We can all agree on two things. Last night in London, a few men, not of sound mind, and with malevolent intent, went on a killing spree. And we are in the late stages of a general election campaign, the third national vote in two years.
Beyond that, agreement, concurrence, is limited. Because we live in bubbles. I do, you do. Theresa May certainly does. We are all in bubbles, fiercely refusing to integrate.
Terror attacks, like that last night, look like a big thing. A huge thing. It happens in London, or Manchester, or Paris, or Brussels, or Boston, and there is an international response (not so if the atrocity is in Africa or Asia, but that’s a whole other issue).. Presidents and Prime Ministers make sombre statements, or Tweet, as is their way. The rest of us babble in our own manner, within our own bubbles.
But such terror attacks are not necessarily ‘big’ in the way both perpetrators and political and media decriers suggest. They are startling acts by sub-par people, big noises made by little minds, they startle us, but their importance, however great the human tragedy, is really much less than the killers think. And much less than many political leaders claim.
When people like the Mayor of London, or before him, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, speak of the resilience of their cities, of the determination not to be changed by the terrorists, and of the need for calm, and a coming together of their diverse citizenry, this is not platitude. It is a statement of the reality. Those of us who live in cities touched by terrorism know this to be true. We also know that it’s messy and difficult, ragged around the edges. The stoicism that may prevail is edged about by spite, and bigotry, fear and anxiety. Nonetheless, cities recover and heal, unlike the dead and injured .
Unfortunately we haven’t seen the same clear-headed and sane response from other who are in positions of leadership. Starting at the top.
The suspension of election campaigning in the wake of London will be, rightly, shorter than it was after Manchester. But in reality, it didn’t really stop at all. The interim Prime Minister chose to use the attacks to stoke division and fear for what she clearly hopes will be electoral advantage. No statesperson, she. Theresa May is a second division politician who has never risen to look beyond her own bubble, ever the Thames Valley Tory, for all the ‘Red Tory’ rhetoric occasionally spewing from her political advisor’s pen. The leader of a government of inept amateurs, sitting atop a hollowed-out state without the numbers or the brainpower to run a pension scheme, still less conduct the most complex and demanding set of negotiations in our history, May has been exposed in this election, as have her ‘team’, as clueless and without the slightest long term vision beyond their own survival.
But who am I to say anything? I’m trapped in my own bubble. My bubble has little access to power or influence, we Citizens of Nowhere, in our PMs unpleasantly dismissive and hostile phrase. So what do I see in my bubble?
I see a lot of conspiracy theories, that’s for sure. Smart, well-educated people, (yes, I admit it. My friends read books, and sometimes write them), but prey to rumours of clever plots, duplicitousness on a grand scale, and worse. Russia, Saudi Arabia, off-shore accounts, and scheming media, including the BBC. It worries me that we can get so distracted by such things – because the web of real connections, including trails of money and influence have always been with us. That’s just the world as it is, unfair, unbalanced, with power often residing with those least worthy to wield it. So the wife of a former Kremlin minister gave an election donation to the Tories? They used to parade this stuff before the cameras in the days of Cameron’s glittering Black and White Ball – now it has to be leaked.
The biggest spikes in tales of sinister conspiracies have come around the Manchester and London atrocities. That Manchester happened just as May was unravelling over the Dementia Tax looked a bit “dead cat bounce” to some of my bubble. Then when the wheels seemed to be coming off the whole Tory Project Fear ’17, we have London. Bounce, tiger, bounce!
I accept that such a conspiracy wouldn’t pass muster in a political thriller – I’ve tried writing them, but real life always turns out more extreme that my worst imaginings. But just because Islamist terrorists are extreme conservatives doesn’t mean they’re in some kind of Far-Right International, however much their websites resemble Breitbart. Shit happens. Bad shit. Horror. It doesn’t take a conspiracy for those events to be exploited by the politically nimble and morally deficient.
Will terror derail our democracy?
It must not, however inadequate Theresa May. We must pick ourselves up and get on with the job, not least out of respect for the victims of an act of terror deliberately calculated to be an insult to democracy.
And for those narrow calculations, the ‘who benefits’ from the political fallout from terror? Who knows? All we have are the numbers. Unlike the referendum, which was a simple binary vote which pollsters got wrong, the election numbers work for one of the many sides depending on the vagaries of constituency boundaries, turnout, and first-past-the-post. But above all, voters are in bubbles.
The voters in my bubble won’t have changed their votes, some tribal, some tactical, all for spoken or unspoken shades of a ‘progressive alliance’. And if we are impervious to movement, why should other bubbles be more malleable?
Despite a spirited Labour campaign, I expect a Tory ‘victory’. But an empty, meaningless victory, with a wounded PM, and a party rampant, high on Brexit, and baying for metaphorical war on enemies across the Channel, and closer to home (that may be us, folks).
So we regroup for 2022? Oh no. The permanent campaign started in Scotland in 2014, hit the rest of the UK a year later, and will rumble on until we get a new system, and new leaders, reflecting new social fissures.
Only when that happens will our bubbles begin to converge.