“That’s it, we’re leaving.” So said many of the posts on my social media feeds after the surprise election result on Friday. Those who had already moved abroad sent messages of sympathy across the ocean, then declared their intentions to spend another five years in exile. Non-Tory newspapers (all two of them) featured articles suggesting the best countries to emigrate to and one travel company saw a marketing opportunity in offering free flights to anyone named Ed Miliband.
Threats to leave the country after, or in anticipation of, an unfavourable election outcome aren’t surprising, but traditionally we leave these petulant ultimatums to right-wing celebs such as Phil Collins, Paul Daniels and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Back in 1997, these people were quite openly motivated by the self-serving desire to pay less tax on their vast fortunes, as opposed to a genuine despair at the thought of what the future held for our country.
In one sense, the left-wingers who are now responding to defeat by dreaming of a new start in some socialist utopia with nice beaches can claim the moral high ground. Unlike Katie “I’m staying now” Hopkins, they don’t have to negotiate the obvious irony of blaming immigration for all the country’s woes, then swanning off to become immigrants – sorry, “expats” – themselves. Still, that’s not enough to justify this kind of talk.
Party leaders can resign in defeat, but we non-politicians don’t enjoy the same luxury. In the unflattering blue-tinted light of day, this may look like a s***** little island held to ransom by fear and self-interest, but it’s our s***** little island and that makes it our job to save it. It’s been a shock to see quite how tenaciously England’s bloc of asset-rich, I’m Alright Jacks will stand in the way of a fairer deal, but this country isn’t their’s alone. It also belongs to us, the people of London, of England’s North, of Wales and Scotland – the 63 per cent who did not vote for another Tory government.
So no, sorry, you can’t bail. The most important lesson left-leaning people can take from this disappointment is that the odd angry Facebook status and a trip to the polling station once every five years is not enough. People who never saw themselves as “the activist type” will have to get active, start attending meetings on saving the NHS, take to the streets in protest against austerity, and speak up to counter the scapegoating myths that abound. The post-election reshuffle has happened and we’ve all just been promoted, from a disaffected, disenfranchised electorate to Britain’s only hope.
Our new ovarian dystopia
A 59-year-old mother wants to be impregnated with the frozen eggs of her dead daughter; a famous actress is trapped in a legal battle to stop an ex-boyfriend implanting her eggs in a surrogate without her consent; a still breast-feeding baby has been taken from its mother’s custody after a surrogacy agreement broke down. This isn’t the blurb on the back of Margaret Atwood’s latest feminist-dystopian sci-fi, this is just what’s going on in the world.
After the invention of the contraceptive pill (blessed be its name), it seemed as though further advances in fertility science would all tend towards the liberation of women. We’d be granted autonomy over our bodies, freedom to flee unhappy situations and the flexibility to pursue careers on the same timescale as male colleagues. So why is it that, lately, women seem more inescapably shackled into reproductive servitude than ever?
The fact is, it doesn’t matter how new the science is if the social attitudes that govern its use are still languishing in the past. We’re yet to enact the necessary legislation to give women equal rights as it is, so how could we expect the law to keep pace with advances in the area of fertility?
Wronged by right to buy
What do the new Labour MP for Ilford North, BBC Radio’s favourite new musician and the writer of this column have in common? We all grew up on council estates and eventually went to Cambridge University.
This sort of close-up experience of both Britain’s poorest and most privileged corners can shape a person’s view of society. Wes Streeting MP has discussed his background with reference to the need for “a more representative parliament”, and George the Poet’s lyrics mourn the “talent in the ends” that didn’t manage to “rise with me”. For me, the greatest sadness is an awareness that this path we took, never as well-trod as it should have been, will soon be closed to the public for good.
This is in part because the little that’s left of social housing and even merely “affordable” housing is set to disappear under Right to Buy Part II, and the massively detrimental impact that housing insecurity has on a child’s academic performance should be obvious. Any very clever, very hard-working and very lucky kids who manage to overcome this and achieve a good degree will find that student debt (also set to rise under the Tories) has a pernicious way of trapping you in a dead-end job, while your peers from wealthier families are free to pursue more enriching career opportunities.
If you know any nice, bright, hard-working young people who’ve been dealt this raw deal, the temptation might be to feel pity, but don’t fool yourself. This isn’t just about them; a waste of talent on this scale is a tragedy for everyone.
The (fictional) bright side
Hey ho! At least everyone’s favourite ordinary working family, Kat and Alfie from EastEnders, have had some good news. In Thursday night’s episode, they won £1m on a lottery scratchcard! How lovely! True, the lottery is a massive con designed to mollify righteous dissent among society’s downtrodden. And, true, Kat and Alfie are, in any case, fictional characters in a soap. But it’s the cheeriest thought I can muster right now. Please don’t take it away from me.
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