A week ago I woke up - like many others - feeling disillusioned, angry and sick. We enjoy a good election in our house, and this one was no exception. The build-up prompted some healthy discussion, even if we observed that the campaigns might have been driven more by policy rather than personality, and we settled into the twenty-four hour period of voting and counting, analysis and results with hope and anticipation. It seems foolish now to have believed in the Conservative majority decreasing rather than increasing. At best I was expecting a Labour / SNP coalition, at worse I was expecting a hung parliament and another election in eighteen months. I suppose that anyone who has been figuratively or literally hit by a train claims that they didn't see it coming.
Apparently debate was also rife at the ballet school. A speaker had been engaged from the House of Lords - he couldn't remember her name, but it began with 'Baroness'. They had had a mock vote, and despite the hard work of an eleven-year-old fighting for the arts, the Conservative Party had won; an unsurprising result, but apparently, a surprisingly narrow margin. My first thought in the early hours of Friday morning was 'it's a catastrophe beyond imagining'. My second thought was, 'what do I tell our son?'
We've brought our children up free from religion, but with a strong moral belief - be kind, and, be inclusive. We have simplified the right / left divide as 'there are those who believe in making individual wealth a priority, and there are those who believe that supporting communities is a priority.' Perhaps we oversimplify the matter. We have also taught them to make up their own minds. They can vote for whichever party they feel supports the epithet: be kind and be inclusive. We've also made it clear that if they vote Tory, they have to find somewhere else to live. (That last one is a joke!)
I only get to see him for a day and a half, so I didn't want the political state of the country to impact too heavily on family time. He said he was 'disappointed' and a 'bit upset', and then asked how I was coping. I echoed his sentiments rather than explaining that I was trying to deal with uncontainable rage and the paralysis of sadness. I felt like the dad who encourages his son to support a really crap football team; destined to a life of misery until the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates buys the club and invests in better players. The fortunes of Manchester City Football Club, are not going to be repeated for the Labour Party. So, I'm left with the remorse of having brought my children up to support a potentially really crap team.
It is the realisation that hurts the most - thirty-seven percent of this country do not seem to believe in either inclusivity or kindness. They support a party that advocates twelve billion in welfare cuts while raising the 40% tax threshold for the wealthy, and eliminating inheritance tax for estates under a million. Day-centres will close, provision for the vulnerable will become more scarce, families will lose their homes if they dare to have a spare bedroom. People are being made homeless while businesses are being given 'the most competitive taxes of any major economy'. Against this paradoxical and hypocritical backdrop of austerity, we have a son whose dreams are not to be a banker, lawyer or GP. His vocation is to dance in classical ballet, and his training depends on a huge grant from the Department of Education. 'The time is out of joint. O cursed Spite.' What do we tell him?
We explain that nearly thirty-one percent of the electorate believe as we do. (Add an additional five percent of SNP voters, if you wish.) And, next time we will be better organised. Meanwhile, we will fight. We'll fight for the NHS, and the Human Rights Act. We'll give a voice to those who are made to live on society's periphery through no fault of their own. We'll support the arts - theatre, dance, film and music - because we believe it essentially feeds our soul even though it doesn't make money. We won't demonise those whose opinions we disagree with, and even though they are in power, we'll remain respectful and dignified. And as his father, it's my job to reassure him that as he grows up, there are many others who also believe, deep in their hearts, in being inclusive and kind.