Will systemic reform be driven by grief?
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I know grief. I’ve grieved for a much-loved husband and a wonderful mother.
I’ve been through the depths of it. I’m familiar with the hollow, empty feeling followed by the swells of emotion – the despair, the anger, the hope, the fear, the utter devastation. And now I’m grieving not for a person, but for my country, my party, my friends and colleagues – those who have lost jobs and hundreds of great people who failed to win new ones.
People who have given their all over the last few weeks in the dark, rain and cold to spread a message of hope, tolerance and inclusivity and to try and convince people that there is another way. A better way to do government and politics.
We failed, and the recriminations are many. I hear from across our party that we made poor decisions, we should have done everything to avoid an election in the first place, our revoke policy was to blame and our leader should have worn a jacket. Really.
There is some truth in that – well some of it anyway – and I know the inquiry will be thorough and heartfelt. We will ask searching questions and we will try and find answers. As a party. We don’t shy away from scrutiny, and Jo’s performance throughout the election campaign is clear evidence of that.
Everyone involved in our party’s electoral campaign will be asked to contribute – from those who delivered a few leaflets to those who put their lives on hold for six tough weeks to try and get elected. And we won’t all agree – Lib Dems are famed for that. But we will listen, and reflect, and try and learn from our mistakes.
In six seats we were less than 1,000 votes from winning. Those six wouldn’t have changed the course of history, but they’d have reduced Boris’ majority by 12 if we’d got over the line.
In truth, nothing short of a miracle would have enabled us to make enough gains on the night to make up for the massive losses suffered by Labour, even in its most traditional heartlands.
But for me, the saddest result of a brutal election night was that our vote share increased by more than any other party. It went up by 4.2% overall, and in some places saw spectacular gains of over 20%.
We won 1.2 million more votes than in 2017 but lost an MP. The Tories, on the other hand, added just 1% to their vote tally, and won a majority of 80 that gives them carte blanche to do whatever they like in government.
43.6% of voters voted for the Conservatives. 2% for the Brexit Party.
54.4% of the country voted for parties that do not want to “ get Brexit done”, that do not want to rip us away from this family of nations that has given us security, peace, freedom of movement and economic growth.
If we dare hark back to the referendum of 2016, more people voted against Brexit last week than voted for it in 2016, a result that tallies with all the polls that have come out for two years or more. But our system doesn’t care.
Our democracy is broken and I for one don’t see how we can make the real, substantive change our country needs until we fix this one fundamental flaw.
How can it be right that the whole of Cornwall, for example, is again represented by six Conservative MPs? As if no other voice matters, or counts. (PR would have given Cornwall 4 Tories, one Labour and one Lib Dem MP. Arguably people also might vote differently under a fair system and that tally could swing even further.)
We need systemic change.
We need to give people their voice.
We need a movement that resembles that of the suffragettes to overturn our archaic and not fit-for-purpose electoral system that can entrench a minority government in power for years on end.
The progressives failed appallingly last week. Caught up in arguing amongst themselves, they failed to take the fight to the Tories.
Because in our winner takes all system cooperation is not what we do. Coalition is a dirty word (don’t we know it). And to the winner, the spoils is all that matters.
We have to grow up. We have to show the same maturity that politicians in the European Parliament do, by constructively working together – even with people who have fundamentally different ideologies.
We have to learn to negotiate, to learn from each other and to be prepared to compromise.
It can be done and it must be done if the people we want to protect and nurture are to have any hope at all of surviving, let alone thriving.