One of our favourite podcasts Suite 212 recently returned from hiatus for a new series, interviewing artists, filmmakers, and writers about what shapes their work. So far, Juliet has spoken to Repeater authors Owen Hatherley and Nathalie Olah, as well as Jeremy Deller, Erica Scourti, and joint Turner Prize-winner Tai Shani. You can listen to these via Soundcloud or iTunes, and if you would like to support the programme, you can subscribe at https://www.patreon.com/suite212 or make a one-off donation at https://donorbox.org/suite-212.
Alongside this, we’re very happy to share an insight into the experiences that shape Juliet’s own work, and publish her account of the passion, defeat and despair of the 2019 December UK general election.
Hoxton Docks, London. Wednesday, 11 December 2019. The night before the General Election, which everyone in the building knows will be the final reckoning for our attempt to transform Labour into a socialist party, and the United Kingdom into a socialist country. The air feels so heavy because we know it’s a long shot, and a stage in a long struggle: even a victory would result in the press, numerous corporate interests and even some of Labour’s own MPs devoting all their energy to bringing down the government as soon as it took power, even if we secured a big majority, which none of us are expecting. The consequences of defeat, especially a heavy one, hardly bear thinking about, and in this crowd, in this intense now, I’m trying not to. It’s enough just be here, sharing smiles, hugs and tears with my comrades, hanging on every word from the stage, immersing myself in the hope and anticipation that everyone in the room, including me, is desperately daring themselves to feel.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, is on stage, addressing a room full of anxious, sweaty people – many of whom, like me, will have only joined the party to support him, and who cannot quite believe that in just over four years, this man has gone from being an obscure, scruffy backbench MP with a track record of campaigning for striking workers and against wars – often against the policies of his own party – to the verge of power. When he entered the Labour leadership race straight after a painful election defeat in summer 2015, standing against three members of the shadow cabinet, nobody – least of all himself – gave Corbyn a chance of winning, but as soon as he started talking about the injustices of inequality and imperialism, things I and so many others had waited a lifetime to hear a mainstream politician say, massive numbers began to attend his rallies. When I saw the pictures of him addressing his supporters on top of a fire engine as there were too many people to fit inside Camden Town Hall, I knew he was going to win – and that British politics was going to change.
From then on, the media attacked him from every possible angle, at every possible moment, in an effort to demobilise his base and destroy him. It worked on me, many of my friends and countless others, but not him: when an early election was called in spring 2017, because Labour were 15 points behind the Conservatives in opinion polls, Corbyn was up for the fight, leading a campaign that combined the imagery and affect of 20th century socialism, deft social media use that wrung endearing humour out of so many young people getting behind this unassuming man of pensionable age, and cast the ravages of austerity as a political choice rather than an inevitability (as both the Tories and his predecessors in Labour had called it). Totally written off just six weeks earlier, Corbyn achieved the biggest swing in vote share towards Labour since 1945, and the biggest rise in personal opinion polling in history, adding thirty seats and 3.5 million votes to those won in 2015; within weeks, he was addressing a huge crowd at Glastonbury’s main stage, full of people wearing T-shirts bearing his name.
After two and a half years of relentless attacks in the media, the polls dropped back to similar lows as in early 2017, and while the party’s predicted vote share has crept back up during the campaign, they haven’t had the same dramatic swing towards us, and they’re still showing Corbyn as the most unpopular person to take a party into an election in living memory, as the media never tire of telling us, aiming to reinforce and reify the animosity they’re reporting. But, as we keep telling ourselves and each other, the press and polls have been wrong about almost everything for the last few years, which have delivered so many surprises and shocks – so why not now? Especially given the energy and enthusiasm in this packed-out venue?
Having been so busy with the election effort, constantly writing, canvassing, leafleting, doing voluntary admin and anything else I thought might convince people to vote Labour, I hadn’t been organised enough to book for the rally, which had swiftly sold out, but I’d been offered a last-minute ticket by a friend who’s had someone not be able to make it. Trying to make myself useful to “the movement”, I’d gone canvassing in Kensington, where more than two hundred people had shown up to support Emma Dent Coad, a local housing activist who won the seat by 20 votes in 2017 to become the area’s first Labour MP, and led the criticisms of the local council and government’s housing policies after the Grenfell Tower fire, which happened in her constituency five days after her election and killed 72 people. I’d seen a handful of Tories by South Kensington station as I arrived, who met the contempt shown to them by myself and others with conspiratorial sneers, and marched up to the massive crowd of people in winter coats with red stickers, gearing themselves up for one last evening of knocking on doors. I found my friend Owen, a writer on architecture who had interviewed Dent Coad for Tribune; my friend Erica, an artist; Russell, who edits a literary journal; Maija, a novelist and filmmaker – all inspired by Labour’s promise that politics could be collective and transformative, and all willing to put in just a fraction of the huge amount of work that it will inevitably entail.
One thing I’d done during the campaign was co-write a letter with my friend Kit, a publisher, called ‘Culture for Labour’, which we’d got 500 artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians and other cultural workers to sign. In a pub near my house, we’d tried to express the urgency of the choice facing the British public: ‘On one side is the Conservative world of self-preservation, closed borders, spiralling homelessness and poverty, inertia on the climate crisis, privatised education and cuts to arts funding. On the other is Labour’s commitment to free movement and ending the ‘hostile environment’ for migrants, a green industrial revolution, protection of workers’ rights, public ownership of key industries, free education, and serious investment in the arts.’ In such a matter of life and death, the atmosphere was febrile. As we awaited direction, almost spilling onto the road, one of the Tory canvassers barged past, repeating an attack line we’d heard ad nauseum from the media over the last four years, which seemed to have little impact in 2017: “You’re gonna lose tomorrow! No-one’s going to vote for a terrorist!”
Given how tense we all felt, it’s amazing that nobody shoved him under a passing car. For a second, I thought about poet Sean Bonney, a friend of friends who died during the campaign, and his work that immediately did the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, a fantasy of revenge for the tens of thousands killed by benefit cuts over the last decade of Conservative rule: When you meet a Tory on the street, cut his throat / It will bring out the best in you. / It is as simple as music or drunken speech. / There will be flashes of obsolete light. / You will notice the weather only when it starts to die. With the image of the man’s blood splattered across the road and his soul no more dead than before flashing through my mind, I stopped myself at yelling “Fuck off, you nonce!” as he passed by, and then congratulated myself on my restraint.
There were far more of us than needed to canvass – Owen, Maija, Erica, Russell and I went to hand out leaflets at the nearest Tube station, where the commuters roundly ignored us. As soon as I got the text inviting me to the rally, I left, excited about the possibility of being able to tell people in the years to come: I was there.
Maija and I took the train to Hoxton, talking about how the outcome was too close to call, the polls had narrowed again, maybe Labour could form a coalition and there would be some epic confrontations with capital but the path to a better world would be visible, at least. I mentioned a short film I’d seen earlier in the year, Raimo S. (2014) by Nestori Syrjälä, in which an actor playing Finnish politician Raimo Sailas laments the thought that his work towards the country’s post-war welfare state might have contributed to the present ecological crisis, and the collapse of social democratic parties across Europe. We discussed Labour’s ambitious Green New Deal – the most exciting and forward-thinking part of this year’s manifesto – and how they had avoided the ruinous fate of their centre-left counterparts in France, Greece, Italy and elsewhere by scoring 40% of the vote in June 2017, holding together a coalition of younger, metropolitan people in precarious employment and older people in post-industrial towns whose lives had been devastated by austerity. Could they do it again?
We got to Hoxton and I wandered through the back streets, trying to find the venue. When I got there, I saw a huge queue, filing past a protest from a group who called Corbyn’s Labour anti-Semitic, sparking dismay from Aura, who had invited me and who was one of many Jewish friends to spend hours canvassing with me. We stood outside in the dark and cold for an hour, talking feverishly about how excited we were about the manifesto, how anxious we were about the opinion polls, what feedback we’d had on the doorsteps. I’d had my concerns during the campaign: the weakness of Labour’s slogan, the vapid ‘It’s time for real change’; the dizzying number of policies announced, on an almost daily basis; the mendacity of the media in general and the BBC in particular; but most of all, the party’s pledge to hold a second referendum on the UK’s EU membership, which I’d never thought was a good idea and had found impossible to defend to anyone who had voted Leave back in June 2016.
We get inside, into the overspill room, where the main stage from the bigger room is on display on a big screen. The slogan from the last election is also visible – the more coherent ‘For the many, not the few’. It’s a reminder that the 2017 campaign felt much better than this one – more fun and far funnier, essentially a free shot as the establishment expected us to get wiped out, fought on austerity rather than Brexit – but also of the reasons why we’ve all worked so hard in the hope that Labour might go one better this time.
Several London-based MPs speak: two younger ones, Dawn Butler and Emily Thornberry, as well as my MP, Diane Abbott, Corbyn’s comrade during the Labour left’s long wilderness period after a heavy and traumatic defeat in 1983, who had a brief fling with Corbyn in the late 1970s when they went motorbiking together in East Germany. How romantic! But it’s Jeremy we’re waiting for: when he finally takes the stage, the applause and cheers hit their crescendo, jarring with the softly-spoken and clearly exhausted leader’s body language, which seems like an appeal for calm. He warms up by talking about a ‘fork in the road’, as we’ve just seen discussed in a campaign video made by Ken Loach, with the cast of his latest film, Sorry We Missed You (2019), which reminds us – not that we need it – of just how high the stakes are.
After repeating the main messages of the campaign – the need to stop a post-Brexit, Boris Johnson government selling the NHS to US healthcare companies, and for Labour to invest to end austerity and inequality – Corbyn finally lights up as he talks about the man who most inspires him – the poet and singer Víctor Jara, who “worked endlessly to get the Popular Unity government elected in Chile in 1970”. Corbyn explains how Jara was arrested after the Pinochet coup in 1973 and taken to the football stadium. The soldiers offered him a guitar and then, when he went to play it, smashed his hands, and then killed him. There are gasps in the room from those who don’t know Jara’s story. I do: one of my oldest friends, Phil, with whom I’d been in a post-punk band in the early 2000s where we co-wrote the lyrics, had told me about Jara, around the time that he and I were attending protests against the Iraq war. It had never quite seemed real to me that the most vocal critic of that war within the party was now the Labour leader, and I couldn’t quite believe I was hearing the person in that position quoting Víctor Jara – not least because Jara’s story sounded incredibly downbeat on the night before an election that we not just felt we had to win, but genuinely believed we could.
Corbyn finds optimistic words from Jara to close his campaign: “My guitar is not for the rich. No, nothing like that. My song is of the ladder we’re building to reach the stars.” Tears roll down my cheek as I join the applause, and then walk home with my housemate Helen, both buzzing with excitement, as we share our disbelief that the Labour Party, which had seemed so moribund at the 2015 election, could have become something that had energised so many; that it has a leader who quotes a radical Chilean poet rather than pandering to media-induced panic about immigration; and that we might yet sweep to power in 24 hours’ time. I get home and play Pete Seeger’s Solidarity Forever at top volume, singing along to the chorus as I pack my bag for tomorrow, knowing I’ll be out knocking on doors all day.
Dalston, London. 12 December 2019 – 7am. I haven’t slept well, waking up at 4 o’clock and struggling to get back to sleep, but it’s been like that for weeks now, if not months. I look at Twitter: it’s all people sharing their plans for the day, videos from Momentum and Corbyn, and a link to the final episode of The Burner, a ten-minute election update that my friend James has been putting out every weekday since the campaign began. For the final day, it starts with a collection of voices talking about how the country can’t handle any more of this Conservative government, how we’ve built a movement, how important it is to keep fighting until the polls close at 10pm tonight. Some are optimistic that the surge in youth voter registration is going to win it; some are pessimistic about smaller towns and rural areas where Labour canvassers and campaigners haven’t been visible. “They have everything, they have the billionaires, they have the power, they have all the money, they have the media,” says one of the voices, “and all we have is each other.”
By now, I’m full of every emotion I’ve ever felt at once. Love for my comrades and hatred for our oppressors; hope and fear; loneliness and solidarity; certainty that we’ve done the right thing and confusion about the likely outcome; elation and sadness; anxiety and calm. James says he feels “the warmth of the movement” around him, and I need that now, I can’t wait to get out into the world, but my flatmate beats me into the shower, and even that tiny setback makes me want to scream. I take deep breaths, wait for him to finish, frantically wash myself, throw on my winter clothes including a football scarf, basically because it’s the only thing I’ve got that’s red, pick up my polling card even though I know I don’t need it, and march down to the local primary school to vote.
It’s not busy, I can vote straight away and just want to put my cross next to the Labour rose. As I push the pencil so hard into the paper, shaking, that I almost break the lead, I remember a conversation with my friend Joe about what “feels good”. Voting Labour in 2017 had felt good: like I was being represented in mainstream politics for the first time, supporting a programme that my vote would give a genuine chance of being enacted, if not straight away then in a few years’ time. Leaving the booth, I see a tweet from a political journalist: ‘Just voted. Felt like 2016, only more so’. This doesn’t quite capture my sensation – in the EU referendum I had voted Remain as maintaining the status quo was the least worst of two terrible options, whereas now I’m committing to transformative change – but the lightness of 2017 has become crushing heaviness, as if my cross amounts to waving a housing contract in front of a bulldozer.
I rush over to Dalston Junction to get the train to Peckham, where I’ll meet a few friends to get out the vote. I don’t know where we’ll be going, but I’ll be leaving London, where we’re definitely not needed, for the first time in the campaign. Outside the station, Aura is giving out leaflets, more to remind people to vote than to change minds in one of Labour’s safest seats. I hug and kiss her, make clenched fist salutes at the others in red rosettes, race down the stairs, board the train and burst into tears.
A new episode of one of my favourite podcasts, We Don’t Talk About the Weather, has just come out, so I listen on the journey. They’re making fun of the paucity of Third Way politics, and the tiny manifesto put out by the breakaway centrist party Change UK, launched in a blaze of orchestrated publicity in February, instantly seen to be dead on arrival even by the Guardian hacks for whom it was founded, and who are running just three candidates in this election, all of whom are expected to lose their seats. It’s amusing enough, but when they start talking about how the media has constantly monstered and lied about the left throughout the campaign, I fill with impotent rage, knowing that if we lose, they will never be held accountable for any of it, and that if we win, and especially if Labour implement their manifesto pledge to re-open the Leveson Inquiry into criminal behaviour at UK newspapers, it will only intensify.
Peckham, London, 12 December 2019 – 8.45am. I step out of the station and immediately, a lamppost with a poster that catches my eye: If you voted Tory you’re a nonce. This runs through my head to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain as I meet my friends: Nathalie checks Momentum’s app to see where we’d be most useful. The closer marginals to London are all full – including Crawley, the only town near where I grew up that ever votes Labour – and eventually we settle on Hastings and Rye, two hours away on the south coast. I’m with two old friends, Alex and Douglas, and Ed, who I haven’t met before, who’s taken the spare seat in Nathalie’s car. I talk about canvassing in Kensington, how some people have been uncertain how to vote and who I’ve talked around, how I’ve made new friendships and strengthened existing ones, and how these new networks will survive, whatever happens tonight.
Nathalie’s experiences have been less positive. Yesterday, she went to Birmingham Northfield, where she grew up, which was Tory during the Thatcher years, Labour since 1992 but with an ever-decreasing majority since the car factory at Longbridge closed down in 2005. Standing with a group of people in Labour stickers, she was constantly glared at, with people slamming doors on her, telling her how much they despised Corbyn in particular. In the supermarket, she had seen free copies of The Sun telling people how Labour will destroy the country and that Corbyn supports terrorists, before a woman ran up to her, frenzied, shaking, yelling “I can’t stand that man!” and the group had rallied around Nathalie for her own safety. We share stories about Labour canvassers getting attacked, including a 72-year-old woman in Herefordshire who was thrown over the bonnet of a car, barely reported by a media that has, instead, made up stories about Labour activists attacking Conservative MPs. A couple of days ago, The Sun reprinted a hitlist of ‘left-wing networks’ originally compiled by a group called Aryan Unity and swiftly deleted it after an outcry; their political editor, Tom Newton-Dunn, has continued to appear on the BBC without anyone mentioning it. At the start of the campaign, I was worried about what might happen to my friends and I if we lost; by now, I’m worried about what might happen to us if we win.
Rye, East Sussex, 12 December 2019 – 12.15pm. We choose Rye rather than Hastings, finding the house that’s serving as a base for canvassers. They give us tea, sandwiches and biscuits, and a board with the names and addresses of Labour voters. It’s not too cold but it’s raining, the day will be short and it’s already past noon. We ask about the local candidate and which issues are likely to come up but we’re not here for long, ‘persuasive’ conversations, just to check people have voted. There were five recounts here in 2017, when the sitting Conservative MP, Amber Rudd – who later resigned from the cabinet over the Windrush scandal, and had two bank accounts in the Bahamas – won by just 346 votes. Surely, with Rudd standing down, we can win it this time.
On the first street, we find a mix of responses. A few people have voted already; a few more will later, but don’t seem too enthusiastic. A few people, mostly older ones, tell us to go away; a couple are open to persuasion. I spend twenty minutes on a man’s doorstep as he asks why he should vote Labour. In Kensington, I’d had an obvious answer: because Grenfell epitomises everything that’s wrong with modern Britain, and Emma Dent Coad has been so good in supporting the survivors. Here, I’m not so sure: I start off by talking about the state of the NHS and other public services, falling apart due to lack of investment. I talk about the universities I teach in, precarious employment of lecturers with too many students, laden with tuition fee debt that railroads them into consumerist attitudes. Trying to keep calm, soaking wet and picking up a cold, I realise I’m sounding desperate, as I tell him that the Tory candidate, Sally-Ann Hart, has said people with learning disabilities should not be paid the minimum wage as they “don’t understand money”, and clicked ‘Like’ on a Nazi slogan on Facebook. He’s visibly appalled, but talks to me about football, says it was nice to meet but he’s still not decided how to vote, or if he even will, and I trudge back to report this to Nathalie with my head down.
It gets dark at 4pm: the temperature has fallen and the rain is lashing down as we begin our final round on a large, sprawling estate. I’m worried, as I’m seeing tweets about low turnouts in Labour’s northern seats, their traditional heartlands, with desperate calls for activists to come to places like Bolsover or Grimsby to get out the vote. Certainly, it jars with the optimism we felt in the car this morning, when people on Twitter were sharing photos of massive queues at polling stations, full of young people who had registered to vote in unprecedented numbers, Here, several people say they’ve already done their duty; a couple are grateful for the reminder. As we walk back to the house, I put my arms around Douglas and Alex and say that if Labour win, we will never forget this day, and the hard graft we’ve put in, as part of this colossal effort to reshape British society, house by house, street by street, vote by vote.
London, 12 December 2019, 9.30pm. I’d turned down several invites to election parties, telling friends I had to be with comrades – people who’d been with me in “the Corbyn project” for more than four years, becoming party members at the same time, campaigning together in 2017 and supporting the programme in their writing and in their lives. We get to Owen’s house about half an hour before the exit poll was due, having bought snacks and wine, still talking about how we couldn’t predict the result but that we’d done all we could.
We put the television on, deciding on ITV rather than the BBC – which had infuriated us all so much during the campaign – or an online, left-wing alternative like Novara Media. They talk about how the exit poll model worked, if the winter weather might have affected the turnout, and how many of the opinion polls were wrong in 2015 and 2017, but the exit polls weren’t. As the countdown to 10pm reaches its final seconds, they cut to an image of Big Ben, my hands shake wildly and my heart beats so fast I fear it will stop. Then it drops: I register the numbers on the screen before the presenter’s words hit my ears.
“It is now 10 o’clock and we can reveal the results of the joint broadcasters’ exit poll, which is predicting a large Conservative majority. The Tories are projected to win 368 seats, Labour a dismal 191, a very large drop from last time …” I start crying as ‘Biggest Tory majority since Thatcher’ flashed across the screen: they cut back to the studio as the presenter asks if the exit poll might be wrong, and everyone, including me, knows it won’t be, at least not by anywhere near enough. One panellist says it will be the worst seat total for Labour since 1935; former Conservative chancellor and current Evening Standard editor George Osborne talks about how Johnson had “united the leave vote and splintered the remain vote”, and barely contains his joy about how Labour had “presented the country with an unelectable extremist … who has been firmly rejected”.
These last few days, I’d told people I expected a similar result to last time. How had I been so wrong? I break down in tears, thinking about my precarious housing situation and how this means no rent controls or protections for tenants, and no end to the spiralling homelessness that confronted me in east London every day; no end to the marketisation of universities, huge tuition fees or cuts to arts and humanities departments; no overhaul of the NHS or creation of public sector jobs that might sustain me as they had in the past; no end to the punitive Universal Credit system I’d relied on whenever I was out of work, and which had sanctioned me on my first appointment when I’d last tried to claim it; the hardest possible Brexit, with my European friends feeling even more unwelcome than after the referendum, my queer friends anxious about having a Prime Minister who’d called gay men “tank-topped bum boys” and my brown and black friends terrified about having a Prime Minister who wrote columns calling Muslim women “letterboxes” and black people “picaninnies with watermelon smiles”. Then I think about people less well off than me – the ones at breaking point – and how this result means that for the next five years, this far-right Conservative Party can do whatever they like.
We all start drinking, heavily. What else to do? Some of us stare in shock, others are more philosophical: the seats announced in the first hour mostly stay red, but with terrifying swings away from Labour that suggest the exit poll will be right. Several people hold me as I cry on them, hardly able to look at the TV, but I stay with the gang because I know I can’t go home alone. We all scream when former Labour cabinet minister Alan Johnson comes on, unfettered by the idea that his disastrous Labour In For Britain campaign in 2016 may be a big factor in this nightmare, insisting the left be expelled from the party, before Momentum co-founder Jon Lansmann appears. Immediately, I know the image of Lansmann being berated by Johnson as austerity chancellor George Osborne and austerity shadow chancellor Ed Balls (who lost his own seat in 2015) turn on him in unison will never leave me; nor will the sight of my friends Owen Jones and Ash Sarkar, two of Corbyn’s outriders, fronting up to people who clearly couldn’t wait to see them banished from the media forever.
The result is so bad that I fear losing everything. Corbyn would have to resign, with a left-wing successor unlikely, with our hopes of providing a model for the global left in a time of rising far-right authoritarianism shattered; it probably means the end of Bernie Sanders’ hopes of securing the Democratic nomination in next year’s US election. Would Momentum continue to exist, and hold its World Transformed festival that had provided a hub for our burgeoning left culture? Would the new left-wing publications for whom I’d been writing survive?
The results keep coming and look every bit as bad as projected. I can’t face the smug presenters, the right-wing Labour MPs gleefully sticking the knife into Corbyn, the seat-by-seat collapse of everything I’d hoped for and believed in these last few years. Only a few results permeate my dumbfounded staring and hysterical weeping: Corbyn keeps his seat with a big majority, but it’s unbearable to see him struggling so hard to put a brave face on what is so obviously a catastrophe, having already realised that as his supporters, we will be expected to take much of blame. We see a couple of left-wing stalwarts lose their seats, including Dennis Skinner, in parliament since 1970; we take some bitter joy in the Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, being deposed by the Scottish National Party after a hubristic campaign in which she has joined the right-wing attacks on Corbyn at every opportunity, insisting he can become Prime Minister (which would mean her party winning more than 300 seats), enthusiastically saying she would launch a nuclear strike, and putting up several high-profile candidates recently recruited from other parties in marginal seats with the intention of damaging Labour.
To our fury, this plays out in Kensington: Sam Gyimah, who was in the Conservative cabinet until September, gets more than 9,000 votes, doubling the Lib Dem share from 2017, allowing the Tory to beat Emma Dent Coad by 150 after The Observer had told people to vote tactically for Gyimah to elect an anti-Brexit candidate in the constituency. The Grenfell Action Group, at the back of the hall, chant “Shame!” at Gyimah – far more polite than anything we scream at the television. One by one, people go home, or go to bed. Owen and I are the last ones up, as he wants to find out what’s happened in Southampton Itchen, his home city, which the Tories won by just 31 in 2017, and where he had spent the day getting out the vote. The Conservative majority has gone up by 4,500. “Fuck this,” says Owen, and goes to bed.
London, 13 December 2019, 5am. I turn off the television and go to Owen’s spare room. I don’t sleep all night, the recriminations starting already. One of the first, and hardest realisations, is that Labour have lost every seat I’d canvassed in, with the swing in Hastings and Rye almost identical to Southampton Itchen. Then I think about how, for us, Labour under Corbyn had felt like a different party; for many people who hadn’t been so immersed in journalism or social media or political organising, it really hadn’t, and it was precisely the internationalist focus that had given us such a powerful connection with Corbyn that had made him anathema to so many people in the UK. Three hours later, I hear footsteps and get up. Owen and I tell ourselves and each other that in years to come, people will ask what we did to stop this disaster, and we can say that we weren’t wrecking in the newspapers or on television like so many established journalists or politicians, but instead that we’d given our all to change the direction of our party and our country, but it provided the thinnest consolation for just the tiniest moment.
After that, we can barely speak. Owen decides to put on a film in the hope of distraction, going for Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Space (1997), which opens with a quote from the Situationist theorist Raoul Vaneigem demanding that “a bridge between the imagination and reality must be built”. That bridge has been blown up: Vaneigem famously wrote of the point when despair ends and tactics begin, but it’s far too soon for that, and the film barely registers with us as we keep breaking down, sometimes silently, sometimes with further realisations that sadden or anger us. “To have any chance of fighting the bullshit written about us in the papers every day for four years, we had to go to every house in the country, hoping they’d give us just a few minutes to explain that what they’ve heard about us isn’t true,” I say. “And we went to every house in the country,” replies Owen, “and they hated us. They fucking hated us.”
It hits us: we won’t be getting a Green New Deal, a four-day week, National Education Service or renationalised utilities. We won’t alleviate any of the effects of Brexit or overturn the last decade of austerity. We won’t abolish tuition fees or universal credit, or the hostile environment for migrants. We won’t reopen the Leveson Inquiry into criminal behaviour by the media, or even have an inquiry into the scandalous conduct of the BBC throughout the campaign. We won’t get proper investigations into the Iraq war, policing at Orgreave in 1985 or Hillsborough in 1989, or any decisive reversal of forty years of Thatcherism. We won’t have a Prime Minister whose parents had met at a meeting in support of the Spanish Republic in the 1930s and fought Oswald Mosley’s fascists at Cable Street in 1936, and who has stood in solidarity with striking workers at home, or the victims of right-war wars and coups abroad, since the 1970s: our last hope that the post-1968 left would take power has been shattered, and with it our connection to that time’s struggles in Algeria, Chile, South Africa and elsewhere. The worst realisation of all is that there are no mitigating circumstances: we had offered the British public socialism or barbarism, and in their miserable hearts, they had opted overwhelmingly for barbarism.
Owen has plans for the day, so I go home. I listen to the rest of the We Don’t Talk About the Weather episode, where the hosts express cautious optimism about Corbyn’s chances, and I break down in tears again. When I get home, Helen is in front of the television: she has clearly been crying too. We hug each other, and watch the rolling news coverage together in silence. The BBC cut to a disabled woman who talks about how the massive Conservative majority gives her hope. I think about the British Medical Journal report that attributed 130,000 deaths over the last decade to Tory cuts to benefits and other public services, barely mentioned in the media at the time, and I can’t face any more. I trudge upstairs to my room and throw myself onto my bed, lying with my arm over my face, noticing the weather only as it starts to die.