Those of you who went to sleep at all on the night of Thursday 12th of December awoke to the news that the country had an unassailable Conservative majority and that even those Tories with whom one could actually have a conversation were no longer in the party or Parliament. All liberal-minded Conservatives had been purged. In the face of this, Labour appeared helpless. Its attempts to bring the country together with a balanced policy was seen as obfuscation. Defeat was inevitable; the scale of that defeat was not. But as Corbyn announced his intention to step down, Labour HQ emails talked of a ‘state of numbness’ and called for a ‘period of reflection’.
It occurred to me, as I sat in my very particular state of physical and emotional numbness, drinking red wine on the Friday lunchtime, that thirty years before I had been lying in a coma in the Midland Centre for Neurosurgery and Neurology, midway between two brain operations. In the course of my period of reflection, I considered two things. The first was whether I would prefer to be still in a comatose state, and thus unaware of the unravelling of British democracy; and secondly, the fact that one of the most sophisticated centres of neurology in Europe is now a housing estate. It was the only specialist facility of its kind outside London, but it fell foul of the Conservative Government’s cost-cutting policies in 1996.
The NHS and MCNN (specifically Professor Edward Hitchcock) saved my life in 1989 and 1990, and my post-election musings moved on to consider how, despite the rhetoric, the Tories have always looked to undermine the NHS. Austerity in name was the boast of the Tory/LibDem coalition. But austerity has always been the agenda hidden behind the rhetoric.
The carefully structured attack on the NHS – starve it, criticise it, privatise it – was our priority at the last election. Our instincts were sound and they were supported by reams of paperwork concerning the trade talks with the US, articles by senior cabinet ministers, and the facts.
But it wasn’t enough to overcome the fatuous and simplistic ‘Get Brexit Done’, a slogan straight out of the Steve Bannon/Donald Trump playbook. You may think, as I do, that when a policy is supported unequivocally by Trump, Putin and Johnson, there is clearly something amiss. A great deal amiss, in fact – and I don’t refer to the great deal allegedly negotiated by Boris Johnson against the odds.
Here in Leamington, there was no room for argument. We had as our sitting MP the estimable Matt Western. He is a local candidate, independent-minded, intelligent, personable and trusted across the political divides.
Yet he managed a majority of less than a thousand, pushed close by a rich-boy Thatcherite Tory from Windsor who bought a house in Warwick and claimed to be local on the basis of his new home and the fact that he went to university locally.
I do not need a period of reflection to know for whom I will vote next time. But if the centrists in the Labour Party are to be believed, many will vote for or against the new leader of the Labour Party. ABC, they say – anyone but Corbyn.
I am not a Corbynista nor a Corbynite. But I admire his principles and his policies even as I am exasperated by his stubbornness and refusal to play the game. A different word here, a an emphasis there, and the likes of Kuenssberg, Peston and the JLM would have no factual grounds for their hysterical headlines, no opportunity for wilful misunderstanding. But that’s Corbyn for you. His strengths are his weaknesses when they are being presented by the daily Mail, Express, Sun, Telegraph, Times and yes, even the Guardian.
As Alexei Sale points out, the real difference between Johnson and Corbyn is this: “The only people who like Johnson are those that don’t know him. And, conversely, the only people who like Corbyn are those that know him”.
Trouble is, in these days of right wing populism, it’s all about reaching out personally, giving the journalists what they want and avoiding serious questioning. This is why, if the ageing, nativist, nationalist, out-of-touch Tory membership got anything right, it was voting in Johnson as leader.
They now have five years to regret that decision, but the cost to the country could be immeasurable.
For me, the next five years will be five years of struggle against the privatisation of the NHS, the erosion of our human rights, climate change, racism and the return to free market economics.
There is more, a hell of a lot more, but this will do for a start.
Happy New Year!
Today from the everysmith vaults: Bob has graced us with his presence only once this year, but his fall tour in the States has been remarkable. Currently listening to the residency at the Beacon Theatre in New York. The stunning new arrangement of Not Dark Yet is only one of the many highlights.