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To the Young, Broken-Hearted Left: Try to Understand Tory Voters

10/05/2015 20:38 BST | Updated 10/05/2016 10:59 BST

Us twenty-somethings have had a shitty and uninstructive experience of the left so far.

In 2010, Gordon Brown's whole grumpy-dad-too-busy-reading-an-economics-paper-to-give-you-a-hug routine produced an at best resigned sense that we should maybe vote Labour. Before then we may have been vaguely aware of why Labour was bad because of the Iraq War. And there were those "BLIAR" signs, which I never understood how to pronounce. And before that there's the vague sense that Liam Gallagher was chancellor or something and an early memory of Spitting Image puppets which slipped into our unconscious to provide the occasional nightmare over the next two decades.

But the history before that is important. It's usually presented as a wilderness populated by men with crazy hair demanding we immediately blow up ALL the nuclear weapons and ban money. But that history gives us the ability to retool, to have hope, to reorganise the political discourse for the next five years and then to win the fuck out of the next general election. The answer lies there, not in just assuming we got it right this time and the public who voted the 'wrong' way will eventually see sense.

During the last five years, some of us have flirted with protests, as though after winning a democratic election David Cameron's going to go "hang on, there's a twenty-something bearded man with a 'NO cuts' sign outside. I will demand all 331 of my MPs resign". There's a noble history of leftwing protests in the last three decades - at best righteous, at worst a purely emotive exercise. None of them as far as I'm aware changed anything, though at best certain specific issues might have gathered some media attention amongst people already inclined to agree with the protest.

"But we can change the debate that way! Show Cameron he's not the boss, the people are!" I'm sure he'll consider that as he uses the levers of power to carry out his manifesto. And the poor, sick and vulnerable will thank you for making that sign.

The problem is to do with actual political power. The answer is going to involve actual political power. The Bad Thing that Cameron represents is bad because he sits at the centre of the state apparatus. So if we want to stop the Bad Thing we have to switch places with him.

The history of the left's 'wilderness years' tells us that we'd only help the Tories if we just remain part of a leftwing circle jerk, now even more dangerous because it's propped up by selective algorithms on Facebook that tell us everyone else thinks the same as we do (I've written about that elsewhere). We have to do more than win the apparent Labour stronghold of our own Facebook feed.

Labour throughout the 1980s had the attitude that it was morally right, and therefore the electorate must be wrong when it kept picking the other guys. Blair changed that, and won three elections. That's not to say Blair's policies are the policies we should adopt (even he admitted today he was wrong to not give a shit about inequality). That's not the point I'm making. What he did get right was realising that to deliver anything of lasting impact, Labour had to explain to the kind of voters that maybe slightly reluctantly voted Tory this time that they have every reason to vote Labour next time.

The value that Ed Miliband put forward and lost on - of a better distribution of wealth being the right thing - has to be put into an actual argument. Namely, that it's only possible to unlock the talents of the best people in the country if everyone can go to a good school (going backwards now), if everyone has reliable access to healthcare (going backwards now) and can afford to rent or buy a home (going backwards now). Those are the problems lots of people face. Show them you have the answers to that, and that the answers involves also stopping the rise of poverty, the spread of low-skilled jobs and the extreme cuts to public spending and you can win an election.

Many of my leftwing friends might say "food banks are more important than the aspirations of middle England!" They're being very selfless in saying that, and good on them. But those 'middle England' problems of education, healthcare and homes all affect most of my friends more than foodbanks. Thinking only about the problems I actually subjectively just literally as a human day to day in my own actual life face, they're big problems for me. But those lovely lefties are also missing the bigger point. The rise of foodbanks and the 'middle England' problems are linked, for example by the double Tory dick-kick of a low-wage economy and cuts to the government support that props up those low-paid jobs.

These are problems we have in common, not just something awful happening to people we see on the occasional news bulletin. Let's group these shared concerns under a big, clever set of pragmatic solutions.

To get there, we could do with fewer "Tory scum!" Facebook statuses and a more intellectually engaged, politically aware approach to the left. Being open to correction is a strength in a political position. Being intellectually curious is a virtue in a person. This involves giving a shit about actual policy over the next five years, not just in April 2020. Even if it can be really boring sometimes. Let's try and make it enjoyable. We could involve pictures of Ryan Gosling or something??

We've got to see beyond our self-affirming sense that we are "right" and that the "enemy" must be "wrong". If politics is about making things better, when was anything ever made better by both 1) putting yourself in a position where you have no power to make things better and 2) putting yourself in an intellectual position where you can't actually explain why your ideas are both morally good and work? If we can we do that we will make the reluctant Tory voters start listening. But first we've got to listen to them.

Then we can cunningly win the election and blow up ALL the nuclear weapons and ban money.