It has been a few days now since the outcome of the 2015 General Election was announced. To say that the results were shocking perhaps states the obvious, but when the exit polls were released on the evening of May 7th you could feel housing professionals across the country collectively slump.
“How?” Some questions fall easier from slack jaws.
At first, I was confused. Then, I was angry. Angry that so few had decided to fight for the many; angry that so many had decided to fight only for themselves. We had the opportunity to close the lid on Pandora’s Box – instead, we’d allowed another five years of fiddling while the welfare state burns.
But this was democracy in action and the result wasn’t wrong. Regardless of which voting system you think should be employed, there was no mistake in the conclusion.
We got it wrong, though. And how. The UK housing sector had been found guilty of talking to its own echo again. Safe within our ivory Twittersphere, 140-characters tall, we were shocked – absurdly, in embarrassing hindsight – to realise that not everyone used social media to express their thoughts and fears.
Rare earth metals may vanguard our collective future, but it was wood pulp, stretched thin and marked with a crude graphite cross that brought about the victory no-one anticipated.
I’m OK, You’re OK…but this policy is BAD
I don’t have a problem with the Conservative Party per se. I have friends and acquaintances who voted Conservative in this election. Indeed, I have friends and acquaintances who are and have been elected Conservative councillors in this election. What’s more, they are good people. To hate them because of their political persuasion, to disown my friends because they do not hold the same beliefs as me is ugly and hypocritical fundamentalism, akin to castigating someone because they are gay and I am straight, or because they believe in a God that I do not.
No, my problem is not strictly with the Conservative Party – rather, I have a problem with bad policy and unnecessary suffering. Unfortunately, the Conservative Party are currently advocating a lot of bad policies; as a result, a lot of people are going to suffer.
The Bedroom Tax is a bad policy; because of it, people suffer. The same is true of the benefit cap, and benefit sanctions, and removing housing benefit from under-21s. Proposals to cut maternity pay are a step backwards. The prospect of removing the UK from the Human Rights Act is terrifying.
I am resolved to challenge and oppose such injustices, but make no mistake: if Labour or the Green Party had proposed these policies I would be challenging them just as vociferously. And if the Conservative Party decided, quite by chance, to invest in social housing I would be the first to applaud their decision.
Perhaps the distinction between the individual and their behaviour is obvious to you? Maybe I’m wrong, toiling away at an exercise in semantics when I should be drawing a line? But I needed to say this, because I’m seeing a lot of misplaced anger. Statements like “Fuck Tory Scum” are not just unkind and unhelpful– they are self-destructive.
I can understand the desperation people feel following the election; from some, the despair is palpable. Many joked initially about leaving the country for more moderate climes. While I don’t expect a mass exodus of disappointed Labour supporters, the real concern is that people will withdraw from political engagement: when 1.1 million people can vote for the Green Party and be represented by only a single MP, what hope true representation…or change?
But despite poor policy now sanctioned by a majority Government, and the seemingly uphill struggle to challenge and change it, we must not shrug off those suffering under bad policy with a ‘there’s nothing we can do’ attitude.
As usual, The Batman sets the example:
J’onn J’onzz: “There’s just too much hatred here, too much ignorance, too much mindless conformity. I’m leaving.”
The Batman: “Have a nice trip. Some of us don’t have that luxury.”
However angry and disappointed and fearful we are, we mustn’t abandon dialogue with the Government in favour of sabre rattling or self-imposed disengagement. The UK housing sector has recently begun to find its voice, and we must continue to develop and use it to engage with the Government. Too many don’t have that luxury.
Fit of Rage
Less than 48 hours after the election results were announced angry protests had seized Westminster.
For the most part, these were not reported by mainstream television media – I told my line manager about these protests today at work and he was surprised; he had not heard anything about them. Where it was reported, the focus was on the more unpalatable aspects of anti-austerity angst – specifically, the defiling of the Women in World War Two Memorial with the aforementioned “Fuck Tory Scum”…not the best way to gain popular support for any cause, especially on the 70th anniversary of VE Day.
Anger is fleeting; remorse is eternal.
I agree with Paul Bromford’s sentiments – it has felt, on occasion, that as much red mist is settling after the election as dust. I am guilty of drawing steel with my tongue too. “So…the war goes on.” I tweeted when I initially found out the Conservatives had won not only the election but a majority. This was not a call for aggression, though, but a grim acceptance that I had not woken up in a world where the bedroom tax would be scrapped and right-to-buy curtailed…and that we could not rest in their opposition. Not yet.
If we thrash and bluster and rage like Aesop’s North Wind, we will no more succeed at repealing bad policy than fabled Boreas did removing the cloak of a traveller. Our example should be as the Sun, rising up from the darkness each day to persuade rather than force. Kindness effects more than severity.
There has been enough post-election analysis. I have purposefully tried to steer clear of adding more pages to that ledger and have, instead, opted to present a reflection.
I am reminded of my attendance at North West Housing Camp earlier this year, and how frequently the idea that we tell the housing story found purchase across the many and varied conversations.
We need to get better at telling our story; that is, if we think it’s worth telling? I think it is; most stories are.
We will not make people hear our story merely with analysis and statistics and board reports. All these things are useful just as smartphones are useful…but there are older methods of engagement. Housing is as much an art as a science. We need poets as well as professionals.
Hope, like the gleaming taper’s light,
Adorns and cheers our way;
And still, as darker grows the night,
Emits a lighter ray.
– Oliver Goldsmith
For many, the night has grown darker still. Engaging creatively and with fierce compassion is our lighter ray.
Anti-austerity protesters take to UK streets after Tory election, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/may/09/anti-austerity-protesters-take-to-uk-streets-after-tory-election-victory, Available: May 2015
Getting Real, Inside Housing, Online: http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/debate/ih-50/getting-real/7009564.article, Available: May 2015
Police arrest 15 in anti-austerity protest in London, BBC, Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32678518, Available: May 2015
What will the new Tory government do?, The Guardian, Online: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/08/what-will-the-new-tory-government-do, Available: May 2015
With 56 SNPs and just one Ukip MP, how can the Commons reflect the UK’s political will?, The Spectator, Online: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/05/with-56-snps-and-just-one-ukip-mp-how-can-the-commons-reflect-the-uks-political-will/, Available: May 2015