Close your eyes.
Picture the House of Commons in the heat of PMQs.
Now, in your mind, replace the MPs of the Big Two Parties with dashboard dogs sporting blue and red rosettes.You’ll find more autonomous thought and agency in those injection moulded bobbing heads than you will in their sentient equivalents. Astute observers of politics will know precisely which heads are nodding under duress but, they nod nonetheless.
You can spend enormous amounts of time examining how we got to this colour-coded stalemate. Brexit has exemplified this raging house fire of a system. Now, the Tories are fighting over whether to roast sausages in it or chuck in a few jacket potatoes. The Corbynites opposite are waiting for the house to be reduced to smouldering ash so they can blame the Tories for homelessness.
As we hear so often, we are where we are. Surely, surely part of the blame lies in the tribalism of the electorate. The assumption that we are who we are. Brexit has redrawn some of those lines across the Big Two Parties rather than between but, the core support for each remains static. For too long, the engaged electorate have chosen a set of nodding dogs and stuck with them no matter what they nod for.They’ve chosen a label.
Labels feel good. They’re a shorthand for the values that we hold and the associations that we make. If you are Labour (until the day I die!), you are unlikely to look for friends in a Surrey golf club. If you are a true blue Tory, you probably won’t be swiping right in a working man’s caf. You may never meet, talk to or fall in love with someone who doesn’t share your affiliation. The time and personal history attached to those labels keeps us apart.
I have lots of labels that I’m rather attached to. I am a wife of,.... mother to…..British, Jewish, naturally curly haired. I have been New Labour whilst rocking my first born to the rhythm of ‘education, education, education’. I have supported the One Nation Conservatism that brought us the Olympics, equal marriage and a vision of Boden-clad Britain. I have discovered that I am unusual but hardly unique in my political promiscuity. I am a floating voter who is now drowning.
I have been lucky to be in this position of agnosticism in these momentous times. Close friends have been left bereft as they made the decision to cut up their Labour membership cards. A friend who is a long-time Conservative donor and stalwart of his constituency has described his feelings as akin to a divorce.They are giving up part of the structure of their lives. They will most certainly lose friends. All share a sense that they have been pushed out of a community that they chose in better times.
We have reached a point where both parties are indulging in nostalgia. Labour has dropped the New as their zealots continue to claim the moral high ground by shoving people like me to the edge of the cliff. The party of the working class is harking back to a miserable time of Spam fritters and tomatoes that taste of wet whilst selling it as nobility.The Tories are now in thrall to the animated Punch cartoon of the ERG. It’s all three-martinis-at-lunch noses and shuttered car plants for the party of business. Why would anybody join their gangs?
Something new and truly radical is happening with the birth of The Independent Group. It will be the catalyst for a long, hard look at ourselves as an electorate. The very fact that MPs of different political traditions can be trusted to meet in a restaurant with access to metal cutlery was a social media sensation.They have taken a real risk stepping out of their tribes and looking for solutions to pressing issues that don’t conform to the dogma of their former parties.The shock to our moribund system of reasonable adults behaving reasonably should and must be an inflection point.
Now is the time when we, the electorate, the constituents, the disenfranchised, the reluctant and regretful members of tribes should lose our labels. If we don’t, the only survivor of the Brexit apocalypse will be the factory making those dashboard dogs.
Rebecca Strom Trenner grew up in New York and has worked in publicity, events production, non-profit, ghost writing and script doctoring. She tweets as @trenner_rebecca but far prefers to read others’ opinions.
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