As a first-time voter who studied British political history in school, I was hoping for a more exciting final day of campaigning than the one we got in the end. Even given the vacuous tone of much of the scripted campaigning, I
was hoping for something exciting to shake up the political landscape, like in 1992. Instead, we were treated to
yet more of the worst aspects of this campaign’s politics: vacuous class war, and a fixation onthe past over the future.
By now we are all familiar with the ‘Liar Liar’ campaign of the self-declared ‘National’ Union of Students, which showed once again how it wasn’t interested in representing students but simply pushing a partisan Labour agenda in the hope that its leadership – increasingly extreme even for the Left – could somehow secure a safe seat in the post-Blair Labour Party. In terms of the election, however, it sent out perhaps an even more damaging message: namely, that this election is not about what is on offer for the future, but a judgement on the past. Considering that the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto contained several pledges to help young people, this seemed like little more than cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face.
A similar message played out the day before the election when considerable sections of the anti-Tory press were fixated on a newly-discovered photo from Cameron’s Bullingdon days. The revelation of this photo the day before the election had a predictable effect, namely a fixation on the Club and what it stood for rather than the policies of the Conservatives as a whole. The way that this was juxtaposed with Ed (or ‘Ted’ since he was supposed to be the
boy next door) Miliband’s first appearance on television as a rent striker by his supporters is strikingly similar to the values held by the NUS and sections of the student left: a constant assumption of bad faith from their opponents grounded in the past, rather than any attempt to engage with the present.
Yet what we saw just before the election is if anything even more damning than the NUS campaign, if for no other reason than the fact that the events depicted occurred nearly thirty years ago. Moreover, the idea that one’s previous actions in University are an indicator not just of their current policies but of those of the entire party, ignoring not only the fact that one’s politics is not simply determined by class (look at the late Tony Benn) but cynically assuming that this proves that Miliband is on the side of ‘ordinary’ people and Cameron isn’t,a sentiment which has recurred on Twitter by the likes of Laurie Penny accusing all Conservative voters of creating and voting for suffering.
I would further caution my fellow Oxonians from att empting to transfer this image of Oxford in those days into its present political landscape; the Bullingdon for one is far less noticeable and prestigious. Similarly, were Miliband involved in the ‘activist’ scene today, he would likely be known as part of a baying mob of no-platformers than a benevolent protester – unless he went to Exeter and campaigned to cut the catering charge, of course.
As a nation, we need better. We need a vision focused on the future and a vision for the country’s long-term future across more than just one term and sold to all citizens rather than packed into the boxes of identity politics, and not
pathetic class war grounded in scarcely-relevant pasts and cynical assumptions.
We need better than a patronising view of young people which assumes that we need to shut down TV channels to get us to vote or that Labour has a divine right to our votes because of our age and educational status which need only be supplemented by pretending the General Election is simply a social media campaign to be backed by such vacuous designer leftists as Russell Brand. And in the aftermath of an election in which large swathes of people voted for a Conservative government we can safely say that we deserve better, and should be entitled to never expect such a vacuous and shallow election campaign ever again.