ll still catch me on the streets at every Brexit protest) but it feels like a question worth asking given how divided we are. Do we respect the ‘other side’ enough to stand down? Do we grapple head-on with the fact that we live in a country and era where people are unconcerned by racist, sexist, classist leaders and outright lies? Do we accept that we’ll probably fight back and forth forever?
I don’t know. All I do know is that I am very nervous for Thursday’s election.