Yesterday I bit my lip and voted Conservative for the first time ever in my life. I hadn’t really wanted to. I’d actually planned on not voting for the first time ever in my life.
And I didn’t bother to stay up last night to follow the election results come in. I wasn’t that interested. Whoever won, the Global War on Smokers would continue. So what did it matter to me?
Even when I woke up this morning, I wasn’t dying to know what the result was. I had my usual mug of tea, and my usual cigarette, and contemplated the odd thought that many Americans would probably have learned what the result of the UK election was before most of us sleeping Brits did.
One of the last things I read last night was a piece by political pundit Iain Dale:
My new prediction is… a Conservative majority of 122.
And as I was reading it, I thought that he undoubtedly knew far more about it all than I did about it all. My own guess was that the Conservatives would increase their majority very slightly, to about 30 or 40. But what did I know?
The actual result, as I eventually found out this morning when I turned on the computer, was a hung parliament. That was the result that was expected last time, when the Conservatives won a small majority.
What does it mean?
My first thought was that there are no experts. And that I should have known that already. Iain Dale had been spectacularly wrong. My guess had been way better than his. And yet it had been way wrong too.
My second thought was that we’re living in a politically volatile era. And in such volatile times people are being pushed and pulled every which way by strong forces. They keep changing their minds. They become unpredictable.
I don’t have to look very far to observe the unpredictability. I can see it in myself. I’m a case study in political unpredictability. For 35 years I was a completely predictable voter: I voted Liberal Democrat. I voted that way because I liked what was written on the tin: Liberal and Democrat. If there had been a Nice and Easy party, I would have voted for them. I only stopped voting Lib Dem when 95% of Lib Dem MPs voted, illiberally and undemocratically, to exile smokers like me to the outdoors. Since then my vote has been up for grabs. And for the past 10 years I’ve voted UKIP, because they’ve been the only party to have spoken up for smokers like me. In fact, it now seems it was really only Nigel Farage who was speaking up for smokers like him and me. For now that he’s no longer UKIP leader, UKIP have dropped their manifesto pledge for smoking rooms in pubs. So a few weeks ago I decided not to vote for anybody. It took narrowing polls and terrorism to induce me to vote Conservative yesterday. I voted for what I saw as the least worst party. So over the past month I’ve moved from being a UKIP voter to a non-voter and finally to a Conservative-voter on the day. How much more volatile can you get?
Theresa May made a wrong prediction too. She thought that the 20% lead that the Conservatives were enjoying in the opinion polls would translate into a strong Conservative majority in parliament. But the 20% lead dissolved like a mirage in the desert. And now she’s lost the slim majority she had. She hasn’t realised how volatile the electorate actually are. She was no more of a political expert than Iain Dale was.
It’s no different anywhere else in Europe or the USA or anywhere else in the world. We’re living in a rapidly changing world. And an unpredictable world, Thirty years or so ago we lived in a predictable, almost-unchanging world. That was the Cold War era, when the political map of the world was frozen solid. But now that the ice has melted, the ice is on the move everywhere. There may not be any Global Warming in the physical world, but there sure has been political Global Warming. Everywhere the frozen borders have started to open up alarming cracks and crevasses. Here in the UK the frozen borders between England and Wales and Scotland have opened up slightly. The same is happening all over Europe, just like it did in eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union. And people are being pulled this way and that, like penguins on the moving and fracturing ice floes.
Someone like me has a lot of identities. I’m English and British and European, born of Irish and Welsh and Scilly Isles parental families. I’m historically Roman Catholic, and a Christian. I’m classically liberal. I have an engineering university education (something I’ve only recently realised has had an enormous influence on me: Idle Theory is the product of a Bristol University science and engineering education). I was a pot-smoking hippie. And a Rolling Stones fan. And I’m white and male and over 65. Above all, these days, I’m a smoker – because this is what has framed my identity the most strongly over the past 10 years.
Everyone has a whole bunch of identities. And in everybody those identities are jostling with each other, pushing and pulling them in different directions. Perhaps in places like Syria or Iraq it’s a religious identity that becomes foremost, and Islamic fundamentalism is simply an Islamic identity restated and amplified when other identities weaken, and, for example, people stop regarding themselves as Syrian or Iraqi because these countries have effectively ceased to exist. A similar thing has happened with me, and my predominant identity as Smoker: it formed no part of my identity 10 years ago.
What will Britain’s hung parliament mean? I have no idea. Most likely another election in a few months time, when all the volatile dice will be given another roll.