(TL;DR – for the first time in my life I’m a fully paid member of the Labour party looking to build on the momentum of hope that has appeared over the last month)
Last week I promised to post pictures of me in my wife’s swimming costume if Teresa May was no longer Prime Minister when I returned to the country on Friday. Luckily for you, my attempts to persuade people to vote Labour were unsuccessful. And yet, we now find ourselves governed by a coalition of chaos with links to Irish terrorists. A Government that has no mandate to deliver a hard Brexit with a Prime Minister who allowed other people to take the blame so she could retain some semblance of being strong and stable. A cabinet that retains some of the most vilified and embarrassing ministers of my lifetime. Even Michael Gove is back!
Like many people, I was incredibly impressed by Jeremy Corbyn when he ran for leader. I then fell out of love with him as Labour stalled in the polls, and the Conservatives led us to Brexit and, by continuing with a policy of austerity, allowed millions of people across the UK to suffer worsening living conditions.
So when T-May called an election I was sad. I was sad, because the politics of politics was going to facilitate a hard Brexit whilst allowing even more ridiculous policies, including the incorrectly labelled dementia tax and the regressive revival of grammar schools.
And then, something magical happened. Corbyn gave interviews that weren’t just not bad, but good. He enthused people in a way that no other politician has in my lifetime. He started climbing up the polls, and some even outrageously suggested he might win. Teresa May responded by doing everything wrong – by focusing on attacking the opposition rather than putting forward a positive vision of the Britain she wanted to live in. The right-wing media (and before you start thinking that I’m biased the World Press Freedom Index ranks us at a distinctly un-flattering #40) unloaded both barrels in a full-on assault on the policies and personalities of the Labour party. And suddenly I thought there was a chance that Labour might only lose a few seats, that the election might be a loss for May precisely because she went into it in such a good situation that not moving forwards would be embarrassing.
When the exit poll came out, I was about to go to sleep in my hotel in Budapest. Many recent elections have seen me waking up to bad news, and so I refused to trust it. I stayed up, watching as the results slowly totted up to a result where the unelectable Corbyn came within a few thousand votes of an outright majority. Where Labour candidates won seats that even they hadn’t thought possible – the candidate who defeated Nick Clegg having to go to Tesco at the last minute.
Labour didn’t win, of course. The Conservatives have more seats, more votes, and will form the Government. But as we enter a critical phase in politics, we have a Government that is so weak that, even with the DUP, they will have to fight tooth and nail at every parliamentary vote. This gives a resurgent Labour party the chance to push for policies that are fair. Investment in a National Health Service, free at the point of use for all, at a time when every single medical professional I know is worried about the huge lack of resources facing it. A focus on all schools, and not just the ones that bright kids get to go to. The potential to reform social care to support those who need it whilst sharing the burden fairly. The opportunity for the two main parties to work together to achieve positive change.
Labour didn’t win, of course. But the Conservatives lost. When we go next go to the polls (and I’m willing to bet one of my tomato plants that it will before five years are up) Labour are closer to an absolute both in terms of the absolute number of seats, and the number of formerly solid Tory seats that are now marginal, and achievable. Young people showed that they can make a difference when they vote. Old people showed that they won’t be taken for granted. Middle aged people (which I guess just about includes me now) didn’t just root for the party that would make them richer.
So today, for the first time in my life, I joined the Labour party as a fully paid up member. And now I’m going to e-mail my local party to ask how I can help. I know Labour isn’t perfect. I know there will be arguments about the direction of the party, about how we should engage in the current parliament, debates about why we didn’t win. But now I am a part of that we, and I’ll be doing my bit over the coming weeks, months and years to make our country better for everyone. It’s a little scary – but I am hopeful it will be rewarding. If you’ve been inspired by this election, maybe you should do it to.