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Optimism and Folly: EU Election Results 2019

People tend to be overly optimistic about their relative standing on any activity in which they do moderately well.’ – Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow)

So, today the 27th May 2019 we here in the UK have woken up to the results of the European Parliament elections that took place on Thursday. Like I always do I get my news, not from the BBC or other main stay media outlets, but from Twitter.

I’m a Green Party member and have been involved in a few elections since I joined, as a candidate and as a campaigner. So of course I was pleased to find that most of my feed was filled with Green Party members celebrating new gains, both percentage share and elected candidates. My celebration was short lived, however, once I looked at the overall results. The Brexit Party has topped the polls in almost every area of England and Wales. They have not done as well as predicted in some polls before the election but this cannot mask the fact that a party that has existed for less than two months has come and scooped up 32% of total votes cast – a bigger percentage share than any other party. So although Twitter, particularly my Twitter feed, is not reflective of general reality I still found something quite disturbing about the jubilant response from the Green Party in general who seemed to have completely disregarded this, deciding to focus instead on the 4% increase for Greens.

Apart from an illegal and unethical war, Blair’s legacy is spin. In this deceitful age of uninspiring politics, the Greens seem to have adopted this method of politics much to my disappointment. To over-inflate victories, to interpret the total votes cast as a majority position to remain in the EU (as Caroline Lucas does here), to me seems like the wildest response the results that I have just seen. Go to Britain Elects - underplay that result at your peril.

On Twitter I find it hard to articulate and have meaningful exchanges, inevitably due to the format so I have found it hard to engage with some of my fellow Greens who, intoxicated by excitement, cannot seem to absorb the meaning of this vote. Greens work very hard, with little to no resources and very little airtime to share our policy, vision and position on important social matters. So I understand what it means when, against all odds, we do better than expected. I also want to congratulate everyone who worked hard on this campaign and all our MEPs, new and re-elected, as I know they have an important part to play in Europe and really do make a difference, even with small numbers. I absolutely acknowledge the hard work my fellow Greens are putting in, but that said, this result is not enough to placate the ever-increasing fear and anxiety that pervades living as a brown person in this country. Since the Brexit vote, hate crimes have increased by 40% and of that percentage, over ¾ are thought to be racially motivated. By responding to the election results in this over-optimistic way, the Greens are mistakenly airbrushing the deep divides in our country, which creates a disconnection from reality on the ground.

I can only speak from personal experience but since the Brexit vote in 2016, I’ve never felt more alienated from this country or fearful of what is to come. Let’s be honest, when you’re black or brown the UK is a pretty hostile at the best of times but this vote has unleashed an underbelly and mainstreamed some of the worst xenophobic rhetoric I’ve seen in my adult life. All I see is mainstream media courting fascism and running platforms, interviews and articles on this rising phenomena like it’s just entertainment. They are disconnected from the powerlessness, anxiety and palpable fear of people like me. Fascism is not just some intellectual argument to be won, for me it is actually a serious and real threat to my life and the lives of my family and friends. So you will excuse me if my response to this vote is not one of celebration but one of very real concern that this will only validate the further advancement of extremist right-wing views on mainstream public platforms.

By nature, I’m probably an optimist and will always try to find hope and faith, even in some the darkest times in my life. So I don’t write this to extinguish hope or even suggest there is no reason to hold on to it. However, I’m cautioned to be realistic about where we find ourselves in this moment in time. When we are at the stage of co-opting the Lib Dems as a ‘progressive’ party (whatever that means) then we know something is going awry here. So let’s be honest about what is going on in this country and take it seriously, rather than masking an ever growing entrenched divide as a strident step towards liberation.

The one potential positive is that the result is probably not a good indicator of what would happen in a general election. The Brexit Party is a single-issue party with no domestic policies. They are riding high on the persona of one man who has never managed to enter Westminster

parliament and these elections were ultimately a chance to rerun the referendum and lodge a clear vote. Also, in a GE with FPTP we invariably collapse into a two-party state with everybody voting tactically.

With FPTP, the Green vote suffers too and this EU parliament vote has shown us that proportional representation is a necessary part of political reform within the UK. It is a means for people to vote for parties they actually want. They get to vote for something, not just against. There is a risk that the far right would capitalise from this but I think it’s more likely that as people begin to realise their voices and votes count, we could genuinely lean into a more positive, visionary, tolerant, kind and caring society[1]. Now how’s that for optimism.

[1] I believe this is because the far right is ultimately based on parochial nationalism, xenophobia and genocide. The far right are able to hide this as they often rise to relative prominence in times of crisis and promote their stance as a reasonable response and solution to these crises. If we address the actual crises of our time – ecological breakdown, disaster capitalism, austerity, inequality and social injustice - they’d have nothing to sell and ‘respectable’ people would find it harder to openly admit voting for their bile and lies.

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