I blame 1997. For those of us whose first experience of political engagement was the biggest landslide victory of post-war Britain, every election following was going to be an anti-climax. It was the last election in which I could not vote, but the first election in which I stuck a Labour poster in my bedroom window. It was the election I was forbidden from staying up for, thanks to pesky GCSE exams. And, it was the election that resulted in a hastily opened bottle of bubbly staining our kitchen ceiling, in the frenzy of celebrating the demise of Michael Portillo in Enfield South. 1997 is legend and few elections will ever live up to it. Far from things can only get better, it was more a case of things can only get worse…
Like many, this election’s unexpected result has depressed me. Expletives were uttered into my pillows as I watched good, committed and hard working politicians fall, one after another. The morning after’s non-alcohol induced hangover featured realisation after realisation of what the world was going to be like FOR ANOTHER FIVE YEARS. The NHS. Welfare. Education. Oh, education! At the end of the next five years, how many of my teaching friends will still be in their jobs? Does Britain really not care about these things??
But, within a couple of hours, I’d decided to take hold of the situation in the only way I know how: getting involved. A week on, and I’m convinced that this is the only way to approach the next five years (and beyond). Don’t sit at home whining on Facebook, do something!!
By lunch time I’d rejoined the Labour Party – something I’m pretty sure I’d meant to do five years ago, but had never quite got around to it. This election was the first in which friends of mine (actual friends, not just random acquaintances) ran for office. Several friends stood for selection; a few made it to parliamentary candidate; and one was elected as a local councillor. These friends are activists, they’ve joined parties, made a commitment and that’s one of the ways in which they engage with the system. It’s a far more positive way to engage than party-bashing on social media! [Other political parties are available, obviously.]
If you’re not particularly partisan and simply want to act justly, get involved in Citizens UK. My first introduction to their work was at a college seminar last year, but recently I’ve been offered the option of doing their training in ‘organising’ and getting involved in the local network in London. It’s not yet present in every part of the country, but if you don’t have a network near you, perhaps you could help start one? On the Monday before the election, I found myself at their national assembly (thanks to a last minute ticket) and was stunned by the diversity of the 2,000+ gathering. Vicars sat alongside Imams and Rabbis; the rich impact of immigration upon our society was demonstrated; and people seeking to make a real impact upon society. (My friend Alexandra was one of the vicars present and she wrote a brilliant reflection on the event.) The three main party leaders had been invited to speak (although Cameron dropped out at the last minute) and it was a brilliant example of parties engaging with genuine activism.
Or, if you just want to help on a really basic, local level, find your nearest Foodbank and support them – provide food, volunteer or both! Unfortunately, it looks like they may be even more necessary in future years. A friend of mine was so stirred up that Friday morning that she and some Twitter friends created #FoodbankFriday. Not only are they going to support their local Foodbank every week, they’re going to make a noise about it – so that they can protest about why these services are needed in the first place. A brilliant idea that takes little effort (she’s also committed to using her supermarket loyalty vouchers to buy food too), and can make a big difference in people’s lives. In amongst all the stories of woe I’ve heard and read about in the last five years, it’s the stories of those using Foodbanks that have touched me most. We’re a modern country, people should not be going hungry – end of story.
Finally, if you’re of a churchy persuasion, it could also be worth looking up The Centre for Theology and Community. Their most recent resource is the ‘Seeing Change’ course, which we’ve been using at church over the last few Sundays. [I’ve actually only made one of the sessions, but it was jolly good and this recommendation also acts as a note to self to use it in the future.] A series of four videos and group discussions, it puts some of the big issues of today into a theological context and then encourages people to get involved.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if you’re upset at the way the election turned out, please don’t just moan about it – do something. Unless you do, there’s no chance of anything changing in the future. Politics isn’t something that happens in a fancy building in Westminster, it’s interactions between human beings on the most basic of levels.