This week you might have heard about a couple of by-elections in Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland. Though the Stoke election was massively over-shadowed in national news by the VotesforSchools launch of its primary programme in the very same city, the elections drew more attention from users than normal.
Since Brexit and Donald Trump, there has been a great deal of talk about nationalism overcoming globalisation and bold announcements of the end of liberalism. The trouble with these grandiose statements, is that in an attempt to grab headlines they can completely undermine what is really happening.
Take both Brexit and the US election. Donald’s Trump rise was declared as the US public turning their backs on the rest of the world and putting America first. A wave of anxiety and small mindedness so powerful that it was able to overcome blatant sexism and xenophobia. Though the amount of support for Donald Trump is both troubling and something that needs to be addressed, it is not the signal of some unrelenting political wave. It is dangerous to think in terms of trends to often in politics. If you do in this case you might end up believing that the tide of xenophobia will sweep the country moulding the whole population into far-right racists. And you miss the facts. You miss that Donald Trump lost the popular vote, that the marches for women around the world had more attendees than the inauguration and that progressive causes have seen a huge upswing in donations since the election (1).
Tabloid papers have also stoked the fires of Brexit-related isolationism and anti-immigrant sentiments. I have had countless discussions with friends about the UK becoming an intolerant, unfriendly place to live. They can hardly be blamed given some of the recent political rhetoric behind the ‘hard Brexit’ and the rise in hate crime since the summer of 2016 (2). Yet fears about Britain’s steady decline into an aggressive, individualistic nation are unfounded. The Stoke by election was an example of how thinking in terms of momentum and trends in politics is often misleading. Despite 72% of the Stoke population voting to Leave the EU and despite labour being led by a left-wing londoner, Gareth Snell succeeded in retaining the labour seat with relative ease in terms of the difference in votes.
It is worth bearing in mind that our political system is relatively immature. The UK has had a participative democracy in the form we are used to today for around 80 years. A minute spell in our human history. The US has had its system for slightly longer, but still no time at all when compared to our human timeline. So when political shifts take place it is worth noting that setting new trends is not only possible but likely. While we might try to compare this term under the Conservatives to the Thatcherite era or Donald Trump to Fascist leaders, the likelihood is that both will take us somewhere completely new that we will have to learn from.
That is why, despite my initial joke, I do believe the launch of our primary school VotesforSchools programme was more important than either of the by elections. We are teaching young people how to engage with democracy and building the skills that they need to make informed decisions. In keeping with the idea of launching into the unknown; with more and more young people receiving a better education in the realm of politics, I am looking forward to the wholly new political reality in 10 years’ time.
(1) The Guardian, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/25/progressive-donations-us-election-planned-parenthood-aclu
(2) Independent, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/brexit-vote-hate-crime-rise-100-per-cent-england-wales-police-figures-new-racism-eu-a7580516.html