We’re living in a post-apocalyptic world. Seven days on from Polling Day when David Cameron took the Iron Throne and sent his vampiric minions to suck the poor dry after the death knell of The Exit Poll, the end is nigh.
Apparently, this is what the left wing sounds like to ‘shy’ Tories on social media.
In truth, there has been trolling, hyperbole and digital mud-flinging on both sides. I’ll be the first to admit that I was angry at the election result, and allowed myself to wallow in the black comedy of articles such as Stuart Heritage’s “The country is screwed, the electorate is evil…but here are nine reasons to be cheerful” which mentioned something about the existence of coconut cream pies as a silver lining. Clearly, Heritage wasn’t being entirely serious, but the sentiment that “the electorate is evil,” and more precisely all those who helped usher in a Tory majority are despicable human beings, isn’t really an acceptable response to Cameron getting elected, no matter how attractive it may appear to be.
Shy Tories and psycho socialists
Social media, that ripe can of worms that it is, has proved a fertile battleground for both the left and right to stigmatise each other and reinforce negative stereotypes. The Shy Tory is one label that has been plastered round the internet a lot recently, partly due to the inaccuracy of the polls in the run up to the election but also as an indication by some that the left has been intimidating people, plus as a jibe to apparently guilty voters by the left itself. And so it is that extreme caricatures are drawn: the left are all psycho socialists looking for any reason to riot and daub offensive graffiti on war memorials, whilst the right are all coy, smug self-interested people who probably secretly want to bring hanging back. Actually, in an anti-austerity protest on the 9th of May on Whitehall, the phrase “F*** Tory scum” was sprayed onto a memorial honouring the role of women in World War Two, and David Cameron has recently appointed two ministers to his cabinet who have in the past openly supported the reintroduction of capital punishment in this country. However, these cases are clearly not representative of the country at large.
The political tribes of the internet may feel powerful behind their computer screens, but keyboard warriors only have as much legitimacy as you’re willing to give to digital skirmishing. On my own news feed, I’ve seen people from both political persuasions lashing out at the opposition and accusing all its members of being immoral, ignorant, or just plain stupid. In the case of the left, this has been particularly damaging in cementing the impression of poor losers who don’t respect the democratic choice. Yet behind the red haze of leftie rage, there is a deeper sadness which I think many have failed to understand.
For me at least, this election result wasn’t so upsetting because the Tories are in power for five more miserable years or even because I know I’ll have to continue to see Cameron’s shiny face everywhere.
It was completely crushing because it represented the United Kingdom choosing austerity over welfare.
I understand that many people are worried about the economy, I am too, but not only does austerity not make sense in a time of economic downturn when spending is needed to encourage growth, it also represents an ideology which is incomprehensible to the left for precisely this reason: it punishes the poorest and most vulnerable of our society the most.
It is much easier to be offended by the vandalism of a war memorial, for example, than it is to be offended by welfare cuts. The Whitehall war memorial, even if you only see a picture of it in a newspaper article, is far more tangible and widely acknowledged than the suffering of those on benefits. Of course, the memorial is a testament to the hard work, and indeed the sacrifices of women during the war, which is precisely why defacing it in an anti-austerity protest is so deeply disrespectful. At the same time, our respect for the women of war, I hope, goes beyond what is essentially a large inanimate object. It is easy to forget that those who depend on welfare are actually real, living people when they merely become statistics in political parlance. I believe that there is a huge disconnect in the general public consciousness between the concept of welfare cuts and what it actually means in real terms for those who will struggle just to feed themselves as a result.
It is difficult to bridge this disconnect. Certainly, playing into the hands of trolls by insulting Tories on social media won’t do it. The only way to make any difference is to turn the smart phone off and do something that’s more than clever: practise what you preach.
I realise that there’s a certain irony in a blog post that espouses turning away from the digital world to make a difference, but it’s a start. Now more than ever, campaigning on social issues, donating to your local food bank and volunteering in your local community is the way to directly retaliate against austerity in the best way possible. The Mirror recently published a list of “7 ways to make a difference if you oppose the Conservative government” which could at least spark some ideas for how you might like to feel more involved in mitigating the issues that concern you. Not only can we help people, we can demonstrate that liberals and the left wing are clearly much more than sore losers.
That ‘noose’ metaphor
I used a rather unpleasant metaphor in the title of this piece not just for effect but also in reference to the rather disturbing juridical mores of certain recently appointed Tory cabinet ministers. It is more than a little concerning that the new Justice Secretary Michael Gove once wrote a Times column in 1998 entitled “Bring back the noose,” whilst the new Minister for the Department for Work and Pensions Priti Patel has also openly supported the reintroduction of capital punishment in the past. I’m not actually convinced that the new government will try to bring back hanging, but what it certainly does want to do is scrap the Human Rights Act.
In addition to the fundamental nature of our basic rights being reinterpreted, the membership of the United Kingdom in the European Union is being questioned. David Cameron’s majority is allowing his government to make a very large and very lasting impression on the country. The first impression of the left after the election result wasn’t good. Let’s break free of the noose of fear and loathing, and do something about that.
The artwork featured above is by Kenny Cole and was used under a Creative Commons license. The artist’s Flickr page can be found here.