Yesterday, the Conservative Party won an overwhelming majority in the British General Election with, as of this writing, 364 seats in Parliament – an increase of 66 when compared to just twenty-four hours ago.
When the results of the exit poll came in late last night, I was sat with a group of friends in my student accommodation. We had gotten together to either celebrate a Labour victory, or lament the continuation of a Tory government. While we’d had suspicions that the results would not be in our favour, none of us had anticipated the sheer number of seats the Conservatives would win. Sitting there watching the BBC’s political commentators address the numbers rolling across the screen, I was reminded of the morning in 2016 when I awoke to my mother telling me that Donald Trump was somehow, inexplicably, going to win the presidency. It was that same feeling of dull dread that comes when you know things are going to change drastically, yet at that very moment everything remains ominously, tauntingly the same.
Today, heading in to Strand campus for a 9 A.M. seminar, a part of me deep down half-expected some great event to take place. A massive protest snaking down the street for all to see, or some sort of visibly dreary atmosphere hanging over people’s heads in the wake of Boris Johnson’s return to Number 10. There was nothing. The half-hour walk up to campus was the same as it had always been. The seminar was the same as it had always been. Studying in the common room was the same as it had always been. The throngs of people milling about outside looked no different, and the conversations they held were, for the most part, cheery, and entirely unrelated to what had taken place under twelve hours prior.
Walking across Blackfriars Bridge, I must have passed as many Tory voters as I did Labour ones. I was neither – I’m not allowed to vote in the UK, as is the case for many EU and international students at King’s, all of whom will be affected by the policies which will be enacted in the weeks, months, and years to come. But I found myself wondering how many of the people I passed were having the same thoughts as I was. I found myself wondering how many other people were surprised at the lack of marked difference to the world around them, to the minutia of the daily routine. I don’t delude myself into thinking very many of them were – and maybe that’s a problem.
Under a strong Tory leadership, too many children – more than anyone should be comfortable counting – who are currently living under the poverty line will either stay there, or continue to grow poorer. Access to healthcare will become gated off to many, and the NHS itself may not even live to see the next election – at least, not as it is now. Self-proclaimed nationalists such as Katie Hopkins are celebrating their victory by preparing to purge the country of everything and everyone they view as “other” to themselves. Funding to arts programmes will be cut, and minority groups will be persecuted in the apocalyptic march towards a Brexit that seems likely to end up catastrophic to all involved.
I wish this election had gone a different way. But what’s done is done, and we’ll have to keep fighting. So instead, I hope people will see the consequences of what happened yesterday. I hope the voters who decided that families who lack the financial capacity even to feed themselves weren’t a problem since their own families are better off, will learn to read between the lines, and see outside their echo chamber. I hope that people will have the empathy to understand that the homeless who line the streets of London are just as human as themselves, and that nobody is ever truly safe from ending up without a roof over their head. I hope that people will realise that we only have one planet, and that it’s dying. Mostly, I hope that people will understand, finally, that change is constant and can sneak up on us before we’ve even had a chance to react, unseen like a snake in the grass.
Everything (and nothing) changed this morning. Now it’s long past time for us to open our eyes and do something about it.