This election has been a referendum on a whole host of different issues. Whether or not services like universities, schools and the NHS should remain public or private. Whether or not unions still have anything resembling the right to strike.
Whether or not thousands of people continue to be driven from their homes under the bedroom tax. Or the extent to which immigration is seen as a positive or a chronic problem to be fixed. Labour or Conservative, millions of lives will be changed by this result. Some lives depend on the outcome.
But what gets lost during a General Election campaign are the lives and issues that the result will not affect. The issues on which there is an ugly consensus within the political establishment. This isn’t to say the election doesn’t matter. If I thought it didn’t, I wouldn’t have spent the whole of polling day campaigning for Labour in a marginal, along with all the other days I’ve spent knocking on doors for the party, from Glasgow to Brighton.
Take welfare, for example. It’s true the Tories have campaigned on a policy of cutting welfare by £12bn, while leaked plans reveal that would mean taking your pick of cuts between child benefit, housing benefit, or pensions. Labour have no such draconian policy. But they have accepted certain tenets of Tory welfare policy.
Labour has pledged to abolish jobseekers’ allowance for under 21s, maintain the use of benefit sanctions which leave unemployed people without any income, and even continue the appalling policy of ‘workfare’ – where people living on the pittance of unemployment benefit are forced to work for what can be as little as £53 a week. Labour’s welfare and employment policy is based on the same fundamentally toxic assumptions as the Tories – that welfare is a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’ with hardship.
On tuition fees, Labour have still not pledged to repeal the terrible mistake they introduced in 1998. The first party to fail young people by trebling fees wasn’t the Liberals, but Labour in 2004. Even though Shadow Universities Minister Liam Byrne said he “would love there to be free education”, Labour is yet to agree to abolish the damaging market from higher education for good.
Labour’s support for the Tories on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, an act which further criminalises Muslims and coerces our tutors to spy on us, should have attracted much greater condemnation from the party’s Left, and followed a long history of Labour’s encroachment on civil liberties dating back to the ‘War on Terror’.
This isn’t a call to ignore the elections, or politics, or the huge impact that last night’s result has had. But instead of lamenting or celebrating the result, we should get on with the only truly tried-and-tested means of pursuing social justice – we must organise.