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Thursday 14 November 2019

General election 2019

Our election diary: Week 2

From Bristol to Belfast, eight brave Tortoise members share their views on the campaign so far

Throughout Britain’s election campaign, a number of brave Tortoise members – from across the country and the political spectrum – will share their thoughts about how it’s all unfolding. Here’s the second week of their collective diary. The first week, which also contains fuller introductions to each of the members, can be found here.

Lydia, Belfast

The stakes are sky high for Northern Ireland this election, but the parties’ tactics aren’t impressing Lydia – less choice amounts to less democracy (and potentially less Christmas shopping).

“Parties in Northern Ireland are being very tactical about where they are running candidates in order to upset Brexit. Some constituencies will be left with less choice than usual as they are forced to vote tactically. In North Belfast, the SDLP are not running a candidate for the first time, which leaves voters with the choice of DUP (a vote for Brexit and Unionism) or Sinn Fein (who won’t take their seats and a vote for a United Ireland).

Traders in Strabane in the north west have called for there to be no party posters in the shopping area because it will ruin the Christmas feeling.”

Piyush, Manchester

We’ve heard a lot about this being the ‘social media’ election, but, in Manchester Withington, Labour member Piyush was initially thrilled by a groundswell of on-the-ground support.

“I’ve been added to a zillion Whatsapp groups organising car pools of Labour door knockers from Manchester to nearby marginals. I was worried I’d come across as a haughty middle-class prick telling people what to do if I went canvassing somewhere I have no connection to, so I’m focusing my energies on Bolton West because I used to work there. When I turned up on Sunday morning, 200 people were there. Many were not even Labour members, but stalwarts of other left-wing campaigns. The organisers didn’t know what to do. The previous week there’d been three.

This is what opinion polls do not capture: the snowballing, self-feeding excitement of people who’ve come out onto the streets for whatever reason. For me, it was fear. The fear transformed to excitement when I saw how many people there were, then hope. People were using that nervous energy. There was something approaching euphoria as we awaited instructions from the Bolton West Labour candidate, Julie Hilling.

My euphoria faded somewhat when we started knocking on doors.”

Mike, Tyne and Wear

In the North-East constituency of Blaydon, formerly held by Labour’s Liz Twist, Mike is also keeping an eye on the smaller parties’ tactics.

“It was interesting to see Jo Swinson making a determined pitch at women voters: talking about being a female Prime Minister and being surrounded by women colleagues for the media opportunity to talk about ITV excluding her from a live debate.

And Mr Farage. Much of the media focus in the first week has been about his judgement (or lack of it) with his decision to fight every seat unless the Conservatives do a deal with him, and the possibility of splitting the Leave vote. I think the pact/non-pact will be one of the most interesting stories in the coming week.”

Janet, Edinburgh

In Edinburgh, unequivocal Remainer Janet is rather more equivocal about the prospect of another Indyref.

“My sitting Westminster MP is SNP. But the SNP are already claiming that strong support for them in the general election will legitimise their claim for a second Indyref. And here’s the rub: I’m a Remainer, but not pro independence. The dreadful state of politics in England, the ugly strains of English nationalism given legitimacy by the Brexit debate, years of Tory demonisation of the poor, and now Brexit, have all given me pause for thought. But I’m not there yet. I don’t want my vote for the SNP to be interpreted as a vote for an independent Scotland.”

Joel, Bristol

In Bristol West, Joel is thinking longer-term about what this election is already telling us about the fault lines in the voting system itself.

“My first thought is that, despite the various affiliations of the ‘Tortoise Eight’ (ha!), I sense we’re all feeling uneasy about the direction society is traveling in and a frustration that our voices are not being heard. We have to do something fundamental to reverse this trend. We need a ‘consensus politics’ with a longer time frame on issues that we must all care about (climate change, the NHS etc). It’s time for a deep breath, some acceptance that the ‘other side’ have a right to their view and to come together to move forwards.

Also, our voting system needs overhauling. When are we going to have some sort of digital voting system, possibly a requirement that everyone votes, perhaps with a financial incentive to do so? And perhaps time to think about whether we should refurbish Westminster, or build a more appropriately designed parliament somewhere?”

Paul, London

In north London, Leaver Paul is relishing the renewal that comes with the departure of so many political household names, and questions the media’s positioning of Boris Johnson.

“Perhaps controversially, I’ve rather enjoyed the first week of the campaign. Yes, it’s been chaotic and incoherent, but the clear out of deadwood MPs is very positive. I am shedding no tears over the departure of [the likes of] Hammond and Bercow, or, on the other side, Williamson and Vaz. Fresh blood is good for Parliament – we should celebrate the opportunity for new talent to arise. Term limits in the written constitution…? Yes, please.

The strangest trend so far is the liberal media reportage of the Conservatives as being ‘extreme’ or ‘hard right’. I just do not see it. Johnsonism is being defined as large and interventionist government, high spending, high taxation with a small dose of populism and some pragmatism around immigration. Combine this with a very soft form of Brexit via the new Withdrawal Agreement, and there’s absolutely nothing on the table from the Tories that looks extreme or right-wing. Indeed, their initial offer appears to owe more to Blairism than it does Thatcherism.”

Mwenya, London

In Chelsea, Mwenya has seen nothing mind-changing as yet, and is circumspect about any of this sorting out Brexit anyway.

“I’ve heard mainly short term, tactical approaches for managing Brexit, without a clear vision as to what comes next. Delivering Brexit has been as easy as solving a Rubik’s cube while blindfolded. Prime Minister Johnson will need to achieve a landslide victory to have a mandate, against a recent backdrop of coalition-led or hung parliaments. If Labour win, it’s unclear that a referendum will break the deadlock. What if the outcome is 51-49 in either direction? A slim majority does not feel like a mandate with such a divisive issue. If the Lib Dems win, how will they deal with the fallout from the Leave constituency and unify the country?

Meanwhile, nobody is talking about non-Brexit foreign policy and entrepreneurship. The Green Party has pledged to invest £100bn to tackle climate change, if elected. While it’s unlikely they will win, it is important to force discussion of serious climate investment in this campaign.”

Martha, London

For all the talk of this being an election like no other, student Martha is dismayed by all-too familiar rhetoric and frustrated by Jo Swinson.

“As someone worried by the way political polarisation is frustrating the youth vote, I’m disappointed but somewhat unsurprised by the shock-factor soundbites that have emerged in the first days of campaigning. The extreme words of politicians so far run the risk of inspiring a dangerous helplessness and apathy within a demographic that could make all the difference here.

I’m wanting to remove the Conservatives from power this year, so I’m troubled by the Liberal Democrats ruling out working with Corbyn’s Labour. I don’t agree with Jo Swinson that the two major parties ‘merge into one’ over Brexit; in fact, for me, the campaign so far has only seen Labour’s policy on the EU become clearer and more distinct.”

WDYT? We’ll be hearing from our member election diarists every week throughout the campaign. They’ll return next week with their reactions to what’s happened so far. If you’d like to add your voice to theirs, please email our Members’ Editor on liz@tortoisemedia.com.

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