'It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.' So said Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady of the United States. Living through two world wars, and suffering the infidelity of her husband while trying to protect him from the ravages of his disability, she certainly had her fair share of darkness to contend with.
I wonder what she would make of this election campaign. The darkness is abundant, and I don’t just mean because the nights are drawing in and councils don’t have enough money to keep the streetlights on. Voters face a set of perverse choices.
Do they opt for a Prime Minister who’s twice been sacked for lying, doesn’t know how many children he has, and wants to do grievous bodily harm to the economy with a hard-boiled Brexit? Or would they prefer a PM who’s spent his career befriending terrorists, appearing on propaganda-spewing media outlets in authoritarian states, and who can’t seem to get to grips with a racism scandal in his party?
Perhaps they’d like to take a punt on the outsider, who promises to ignore the majority verdict from a democratic vote without an equivalent mandate to replace it, and who has decided to outflank her opponents by ignoring all sensible advice on economic policy, instead pursuing a permanent budget surplus? Of course, if they do vote for a third party, all that may happen is its own MPs will return to square one, choosing for themselves between the first two unpalatables in a hung parliament.
I’m sorry Eleanor, but the darkness has enveloped us all, and the only thing that’s been aflame during this campaign is a block of student flats in Bolton that somehow still had Grenfell-style cladding on it two and a half years after that particular disaster. If you’re looking for a vignette that sums up how stale and rotten the governing ideology in this country has become over the last forty years, you could do a lot worse. Any government so averse to interfering in the lives of wealthy private citizens that it won’t even act to prevent the risk of their tenants burning to death is not worthy of the name.
All of this suggests a desperate need for change, for hope, for that lit candle. And to anybody looking at it from the outside, the Labour Party contains a glut of personalities who believe in such a change and could positively articulate it but who do not share the yawning load of excess baggage dragged around by the member for Islington North wherever he goes.
Maybe it’s just the cold and the damp, but I’ve been struggling to summon the enthusiasm to make any kind of case for Labour at all during this campaign. In every corner of the internet I find valid arguments being made against voting for my party, and reminders of unpleasant salient facts about the man I intend to make Prime Minister.
Nevertheless, vote for Labour I must. I know many would question the moral probity of that decision. Personally, when it comes to ethics, I’m a consequentialist. I don’t think in terms of arbitrary red lines or absolute rules, instead I ask myself what the consequences of different outcomes will be. And when I consider the parties’ positions on Brexit, climate change, the funding of public services, the treatment of the poor, the young, immigrants, the sick and the disabled I still judge the consequences of a Johnson-led Tory government to be far graver than those of a Corbyn-led Labour government.
There is a strong case for voting tactically in this election, but as long as you view a Labour government as vastly preferable to a Tory one there is little reason to vote for the Lib Dems or other parties in most constituencies.
Of course, for many ex-Labour voters there is one unforgivable infraction that has caused them to reject this way of thinking, and sunder all ties. I won’t insult your intelligence by ignoring it. Personally, I have found it difficult to judge from a distance the severity of the anti-semitism scandal, its scale, and the culpability-level of senior party figures.
Examples appended to the oft-cited IHRA definition of anti-semitism are frequently invoked without noting its instruction to carefully consider the context of statements that fit this template. It is an occupational hazard of policing anti-semitism that statements intended to criticise the policy of successive Israeli governments and the increasingly loose and vague definition of modern “zionism” tend to cloud that context in many of these cases.
I don’t, for instance, interpret Jeremy Corbyn’s own comments and actions as anti-semitic, but there are more than enough clear-cut examples of ugly, racist abuse in the Labour Party to justify alarm. These sorts of cases do seem to have led to suspensions and expulsions. Corbyn and other senior figures have denounced anti-semitism on numerous occasions, and Lord Falconer (not a Corbyn ally) was going to be appointed to some sort of watchdog role, though we haven’t heard anything more about that as far as I’m aware.
Given that the EHRC won’t have reported on its probe into the party before 12th December, it’s difficult to know where that leaves us. Hysteria about the need for Jews to emigrate to avoid discrimination from a Labour government is preposterous, and those fuelling this panic are irresponsible, but I admit I honestly wouldn’t know how to persuade a Jewish voter on their doorstep that they could make a positive choice to back Labour at the moment. 'Vote Labour, we’re probably not institutionally anti-semitic, just a bit crap at dealing with the many anti-semites in our ranks,' is hardly an election-winning slogan.
I am hawkishly watching how this scandal (among other issues) develops in the months and years ahead, and I can’t hand-on-heart say I am certain that evidence won’t emerge in the future that leads me to reappraise my decision about the consequences of a Corbyn-led government. But in a two-party electoral system, it is a huge step to give up on the major party your views are most closely aligned with unless you’re absolutely sure there is some disqualifying factor severe enough to have made them at least as bad as the other lot.
We haven’t reached that point.
In the end, I dropped a few leaflets for my local Labour candidate during this campaign, and I will definitely summon the energy to make it down to the polling station and cast my vote for Labour. But perhaps afterwards you will find me outside in the darkness, holding a vigil for decency, progressive values, and respect for expertise.
I might even light a few candles.
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