The General Election campaign begins across the United Kingdom today. It is already the most acrimonious, divisive and vicious public contest since the Second World War. Little wonder. The divisions are not simply, not even, party political. The divide between rich and poor is so vast so as to be almost unfathomable. The levels of racism have been whipped into mindless frenzy. The deniers of any climate emergency taunt and threaten we who have concerns. And the tribalism of support or disdain for the European Union suggests a level of political illiteracy difficult to comprehend.
But Britain wants to be calm again, say political commentators. Dr Thereza Kapelos, a lecturer in political philosophy at Birmingham University, explains the tensions by the observation that we are more allowed to express our emotions these days. Yet the emotionality is dismissed as irrelevant to the scientific objectivity of political debate. Voters are tended to be treated as if they are children having tantrums. Politicians, including the last Prime Minister, are able to make outrageous slurs, slanders, accusations and threats whilst dismissing anger amongst the working classes as mere “hysteria” or “mob mentality”.
In truth, our grievances, the worries, the concerns and the anxieties are there and need to be acknowledged. There is a depth of division, falsely symbolised by the Brexit “crisis” but more fundamentally detailed by the social and economic divisions – in other words, social class, privilege and poverty. It is palpable on the street, in neighbourhoods and clubs, shopping centres and charitable food banks. This is an uptight society showing every sign of potential explosion.
But Britain wants to be calm again, say political commentators. This may sound benign if not charming, but can hide a very real threat. What could be meant by “calm” other than a return to the status quo? A re-acceptance of the old doctrines of “know thy place”, “keep your head down”, “do as you’re told”, “be thankful for small mercies”, and “count your blessings”. Oh, and “Keep Calm and Carry On”, that absurd First World War slogan reinvented at the start of the Tory Government era from 2010 to now.
Why should anyone be calm after 10 years of Austerity policies and zero wage increases despite above zero inflation throughout that time? How can we count our lucky stars when the national health is in crisis, systemically, emotionally and physically? Why should we allow the very fragile and superficial amount of political suffrage ever afforded us to be taken away and replaced by an unaccountable oligarchy of born-rich elites? And then what are we to do about our fears for the future, for our children and grandchildren, in the face of climate chaos and societal collapse?
In any case, what does it mean to be “allowed” to express our emotions these days? There is no natural state of human consciousness that remains calm in all circumstances. Anger is an essential emotion for survival and when suppressed is self-destructive at best, homicidal at worst. Love is essential for survival too, for the wellbeing needed for procreation and child-rearing. And all emotional stops in-between are life-affirming expressions of what it is to be human.
To have emotionality in any way denigrated or or denied is an abuse. Of course it is generally better to manage our emotions well enough for them to be productive, but there is nothing superior about actions based on cold-hearted “objectivity” rather than subjective empathy and compassion. Indeed, many observe Capitalist society as a dictatorship of the psychopaths, the sociopaths who cannot and will not care for those around them.
The sheer level of bile projected through every medium at the moment is producing a level of emotional discord comparable to the mass anxieties of a period approaching the declaration of war. Whether war between nations is on the horizon or not is debatable. But at home there is already a war of attrition between individuals, family members, neighbours, workmates and strangers.
The rising hatred is doing a job for those in power: the masses, the lower classes, the mob, are fighting each other, not them. In fact, we are eating each other alive. It is difficult to see how, exactly, the commentators propose to “put the Nation back together”. In reality, the best interests of the two opposing classes, Capitalist and Worker, are diametrically opposed.
We are, and have been for centuries, finally divided between those who produce the wealth and those who own it. Redistribution of wealth requires one side to give-up something – and the working class has been “giving” more of its meagre share up to the powerful elite 1% ever more generously over the past 4 decades. The very real and essential need to redistribute back downwards is the real but hidden cause of the emotional distress and tension of the day.
The power of Capitalist class and their political classmates, able to control the media discourse, sack workers at will, determine the spending power of the currency and threaten the wrath of God against dissenters, is altogether awesome. It rules with such force that we feel powerless in its shadow, and, in desperation either give-in to hopelessness or seek to exert what little semblance of power we have over those nearest to us.
Many mimic the ruthlessness displayed by theirs rulers in the vain hope of some control over their own destinies. Others join in the song-and-dance of the elites in just as hopeless a gamble of having some crumbs of power and wealth drip down onto them. But there has been little social mobility across the entire history of capitalism, and absolutely none in Britain through the past 40 years. Hoping for a government of national salvation is the cruellest of all electoral illusions.
However gut-wrenching it may feel, we have to organise to join together, to share our common class interests rather than focus on our differences, and to redistribute our common frustrations, fears and failings out of our homes and on to those who are truly responsible. Collective mass action to demand redistribution of wealth and power is the only solution to this emotional climate. It is quite possible. After all, we are the many and they are the few. At the start of 35 days of infuriating electioneering we must remember that.