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General Politics Media Analysis Projects The Smokeless Room

So, I have launched a newsletter

The Smokeless Room is a newsletter by Rushaa Louise Hamid, with a special focus on all you need to know to sift the bunk from the gold of opinion surveys! Sign up here!

I firmly believe that polling should not be something made difficult for the average person to understand and critique. Unfortunately these days with the media being what it is it can be tricky to figure out just how accurate a figure being thrown out is. This is especially true when the issue polled in question is contentious.

As someone who has worked on and off in polling and socio-political market research for the past five years, most recently as Special Projects Manager for over two years at polling firm Survation Ltd (you may remember them for such hits as the 2017 and 2019 UK General Elections) I really appreciate just how difficult it can be for someone with no expertise to assess what they read. So I’ve started a weekly newsletter – The Smokeless Room – to help people navigate the topic in an easy to understand way, and whose archives you can find here.

The name ‘The Smokeless Room’ is a riff off the idea of “smoke-filled rooms” which the OUP’s Oxford Languages helpfully summarises as a term “used in reference to political decision-making conducted privately by a small group of influential people rather than more openly or democratically”. It’s at the core of my politics that information should be accessible, especially when it comes to important matters, and so making sure that the wider public are literate in polling is one way of promoting more open decision making.

If this catches your fancy, sign up here! Issues are out each Wednesday and I’m always up for receiving suggestions of items to cover.

Categories
General Politics Personal Writing Political Debate U.K. Politics

Decolonising Universities and Life

Late September is the period where students flood university halls for freshers. Generally focused mainly on drinking too much and starting their new phase of life. Or rather it should be. Due not only to COVID-19 but also the sloppy A-Level algorithm fiasco, students instead have stress and uncertainty.¹

University used to be a guarantee of a prosperous middle class life. Now it is a tick box exercise for only the possibility of such (particularly if you have opted for something outside of the STEM field). No longer the essential path to a certain standard of living, now it forms one more hurdle to navigate for any sort of basic managerial path at all.

I spent my undergraduate degree at the School of Oriental and Africa Studies (SOAS), University of London. SOAS is unfairly maligned for its Decolonising SOAS student movement dedicated to introducing more non-European thinkers on the curriculum. Something that should have been a welcome step was portrayed in the media as political correctness gone mad – that all they want to do is reject white men.

It is not any sort of surprise that in education European thinkers are dominant. Even in specialist classes on Africa we would frequently come back to the views of European and American academics rather than African thinkers. And it is frustrating to know that whilst we see value in applying Western thought to other cultures and context, we don’t look to the rest of the world to build up our orthodoxy. The Occident analysis is a side, not a main course.

This is flaw in education is intricately bound with the initial decision to use an A-Level algorithm that tied current students to the ghosts of A-Levels past. The endeavour showed that voices which have always been held up continue to be facilitated. Those at the margins who could contribute something new had to fight to be heard. Even with the change allowing teacher predicted grades to be used, students who were disadvantaged in the first place are likely still faced with issues around admission, housing, finances (especially if they have to delay entry) even if their grades now meet their offer requirements.

Entering higher education as any sort of minority means that sources you use frequently contain errors simply because authors don’t consider something so obvious to you. In older texts Muslims are referred to as Mohammadens because Western European Christians could only see Islam through the lens of Christianity. I have found level of religiousity to be tied to frequency of prayer – you are in the “most religious” group if you pray three or more times a day. It completely ignores that there is a huge difference between a Muslim who does that and a Christian who does. These problems will persist so long as our systems prioritise the same-old same-old.

Cognitive biases are so common, and not just in academia. WhenI write surveys I often conduct cognitive testing to check my assumptions on how someone will read a question actually apply across the board. Once you open your eyes to it you see in even in the little things. Once I accidently kissed a friend’s mother on the mouth because I assumed she would greet me three kisses on the cheek (Sudanese) and she assumed I would give two (Mauritian).

Diversity is not just about race, but class, country, sexuality, field of specialism – the list draws on. Universities instil a confidence in knowledge, but when the knowledge draws only from one type of background you don’t actually get a high quality education. You need to be both challenging and to be challenged. Barriers to allowing different views to mingle, through access to education and texts chosen, is a significant problem.

The most essential thing I have learnt in education is how to handle being wrong and be open to that experience. And I can only find out the numerous things I am wrong about when there are others around – whether in person or through texts to study – who come with different knowledge and perspectives.

 

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Notes

  1. I want to make clear I am not someone who is advocating university education above other forms of continuing learning – technical colleges, apprentinceships, and going straight into work are all important (and I would venture more important) to society and should be funded far better than they are. I am however someone who can’t speak to those experiences, so I am focusing here on academia.
Categories
General Politics Personal Writing Political Debate

Comments on Identity and Success in a Fractured World

At some point if you are a member of a minority you will bump up against some elements which serve to make the biased structure of the world visible to you. A woman might see the glass ceiling or casual sexism, a black man may be stopped and searched repeatedly with no real cause, a blind person may continue to find the internet intensely difficult to navigate with their screen reader. Sometimes these moments make one compassionate to other struggles. Sometimes people are convinced that only their specific problems exist and all others are the result of paranoia.

If you are lucky then you will be asked to believe there is something there which you will never experience. Something that cannot be seen, that is often hard to objectively prove, and that if true means that your position is not entirely due to your hard work or ‘natural’ talents but also the result of a system which keeps others outside and tells them they deserve very little.

I think it is clear this is why there is a group who see bigotry as only the obvious – racism is a man yelling a slur, homophobia is banning marriage rights. It is harder for them to see how it can be generation after generation creating a situation where the unconcious idea of a worthy person has the mannerism, tastes, accents – and so on – of a narrow selection of people. They can’t see that if this supposed meritocracy¹ just so happens to predominately favour the group of people who have always been in charge then maybe they are the group who rigged the game.

When you grow up in an environment where it is hard to fail completely, and where when you do that failure is often a result of some catostrophic mistake or horrific piece of bad luck then it becomes easier for your sense of self to project that it is the same for others. That every success is the result of their hard work and that if others just stopped complaining and tried more we’d be past “all this”. The more overlapping a persons identities are with those which aren’t upheld by the system, the more it seems that they “play the victim”.

We all have this thinking to a greater or lesser extent if we don’t catch ourselves – the more privileged we are the more we must take it on faith when someone tells us their experiences. That gathering to protest injustice is a legitimate pro-community reason to break social distancing while gathering for a party is not.

Back in the pre-2013 Snowden relevation world I remember being on the other side of this. Having numerous white British people view my knowledge that there was a global surviellance programme in collaboration with the Five Eyes powers – a knowledge shared by so many around me growing up that it was backround noise – as conspiracy thinking and the results of some racial and cultural paranoia. It surprises people I tell this to now, who are all on board with the idea that the CIA read emails how hostile people were to this idea back then. I was told that Western powers would naturally only do this on occasions where they would get warrants, that there would be no increased targetting of people from specific (particularly Muslim) backgrounds because the UK government was obviously restrained by the rule of law.

My nationality data dashboard project² highlighted a small fraction of that gulf – some people were surprised by how frequent people challenge my identity, whilst others commiserated with me on the basis of similar experience.

Clearly I don’t have all the answers – I am a researcher by trade. However the older I get the more I think it is pertinent that I have more open public conversations about these issues drawing from my areas of expertise. It means more data projects, more blogs, and continuing to work on some other items I have put off for a while, unsure of the need for them. And perhaps most importantly it means that if you would like a chat, then I am here.

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Notes

  1. Meritocracy is a faulty concept in the first place. One of the main ones I have issue with it is that, aside from the fact that you can’t divorce so-called aptitude from the ways in which we can pass down benefits to our children via our status in society, in a lot of ways it ties your value as a human being to your capitalist productivity. Nobody is talking about a setting up a meritocracy based on advancing joy and it seems to be a backdoor way of justifying social inequality.
  2. The nationality dashboard project was borne out of the frustration of constantly battling the question “but where are you really from?”. It’s a question that many people, particularly BAME people know too well. And underneath it is the sinister implication that you are not really part of “us”.
Categories
Personal Writing

What Rushaa Did Next

It has been a while since I last wrote, and I wanted to address my hiatus and also announce that my posts in the future may continue to be incredibly sporadic, but for good reason.

Currently I am working on special projects for a political market research firm, developing new techniques to better capture minority populations within the U.K. (with particular emphasis on faith and ethnicity), on top of other complex research work.

It is interesting and challenging work which allows me to use my specialist knowledge; it also means I do not have as much time to dedicate to this blog.

It is possible in the future I might occasionally post (if something incredibly fascinating arises), but for now this exists as a monument to my past and the perspectives I had back then – some still true, some changed since.

 

Categories
Personal Writing Resolutions

The Year of Consequence (and 2018, the Year to Come)

Someone recently said to me that 2017 wasn’t actually the year that everything went haywire – that was the year before. 2017 is the year we had to live with the tumultuous votes we made before it started. And, like with the realm of politics, for me 2017 has also been the year of decisions coming home to roost.

The consequences of 2016 linger. Both the good and bad have set the world on a course I’m not sure I can fully appreciate just yet. 2018 will perhaps be the climatic third act, the soothing of the horrors, where we recognise the error of our ways. The pessimist in me says that things always continue much the same, sometimes better, generally worse, and relying on fables of how things ought to turn out is really an excuse to not try too hard to change anything.

For myself, the consequences of 2016 have manifested in a way that makes 2018 feel like the ‘make it or break it year’. In March I applied to my Masters course – now I have an M.A. in Politics and Society and the beginnings of another language. My elegant new fuck-it attitude, inspired by spectacularly and permanently breaking up a close friendship due to an email in November 2016, meant I pursued a meaningful thesis topic rather than something bland and easier to sell to relatives. I ummed and ahhed over it, until my thesis supervisor simply said “Rushaa, you know what you want to do” and that was enough permission to throw myself into something I consider one of the best pieces of work I’ve ever written.

For so long consequence and failure seemed synonyms in my mind. Consequence has such a gravity to it that I could only envision it as something I did ending badly. I spent a lot of my time and energy dealing with an impostor syndrome that permeated every inch of my life. My anxieties of not being good enough have roots in many places; I tend to find it hard to trust that those close to me aren’t lying that I have talent. This is partially why I enjoy and thrive in academic spaces, as praise there seems more legitimate.

This is perhaps also why 2017 and dealing with what it caused, failures included, has been so good for me. Fuck-it attitudes work out temporarily, but it can’t be denied that they’re also deeply tied to the idea that you’re not actually valuable enough to need to worry about the consequences. These past few months I’ve been looking over the small choices I made in 2016 that have been positive, and then picking others to make now in order to best set 2018 up as a year where I can continue trying to accept appreciation without greeting it with scepticism.

Achievements in a capitalist system are always so tied to production that it can be hard to recognise internal growth as a success in itself. Status is earned in how many pounds we pull in, and how many people know our name. I am not saying I am now immune to this (far from it – I have been feeling stagnant because I am missing that social validation from a monthly salary) but I want to give space to feel proud of how different I’ve become and how willing I am to be weak, vulnerable, and most importantly let myself risk feeling resented or pitied for the chance to articulate my feelings.

The first post I ever wrote for this blog was supposed to change everything. It was freshly 2015 and I wanted to do something great with my life, aware that much of that motivation stemmed from a desire for external praise. The next year I was tempered, coming to the conclusion that life is actually about the minutiae of changes you make day-to-day that gradually lead to a wholesale transformation. Last year I just wanted to deal with political chaos by helping others and pretend that I didn’t also need help myself.

2018 will be about carrying a new confidence built from internal validation. I know that it will be messy but I am hoping that – just as 2016’s impact still lingers – my intentional interventions will reverberate across next year.

 

Categories
Personal Writing

Learning to be Uncomfortable with Silence

The luxury of choosing your level of visibility is a privilege. Groups not in power are forced into hypervisibility and hyperinvisibility. You are one of a teeming mass of people who are all viewed in the same two-dimensional way. Someone to be skipped over in terms of representation within prominent and powerful groups whilst focused on when the news reports look at the latest threats. Someone to be spoken about but never with.

It’s why more of us have started caring about fights that have been around for ages, looking fondly back on the past few decades with a romantic view when for a lot of people this is just more of the same. This is the crux, that now other people are being made permanently visible, not as individuals with complex histories but as targets. It’s not that ethnonationalism has come to Europe or the USA, but that more of the population are declaring their sentiments out loud instead of just with their actions. And that when you say it out loud you finally see they are after you as well.

I think that scares people. That we who have generally been fortunate enough to avoid many types of prejudice are now being made very aware of our complicity and our vulnerability as well. And a lot of people want to approach this as if only removing certain people or parties would cure the problem and then we can all pretend once again that nothing is really that bad.

It’s the same moment of realisation that I began to have after 9/11 and I was suddenly aware that the shape of my life in the West would be greatly influenced by my surname, regardless of who I was as a human being. I was visible in a way I didn’t want to be.

In my day-to-day life on the street I am still fortunate enough to be able to have the option of flitting between being seen and unseen as who I actually am (and not just limited to ethnic background). Yet I know it’s still there, underneath everything, waiting for the moment when I am revealed and waiting to see how that will then change things. That’s what scares me about some people – that they will never choose to see this truth that lies at the roots of our society, and instead bigotry is explained away as just a veneer for other frustrations that are supposedly actually economic or class-based in nature.

The past few decades weren’t perfect. They contain moments where we saw divisions, insecurities with identities, and just moved on as if life is static. Now we are in a position where we have to be grateful we still have the ability to be fighting fires.

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I am always slow to speak. I try to measure my words and uncomplicate everything before I make a move and that in itself is a bad habit that has left me behind the starting gate well after a race is over too many times. Sometimes it is the fear of making a mistake, of misreading a look, or of claiming something that turns out to be only half-remembered. Hesitation in these cases is a false relief – in the moment I can pretend to be perfect in my argument or desires, but always at the expense of never being passionate enough.

I am working on teasing out these complexities, and over the past year I’ve spoken things I would have resisted before. As a reward I’ve had some pain but also the clarity that comes with pain. You forget that, staying out of the fray, about how pain can be positive, that it can be a sign that you’ve identified a problem and are now an inch closer to healing.

It is Audre Lorde herself who condenses this realisation that silence is the greater regret. That is the truth, that I have “betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words.” That I have been hoping to one day produce something perfect and unquestionable and speak truth to power in a way that no-one will shame me for it.

What I am truly scared of is not the AfD gains, or the slow drift of Brexit, but that I still won’t quite have figured out how best to speak – both personally and in activist terms – without having that betrayal of a moment where I linger too long to collect my thoughts, where I smooth the terms so they are somehow “more acceptable” because it is always “more acceptable” to disguise what you really feel. That I will not be able to overcome the training I have had since childhood to be respectful and quiet and not jeopardise a simpler path to success as defined by a capitalist world.

My identity in many ways has been why I’ve stayed quiet for so long, even though I have many insightful and intelligent points to make. It’s made me vulnerable and through speaking I fear I unveil too much of it and my principles, and that they can be used in turn to attack me. I want to write honestly but each time I begin I find myself weighing up the impact on others and what cost their disappointment or shame might bring me.

Yet as Lorde says; “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”

The M.A. thesis I wrote, for which I got 80%, looked at the complexities of identity for queer British Muslims after 9/11 and its shaping by the political-social context of Islamophobia. It was rewarding to explore and to help expand a new area of research. Years ago I would have resisted taking this up, torn about what others would say, but also torn about whether this was a safe option in terms of advancing my professional career. When you have the luxury of choosing your visibility you can become seduced by the ease of being indistinguishable from others.

What I’ve realised with this sweep of ethnonationalist visibility is that fundamentally identity can no longer be denied the importance that it has in the mainstream. The idea that niche communities are not worthy of proper study is a side effect of these insidiously oppressive systems that we’ve normalised. Rather they are essential to understand; to see how identity is shaped on every level is to actually see society for what it is. And to remove those silences and push those areas forcibly kept in the dark into the mainstream is to improve society through confronting the ugly side of it.

It is hard to pull away from the privilege of getting to stay hidden. Of having the ability to keep the peace by being quiet. And even when the issue is just a personal one, and the cost only my own personal regret I still know I will not improve overnight. Yet I can grow more, forgive myself when I falter, and strive to do what I can to pull other voices up too. Shame and fear don’t have to be guiding directions in my life more than whatever power I give to them.

Categories
Media Analysis

The Importance of Doctor Who

My youngest brothers’ first exposure to a queer character in television was through Doctor Who’s Captain Jack. When you are eight (or really any age) Captain Jack is the archetype of complete cool that you are always striving to achieve; witty, brave, ridiculously charming, and has a gun. So when you see that that character “dances with everyone” it tells you that there’s nothing weird or wrong about queerness. And when, a few days later, you go to school and find your friends using homophobic language as one brother did, you tell them to stop because you know that people should never be a target for hate.

That’s the impact that a great show can have.

The recent announcement that Doctor number 13 will be played by Jodie Whittaker has had predictable reactions. To some this is the worst case of pandering. To others it is about time. But in reality it is just another form of the Doctor, and in some ways that is the most significant part. Because removed from all the adult conversations, all children will see is the central character of a show they eagerly watch simply looking different yet again but still going on the same adventures with the same balance of coolness and nerdiness that we’ve all grown to love. It’s that normalcy that made Captain Jack so important, and it will be the same again when the Doctor leads an army, saves the world, or refers to her wife in the seasons to come.

Doctor Who teaches morals. It highlights that sometimes it is worth risking danger to you and those around you for a greater cause. It shows that even genius is not infallible and that we all have a part to play in improving our situations. It tells children that you must have hope that people as a whole can be good in the end, and that though there are bad things in the world it is important to love and protect one another as best you can.

The wider world is a cynical one. It’s one that makes us forget these rules in favour of a more utilitarian bend. Yet the idealism of Doctor Who is what draws us in, and what makes these inclusions so important because it reinforces the humanity of groups who haven’t historically fared so well. The recent companion of Bill, a gay, black woman who unabashedly has crushes and has to rebuff interested men helps with this normalisation. Adding a Doctor whose gender in our eyes has shifted builds up not only what women can do in society’s eyes, but makes conversations around gender dynamics and the idea of a binary easier to have too.

Having a pop culture locus to discuss and represent difference shouldn’t be a marvel, but something ordinary. I’m looking forward to the next series of Doctor Who to take us a little bit closer towards this future.

Categories
Personal Writing

Reflections on my M.A.

Note: I found out in September 2017 that I graduated cum laude with a grade average of 8 (UK equivalent 1st class honours).

On the last day of June my M.A. thesis was handed in. The extra time that is suddenly available to me as I await final results means I have been able to have a period of reflection. In particular I have been looking back on the past year spent here in Maastricht, and how the Masters course I’ve been on (one that focuses on the intersections of politics and society) has helped to shape me into a better, more prepared person that I was before.

The question of why I chose to do a Masters in Politics, and on top of that why I chose to do a Masters abroad comes up a fair amount. There are a large variety of reasons behind both, but they end up boiling down to two simple concepts; 1) I enjoy it so wanted to do more of it, and 2) I think it is important to constantly expose yourself to new experiences in order to be challenged and grow.

Politics fundamentally is about how people relate to power, and is something that I have always loved to delve into. It’s quite funny how much I enjoy it considering that until university I hadn’t formally studied it, and only did so because I made a spur of the moment decision in my last years of high school to put that down in my university guidance session instead of what I had always assumed would be my final choice of either History or English Literature. Still I had helped set up and run the Model United Nations programme in Sudan so it couldn’t be said to be a complete surprise.

As for doing a Masters specifically, I am an academically inclined person so it made sense to build on my B.A. and expand my focus to the societies that I currently live in, rather than just looking to Africa and the Middle East. In particular niche topics are where I excel, and Masters gives you opportunities to tease out these areas far more whilst training you in effective research methods. Indeed research for my thesis has been very rewarding as I made the (slightly masochistic) choice to conduct in-depth qualitative interviews which was incredibly complicated and difficult work, especially the transcriptions, but also enabled me to discover new information that doesn’t really exist out in the academic sphere, rather than just interpreting something that may have been looked over a hundred times.

That being said just because I enjoy the mechanics does not mean I’m not deeply concerned with where we are heading as a planet collectively.

 

The second of the two responses though is something that is far less individualistic as an answer. In general I find that British people have a reputation internationally for rarely leaving the comfort zone of the UK – sometimes even building mini British neighbourhoods in foreign lands – and never properly immersing in other cultures or languages (something quite interesting to note considering the vast legacy of empire). Sometimes this is for reasons out of an individual’s control, but in my case there weren’t these limiting factors so it made sense to step outside the bubble.

Both immigration debates and those around Brexit tend to be framed in an ‘us against the world’ way which really encapsulates this tendency. Even those wanting more co-operation emphasise an idea of British exceptionalism and superiority, rather than just slight cultural difference. Saying that you should participate in the world because you can lead the world doesn’t separate enough from the attitude of empire, nor does it encourage trying to understand others since if you’re at the top of the heap what can they offer to teach you?

Even in my case, being aware enough to have not considered any UK universities for my Masters, I have found that my horizons initially were not as broad as they should have been. When I arrived I was constantly exposed to conversations which didn’t centre UK politics (or Sudanese politics for that matter) since it was generally not the most relevant thing to day-to-day life. This was especially exaggerated by having an international group of friends who also wanted to discuss their own country’s situations.

Had I stayed in the UK it would be highly unlikely that I would have learnt about the similarities and differences of Finland’s left-wing Greens and the right-wing nationalist Finns Party, or how asylum policy and integration are constructed in the Netherlands, or about the interplay of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik and Orbán (and also the interesting detail that their name is a pun meaning both the “better choice” and “most to the right”). All these give you far more insight into politics not only on an international level, but also a national one as you can see general trends and how certain movements have played out in other contexts. I’m a better analyst of politics because of it.

Reflecting on this past year has really reinforced those two initial reasons for leaving in the first place. I have produced an M.A. thesis I put months of hard work into and I am very proud of all of the extra effort I went to to bring in new primary sources in order to produce something I feel is reflective of my ability. I have branched out further, know more about other small nations I would not have studied on my own free time, and I also now have certifications in elementary Dutch.

The next step is one that I’m not sure 100% which direction it will take me in. Yet I know that I will build on this degree, continue to engage with these political issues throughout the coming years, and take the new knowledge I have discovered with me when I do so.

Categories
General Politics U.K. Politics

Marginal No More; Reflections on the 2017 UK General Election and Polling

I was supposed to have voted yesterday in a high priority Tory-target marginal. Instead I voted yesterday as part of a majority of over 13,000. I watched as seat after seat was moved from a Labour held marginal to a Labour majority; from a Labour target marginal to a Labour gain; from a Conservative safe seat to a Conservative held marginal including seats held by prominent ministers, and in particular the case of Canterbury moving from a very safe Conservative hold to a shock Labour gain. Something big happened – in the short election campaign leftist messages cut through a hostile press, and voting turnout was up, especially amongst an engaged Corbyn-loving youth.

I was not expecting such a positive swell, even being the most optimistic of my friends. I entered the election hoping that there would be a pump in the Labour vote from 18-24 year olds yet ultimately believed that the parties would stay at roughly the same level, switching a few seats between them but with no substantial change. I did not think Corbyn would alienate Labour seats, but suspected he may not win over many people outside these areas. Still I appreciated politics done from a position of principle over likeability and thought that it was unfortunate that Labour’s internal politics had likely done some damage.

Having done work with Survation, and so knowing how they conduct their interviewing and knowing their 2015 fatal decision to not release their last “rogue” poll, I did not react with complete dismissal to their polling or final call like some. However I was nervous about whether the clear boost they were showing would actually transfer into reality and flipped seats. Instead of having more trust that the result could be better than I anticipated, I fell into the cynical trap of assuming hope always equals a profound naivety.

It’s a huge problem on the left, but also just with politics in general the we think optimism is the sign of stupidity. We don’t want to get hurt and then mocked for thinking the future is a great place. To enable us to put on an intellectual veneer we act as if banality is common sense, and as if common sense is the supreme dictator of how politics works. Our logic says that if Corbyn is passionate and states more divisive positions he can’t be electable, ergo there will be a Tory supermajority, ergo everyone who says otherwise is a deluded fanboy.

Survation’s bet was an intriguing one – they knew they messed up last time and decided to stake their reputation on what seemed to be the one huge outlier of all the polling organisations, having changed very little overall in their polling methodology since 2015. Unlike YouGov whose tweaking lead to them wavering in their final poll back to a prediction of a 7% Conservative lead, Survation called the hung parliament. It suggests that what happened in 2015, aside from some places suppressing polls that didn’t fit the general trend, was one of analysis. Rather than assuming that people’s views were in flux, we assume the polls were just plain wrong. It is entirely possible that every poll from 2015 was an accurate picture of a nation that changed its mind. With Brexit the margins were so narrow that pundits calling it for Remain was generally down to the “common-sense” assumption that referenda will always favour the status quo. In effect this general election people were picking the most “common-sense” option and then assessing the validity of the polls based on what would lead to that answer.

If this election shows anything, it is that cynical posturing no longer applies. Hope is not utopian, and if we have a fear of appearing naive then our problem is a lack of imagination. People don’t want a country where there is no true opposition, and are willing to transform themselves into voters when given a party that can offer them that coupled with a strong chance at creating a large parliamentary group. The opportunities now that we can see politics is no longer a game of just appealing with bland centrism to a sliver of floating voters are ones I relish. I was wrong to be so fatalistic this election; next time I’ll try to be better.

Categories
European Politics General Politics Political Debate U.K. Politics

An Election Abroad: GE2017

This year I get the particular privilege of organising my general election vote via proxy as my Masters thesis means there will not be time to go back to London to cast it in person. The functioning of a proxy has amused a lot of my colleagues, many hailing from countries where you simply go and vote in your embassy, who find it a hard concept that you would trust someone else with your ballot. Fortunately I do have trust in my proxy – it is the broader public that I worry about making their own choices in the polling booth.

Watching your country’s election from abroad is an interesting experience. So much of the minutiae of campaigning is lost, – no flyers stuffed through letterboxes or vote canvassers – you only get the headline news. This, coupled with late night viewings of the debates, has given me a surface view of what is happening without the fluff that tends to go with it.

As a result the stuff which cuts through generates more intrigue since you feel more assured that this is likely the same messages that are reaching those who don’t really follow politics on a daily basis. Unfortunately the dominant message the past few weeks has been pushing out is one of fear, and of the need for more securitisation which over time will help to erode a lot of the liberties I think are vital for us to continue to grow into a proper democracy.

It is no secret that I will be voting for Labour. I want priorities to be focused on the NHS, on a Brexit that does not alienate us from Europe, and I want governments that are committed to a more equitable distribution of wealth and the privileges that a lot of us, including myself, take for granted. Combating extremism requires a more holistic approach than just treating symptoms, and part of that is creating a society where everyone feels like a valued member able to succeed within its bounds.

This is not to say I am an uncritical voter, even with the change in leadership since my last discussion on voting for the least wrong lizard in the race. As it stands the mess of both the PLP and the Leadership these past few years has just continued my disappointment in Labour. Labour are the party I desperately want to love, and instead I’ve consistently found myself just viewing them as the best of the bad lot as a result of their inability to put aside petty differences and work to create a cohesive impression, especially at politically opportune times. Their policies, especially on universalism, align to a large degree with my own beliefs but I continue to have doubts on the ability of everyone there to carry them out.

Sitting down to watch the debates has cheered me a little. For once we had demonstration that there would be a strong defence of positions. When Corbyn answers a business owner who queried Labour over rises to minimum wage and taxes on private schools he appeals to the importance of tax funding to support the broader society, the needs of low income workers and the priority of caring for one’s neighbour over individualism. This is a significant departure from most politician’s tendency when posed difficult questions to just opt for the safety of “the customer is always right”, never wanting to be seen telling a member of the public that they have a full ideological disagreement.

For voters in a lot of areas Labour are the party that will offer meaningful change focused in a positive direction. Ultimately it becomes the first step to a reformed system, included a reformed voting system, that we desperately need. It’s an unfortunate truth that in our political system the link between your vote and impact is quite tenuous. Move a few streets one way and you might go from being one of an 8,000 lead to a crucial decision maker in a marginal constituency where a win was a mere 27 votes. I am fortunate that my vote is in a more significant constituency where I feel that I can actually shape the course of the next parliament.

So now we are here, waiting to find out which polling companies adjustments (or lack thereof) are the most suited to this moment in time. Whatever happens though I am content with my choices and the values I defend. If you share these values make sure you vote in defence of them too.