They are the masters now. Photo:Getty
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2015 was the first election I cared about. It didn't end well

Five years ago, the election was thousands of miles away in both sense. This time, it was up close and personal. The worst thing is, I'm one of the luckier ones.

I woke up on Friday 8 May at about 6.45am in a state of confusion. I had collapsed on the sofa, still in my school uniform, and as I reached for my phone to check Twitter, I prayed that the exit polls would be wrong. I prayed that my favourite female MPs, the likes of Lynne Featherstone and Jane Ellison who have supported my work to end female genital mutilation (FGM) had kept their seats. I prayed that Nigel Farage would resign and Nick Clegg wouldn’t lose his seat. (Don’t judge – I have a soft spot for him). Most of all, I prayed that the Conservatives would not win the 326 seats they needed in the House of Commons that would lead to a full-blown Tory government for the next five years.

It was all wishful thinking. To my horror, the Conservatives had already won 240 seats with 118 seats to go, many of which could be won by them.. And by the time my afternoon lessons were over, David Cameron had smugly talked about his “sweet victory”, Nigel Farage had called Ukip the party for “young working women” (which is strange, as he called for women of ‘childbearing age’ not to be employed) and the Conservatives had won a majority in the House of Commons with 331 seats. Everything seemed like a mess and still exhausted from the night before, I went to bed.

This was the first general election I paid full attention to. Five years ago I was 11 and living in Nigeria and British politics felt, and was, thousands of miles away. A lot has changed since 2010 and a lot will change by 2020. By 2020, I want to have graduated from university, hopefully have a job and might start looking at getting my feet up the property ladder. However, things look a bit bleak. The average student will now graduate with £44,000 of debt and youth unemployment stands at 63.2 per cent. Under the Tories, 3.3 million young people are living with their parents into their thirties as rents and deposits continue to increase. Analysis from the House of Commons Library shows that if things continue the way they are, the average deposit for a house will be £72,000.

I am not saying that a Labour government is the best thing for Britain; I really don’t know. Nevertheless, I am certain that a full-blown Tory government is not what Britain needs, and it is certainly not what young people need.

Labour promised to ban zero hour contracts and the party also promised to ‘tackle the growth of unpaid internships because thousands of highly paid young people who cannot afford to work for free are locked out of too many of our professions’. 16-17 year olds would be given the vote –a huge constitutional step forward, although I still think political education is important. And they would unlock a Future Homes Fund to invest in increasing housing supply and legislate to make three year tenancies the norm. Oh, and they were planning to reduce tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000. Reading through these policies, it felt like one party was actually making policies that could influence the lives of the most vulnerable young people in Britain. Reading through the Conservative policies and it felt like somebody had pointed out there was nothing for young people so at 2am in the morning, with some slightly tipsy people round the table, stuff was written down and the manifesto was sent to the printer. There wasn’t enough to show that David Cameron cared.

My biggest fear now is the poor will get poorer and the rich will get richer. I worry that so many young people will be homeless and in debt. I worry many will be unable to find jobs. I worry that mental health issues will continue to be ignored. I worry that young women will be ‘othered’ and silence and I worry that we will continue to pretend like Britain is a country where people of colour don’t exist. I am extremely privileged and I know that. I have a place to call home. I will not go hungry. Not everybody is as lucky as I am, and luck shouldn’t come into accessing the basic things in life regardless of personal circumstance. This is why I believe in a party that does not discriminate and puts the most vulnerable in society first. This is why I want a party that prioritizes young people, the future of our country.

Instead, I’m worried that things are going to get a lot worse.

 

June Eric-Udorie is a 17-year-old writer whose writing has appeared in Cosmopolitan and the New Statesman among others.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser