“I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn you not to be young, I warn you not to fall ill, and I warn you not to grow old.”
So said former-Labour leader Neil Kinnock, cautioning against a second term for Thatcher ahead of the 1983 election. We could have done with a speech like that prior to 7th May this year. Then again, perhaps it wouldn’t have made any difference.
After all, in ’83, the Conservatives secured 397 seats to Labour’s paltry 209, with the Liberal Democrats/SDP Alliance third strongest- managing a staggering 23. Voter turnout was 72.7%. I’m not sure what that says about Great Britain, other than the fact our history is stuck on repeat.
Napoleon Bonaparte is rumoured to have quipped ‘history is a set of lies agreed upon’. In truth, history should be kinder to the Liberal Democrats than we were whilst they were in a position of minor influence.
Yes, mistakes were made, plenty of them. But even so, the party’s role in at least trying to balance out the tirade of nightmarish Tory policies is now painfully clear. Within hours of David Cameron seizing complete control of Number 10 he and his comrades set to work amending the ‘meddlesome’ Human Rights Act, destroying an access to work fund for the disabled, and drawing up new Orwellian surveillance powers. Not bad for a day’s work.
All this may be more of an indictment of the Tories, rather that props to Nick Clegg, but you get my point. Or at least I hope you do.
There’s a scene in Star Wars: A New Hope when all hope seems lost. The Death Star is almost fully operational, the Rebel Alliance is on its knees, and the only option is to take the fight to the Empire, throw everything in, and pray for victory. To some, England feels a bit like that now. The only difference is we appear to be unarmed.
To quote another slice of pop culture, then, like South Park said: “We didn’t listen”. And now we’re crying all is lost, all is fucked.
Or, if you live in Manchester, my adopted hometown, you’re reading crazy articles about changing the borders so the city can join Scotland, rather than staying in Conservative England. Which is somewhat ironic, considering a couple of years ago everyone was cursing Celtic invaders after Rangers fans took Piccadilly Gardens apart during a poorly executed and even worse behaved public screening of the UEFA Cup Final.
And (no shit, Sherlock) there are several other flaws to the idea.
The most obvious of which is the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ thing. As the nation’s first devolved city-region outside London, the Tories want to keep Manchester as a symbol of country-wide economic success and overall progress. Hence not one but two multi-million-pound arts openings in the last three months alone, and rapid expansion of the tram system, despite ongoing austerity. Whichever way you look at it, my postcode is now an example of how growth is spreading, and proof that soon everyone will benefit from The Big Plan.
So we're trapped in this catastrophe, but thankfully I also believe borders are bullshit. Westminster's halls of power have been in a perpetual rightward swing for decades now. That pendulum is only accelerating. But, just like in Star Wars, there may be a new hope, albeit one that only reassures my losing team we are definitely not alone in this cruel world. Whilst the parliamentary left in England is as much use as a guy in bed after 48-hours on marching powder and pills- impotent, flacid, semi-conscious- above Hadrian’s Wall it’s arguably stronger, or at least more vocal, than ever.
It makes English isolationism a worrying prospect. A referendum on the EU will be delivered and an exit will distance us from the continent and its liberally leaning international courts. That's frightening, and is only rendered more terrifying if you add the idea of English-only votes on English issues. Downing Street wants to freeze out Scotland, and that's not good when the loudest voices of Tory opposition come from there.
Given their relatively small representation in Westminster, the SNP could never block bills both Labour and the Tories agree upon, even if they retain a right to vote. But there’s more to their involvement than simply saying ‘No’. This relatively tiny number of MPs must make themselves heard for the liberal electorate everywhere in the U.K., spread information, encourage debate and promote real opposition.
All is not yet lost, and all is not (completely) fucked, for the time being. But if we obsess over borders it could be.
It’s fitting, really. Scotland has long had a very different approach to ‘things’. Just look at the country after dark. Clubs almost always shut at 3AM. In England it’s often six. The English are obsessed with bullshit fads and stupid hats. Up north, they are only too happy to say ‘fuck you’ to self-aware pricks. A beacon of realism in a club scene currently intent on inflating its ego to the point of collapsing a lung; now the country could offer another pin prick of light, within the context of a very different kind of party. And we should embrace that. After all, it's unlikely to make anything worse.