Last night, here in the UK, two by-elections were held and to say they were revealing is an understatement.
In one, Labour was run second by UKIP, who won 25% of the vote despite having a Trumpesque candidate whose entire biography contained barely one word of truth except for that he spelled his own name correctly.
That was in Stoke, where the Tory vote and the UKIP vote combined would have been enough to bring a win for one or the other had the two parties behaved with a little more tactical foresight.
Numerically, statistically, it saw a rightward vote shift that was even greater than in the other seat, in Copeland, which Labour lost to the Tories, the first time an opposition party has actually lost a seat during a by-election in decades.
Political journalists, psephologists, pollsters and other experts are united in their view that part of the blame for this lies with Corbyn; undoubtedly that’s true. Some are saying it’s a symptom of the crazy political climate in which we’re living, and undoubtedly that’s true as well. But few if any have had the courage to speak an unpalatable truth, the one that is so divisive it dare not be uttered by anyone in the mainstream. It’s this;
A lot of the voters in this country are appallingly ignorant, or too stone stupid to vote with anything like a real awareness of what they are doing.
Blame for that stretches in a multitude of directions.
There are clearly educational factors which play into it.
There are clearly party political factors.
There are issues around tribalism.
Without dispute some of the blame must fall on the media, for the way their portrayal of modern politics and politicians have created loathsome conditions wherein some political ideas get a hearing and others don’t and where the simplification of matters of enormous complexity is so pervasive that a referendum on something as important as membership of the EU can be won or lost on simple minded slogans like “take back control.”
Polling companies and PR firms tell parties that voters “understand” simple things like that; except they don’t, and these people know full well they don’t.
Some parts of the electorate reads a slogan like that without the first clue about EU regulations, their impact on this country, the positives (or even the negatives) of EU membership and project onto that slogan their own prejudices and narrow viewpoint.
It becomes whatever they want it to be, and getting the modern electorate to vote on that basis appears to be as easy as herding sheep.
The voters of Copeland, an overwhelmingly working class area, and one facing a major crisis in the local NHS, just voter for a Tory MP.
It’s an area with a high portion of Leave voters.
That, on its own, is a blinking red light.
We’re told some of them voted here on that basis, and you have to marvel at that, about the kind of voter who goes to the ballot box to relitigate a debate that’s already been had, already been won, who’s result is accepted by the Labour leader, in an election about local issues, and votes as if it were a referendum re-run.
That is ignorance writ large, and there’s simply nothing any Labour Party leader, from whichever wing or grouping, could have done to change that.
UKIP’s share of the vote in Stoke, in spite of the toxic cloud that drifted above its leader for the whole of the campaign, is highly suggestive of a similar disconnect or intellectual deficit in the voters.
When some there were asked to give their views on Nuttall a lot of them responded by saying they thought he was being treated unfairly by the media and that some of it was “fake news”, a term that’s now so “out there” ignorant people are using it as a convenient shield to dismiss anything, no matter how grounded in facts or reality it might be, with which they disagree.
Again, there is no party political leader of any shade or stripe who can get past that sort of entrenched ignorance.
That’s become part of the process now, and dealing with it isn’t even remotely possible when the only agency capable of tackling it – the media itself – is so partisan that it will lie, defame, undermine and even destroy anyone who breaks with the orthodoxy. They have helped created the conditions in which chaos thrives and even if their industry wanted to break this new paradigm I don’t think they’d know how.
You know, it may well be that David Cameron was a better man than he seemed to those of us on the left who loathed his politics.
He knew that the EU referendum was madness but he was bounced into it to appease his own backbenchers.
He campaigned against it, and told the electorate some of the hard truths about what it would mean.
When that vote was lost he walked. Simple as that.
He knew ignorance had triumphed, that the result was a fraud, but that with the public’s embrace of that his own mandate had expired.
Others rushed to an embrace of that decision – in the full knowledge of how ridiculous it was and is – with a haste that is almost indecent.
Of the Westminster parties, only two of the large ones appear determined to halt the slide towards Brexit; one of them is the SNP and the other is the Lib Dems. Tim Farron has impressed people enormously during the last six or seven months; he is willing to tackle this travesty head-on in the knowledge that it will be hugely costly.
A handful of Labour MP’s have also taken up the mantle of fighting for EU membership, some of them in the full knowledge that it will have political consequences for them, and I applaud them at least for being willing to brave that.
Because the electorate has never been this fractured or clueless.
It has never been this self-harming or susceptible to simple-minded slogans and half baked ideas.
It has never been quite so ignorant of political issues or content in its own bigotry.
We are told we have to respect “the will of the people.”
This is much like that which you sometimes hear on those radio talk-shows where “it’s all about opinions”, as if every opinion had the same weight, the same underpinning, the same reliance on evidence and reason. But we know better. We know some opinions aren’t worth paying attention to and that others are actively dangerous. People ascribe a respect to voters that many of them, frankly, don’t deserve.
Those in Copeland who voted for a Tory because they saw this as a referendum on Europe, or on Jeremy Corbyn, or in trust in the media … embrace what it is that you’ve done. Own it. Accept it. Don’t even, any longer, try to actually understand it.
This wasn’t about Europe.
This wasn’t about Jeremy Corbyn.
Even if voters there hate the man (and some won’t have a clue that they do because the media told them they should), this was a by election about local issues and anyone who didn’t grasp that ought to have stayed away from the ballot box entirely. This was about electing a local MP to fight public service cuts; instead they’ve elected someone who’ll vote them through without a second thought.
I can’t even start to understand that, and it doesn’t matter today because the damage is done anyway.
For the next three years, the people who did it – the voters of Copeland themselves – deserve everything they get.
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