At the weekend, the mood seemed first and foremost shock, mixed with dismay: a collective disbelief that a party supported by little over one third of the electorate should, on Friday morning, be preparing for five years of unrestrained government.
Today, that mood has shifted. A howl of rage has gone up as it becomes clear that not only has the country signed for five years worth of full-blooded conservatism…but that this politic comes with a new and disturbing twist: an illiberal, authoritarian streak that was mostly hidden, or at best sotto voce, throughout the campaign.
We have been conned: perhaps, too, we have conned ourselves.
Throughout the campaign, our focus was on the economics of austerity. Too much. For the economy, as it turned out, was always the Tories’ issue. What with Labour still paying an electoral price for the recession and the LibDems…
Well, let’s put it politely. Economics has never been the LibDems’ strong suit. And to their credit, they know this. A couple of months before the election, i sat round a table in the cabinet office discussing online censorship with senior party members and special advisors. The strong view, the right view, was that this was an area where the LibDems should be making more noise.
Because if they are known for nothing else, they have a long tradition, albeit somewhat muted by coalition, of support for civil liberties. If the public understood the risk to civil liberties that lay ahead, that could only be good for the LibDems. Who knows: they might have saved an extra handful of seats. Just enough, perhaps, to negate the present Tory majority.
But was anyone listening? Sure: we knew Teresa May wanted to bring back the snoopers’ charter: knew, too, that the Tories had little time for Human Rights. But somehow, when push came to shove, those issues just faded into the background. May remained outside the public spotlight – and maybe that was the point. The less light shone on what was planned for rights in this, our Magna Carta year, the better.
New values for a New Britain
Worse: far, far worse; the devil lies, as he always does, in the detail. Were we expecting the nitpicking control freakery of fining parents for bringing their children late to school? Had anyone debated, much less understood what fighting radicalisation meant, or that a British Prime Minister could seriously, as Cameron did today, argue that in order to uphold British values, sticking to the letter of the law was no longer enough?
His words, in case you haven’t seen them yet, are chilling. In a speech today he told us: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone’”.
These are not “British values” of the kind being touted elsewhere by May: these are authoritarian values – the kind of benevolent micro-management espoused by the likes of Singapore.
In an instant, the British future is clear. Prosperity, sure, in the sense of prosperity as measured by the bottom line of GDP. But low wages and job insecurity for the majority of the population (oh, yes: we’ll have less trade unionism, too): and a growing tendency to treat rocking the national boat – dissent in any and every form – as crime. The true architect of that view may have been one Tony Blair esq, who first blurred the lines between criminal and anti-social behaviour through the medium of the ASBO.
But this goes a long way beyond that.
The fightback begins
Today, the other shoe dropped. For the first time, it became clear what we must all, radicals, socialists, Liberals, Greens, progressives of every shade and none, start to fight against.
Not just the economic impoverishment of our people, but the sure and awful transformation of our society from one of freedom and tolerance into one where rights are for people who do the right thing, the proper and normative thing – and the rest of us are increasingly to be subject to the misrule of law.
I foresee torrid times ahead.