First came the exit poll: a sudden, devastating blow to Labour. Then, the results trickled in, and Blyth Valley’s early declaration—it swung Tory for the first time in history—set the mood for the night. Conservatives and Brexiteers up and down England were jubilant; the SNP won big in Scotland, although uncertainty lies ahead north of the border with Johnson in No. 10.
In the lead-up to the election, many polls thought it would be close: either a small Tory majority or another hung parliament. I, for one, remained hopeful of the latter right up until the afternoon of election day, when I went to vote. I certainly wasn’t expecting a Tory landslide, their best election performance since Thatcher. Over the weekend, there was a profound sense of mourning. Then, the autopsy of Corbyn’s Labour began.
I was reminded of the feeling after Trump’s victory in 2016—a comparison that is more than just superficial. Many left-wing voters could not bear to see the left-wing candidate take the highest office, with doubts fuelled endlessly by an unchecked right-wing media. Both winning campaigns had simple messages: build the wall, get Brexit done. For many voters, the victor could do no wrong, unapologetic racism and divisionism had no effect on the polls. Both elections came down to disenfranchised, post-industrial communities—the ‘red wall’ and the ‘rust belt’—and a relatively small number of swing votes.
The dust has settled, new MPs have been sworn in, and a frankly ghastly cabinet has been appointed. Two former Tory MPs, Zac Goldsmith, who lost his seat for the second time in three years while Nicky Morgan swore on Friday to step away from front-line politics were quickly appointed as lifetime peers and will remain in cabinet positions. Calling out this new Tory government’s hypocrisy is exhausting already and it’s not even been two weeks.
A couple of silver-linings were the DUP losing two seats and the Brexit party not winning any, although both parties undoubtedly did their job of splitting the Leave vote into many key constituencies. However, come February, Nigel Farage will be without a job and his party will have zero representation. What’s next for the Brexit Party? Who knows.
Anyone remember, what seems like forever ago, when Johnson shut down Parliament in order to prepare a Queen’s speech? Strangely, this one didn’t need as much preparation and was delivered less than a week after the election took place. This time, healthcare and tougher terrorist sentencing were put centre stage. I’m wary to believe any promises the Tories make about the NHS; no one seems to know how many more (in the traditional, correct sense of the word) nurses there will be, nor how many new hospitals. The Guardian described the promise of a £33.9bn increase in funding by 2023 or 2024 as “largely a symbolic move.” There was also the suggestion of making photo ID mandatory at polling stations, a much-criticised policy that, unsurprisingly, tends to affect poorer and marginalised communities.
Corbyn attended the speech, traipsing into the House of Lords next to a dishevelled Johnson looking utterly miserable. He is, for now, still the leader of both Labour and the opposition—it’s the job of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to decide when he goes as leader and who will replace him.
Many commentators and critics are placing the blame for Labour’s colossal defeat squarely upon Corbyn’s shoulders. On doorsteps, many MPs (and now former MPs) found that his leadership was a real concern for many voters, above Brexit. His ambiguous position on Brexit didn’t help. Many Labour voters, including much of their traditional base, felt alienated by Corbyn and left behind by his policies. Obviously, media narratives didn’t help, with Johnson repeatedly dodging scrutiny—and it seems he has already reneged on several promises made during the campaign. Protections on workers’ rights were swiftly removed from the revised EU Withdrawal Agreement, which passed through the House of Commons by 358 to 234 votes on Friday 20 December.
Emily Thornberry, Jess Phillips, Angela Rayner, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Sir Kier Starmer and Lisa Nandy are all contenders for the leadership. Selecting another North London MP seems short-sighted. Meanwhile, Phillips has supported some problematic positions in the past, describing Jacob Rees-Mogg, who, among other things, doesn’t support abortion under any circumstances, as a “real gent.” And Rebecca Long-Bailey is a dedicated Corbynist when, clearly, the party needs a change in direction.
Tony Blair is the only Labour leader to have won an election since the 1970s. I, for one, do not want to see the party regress entirely to centrist Blairite policies. For all his flaws, Corbyn stood for decency and equality; many of his signature policies had overwhelming support from the public. The party is fragmenting: a leader at the centre of the party, rather than a centrist leader, might manage to hold things together.
A few months ago, it looked as if the Tories and the whole of the British right were falling apart and that we might see real reform of party lines. This election has healed those wounds, while nonetheless shifting the party further to the right. Last week, the leader of Britain First, a fascist group, urged its members to join the Conservative party and “secure” Boris Johnson’s premiership. Now, it is the left’s turn to be in disarray.
The next five years could be bleak. Now, more than ever, we need to fight and, most importantly, to hold those in power to account however we can.
Representation matters. That’s the current buzz behind books, slogans, and political campaigns in 2019. And I stand by it. If our diverse backgrounds are reflected by those in power too, then it’s often perceived that minorities will be understood in their nuance, instead of being viewed through their stereotype. But representation alone is not enough.
Newly appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently created his cabinet, and, wait for it, there are four brown people up front and centre. The U.K. now has a South Asian Home Secretary, a South Asian Chancellor of the Exchequer, a South Asian Development Secretary, a South Asian Chief Secretary, and the list goes on. Diversity within politics is now achieved! We can now move onto other topics, maybe even discuss climate change?
When hearing the news, Radio host Nihal Arthanayake tweeted, “An Asian Home Secretary and Chancellor. Politics aside, for Asian kids up and down the country that is a very visible example of representation”. But maybe we need to ask ourselves who is it ‘representing’ Asians and ‘ethnic minorities’ in Britain?
Born to Gujrati parents from Uganda, Pritti Patel has replaced Home Secretary Sajid Javid. Losing her role as International Development Secretary in 2017 due to holding private meetings in Israel without telling the Foreign Office, Patel joined the Conservative party in her teens. Her inspiration has always been Margaret Thatcher because of her rhetoric for both homes and businesses. Patel also has a record of backing stricter asylum and immigration rules and voted with Theresa May to aid the Windrush scandal, which was inducive in sending many Caribbean citizens ‘back’ and revoking their British citizenship.
She is now going to be in charge of immigration, crime policing, prisons, and probations. As someone who is pro-Brexit and determined to follow through with Johnson’s needs, Patel says her plans for immigration include close selection, “In future, we will decide who we give preference to, so we can ensure we are able to attract the most talented and skilled from other parts of the world”.
Rochdale-born and Bristol-bred Sajid Javid has moved into the role of Chancellor of Exchequer, meaning Javid is now to look after all economic and financial matters. Infamous for removing Shamima Begum’s citizenship this year, Javid similarly has a history of othering Muslim communities in an attempt to make them ‘better assimilate’ into British society.
As someone who on paper is similar to both Patel and Javid (South Asian heritage, Muslim and working-class upbringing, university-educated, and even a history of interracial relationships) seeing these fellow desi faces be granted the highest of seats in parliament didn’t make me scream out with joy nor did it give me hope for the generation growing up, because frankly, it all seems hollow.
In response to Nihal Arthanayake’s tweet and the many others applauding this ‘diverse’ cabinet, this is only a visible depiction of diversity, it is not diverse by school of thought, class backgrounds and where politicians lie on the side of policies. Doesn’t representation and diversity only work when we’re showcasing a breadth of ideas, of people and their beliefs, instead of acting like sheep in wolf’s clothing?
If the bar is we need more ethnic faces in politics, sure, that alone with elitism, nepotism and schooling systems systematically makes it more difficult for brown and black folks to enter politics, never mind those who are from faiths and backgrounds that are just about tolerated by the government. But in 2019, I’m not going to applaud you for being South Asian and within the political system claiming to be ‘for me’. My bar isn’t so low, and neither should yours be.
For our parents, grandparents and so forth, the idea ‘see to be’ may have worked as a point of aspiration for their children to climb up to, but as second and third generation British Asians settle, our ideas surrounding representation needs to be refreshed. In times of an alt-right rendition and rise of Islamophobia, our needs have expanded.
Both Patel and Javid utilise their tokenism for their personal benefit. This British Asian heritage works as a duality, leveraging to the South Asian communities while showing Tories can also be inclusive (as Labour has always had a larger ethnic minority presence) and simultaneously making sure the ladder is pulled back up, only for them to look down on those who are still ostracized because ‘Hey! If I can do it, so can you!’
In the past, Patel has said she is ‘British first’ and finds the term Black and Minority Ethnicity (BME) offensive. Javid has made it public that he fits into British society by drinking alcohol (his example), placing the blame onto Muslim communities for terrorism instead of questioning the root of why homegrown terrorism is occurring, and best of all, saying he is doing it for these communities.
I’m not asking for politicians to hold onto their roots if they do not feel the need to nor do I want anyone to feel as though there is only one way to be South Asian and in politics. However, what I am asking for when seeking representation in politics are people who are working with our ethnic minority communities instead of against them. Politicians that don’t equate assimilation to deleting their heritage just like their user history. Individuals that don’t distinguish being successful in politics with being South Asian or Muslim and won’t stay silent in the face of racist proceedings. Representatives that are now ready to put new systems into place.
Boris Johnson may continue to assemble a diverse cabinet, maybe even throw in a politician whose background may up the ‘ethnic card’ but if we don’t have politicians who work for us, as a community and country, we’ve already lost.