A pair of star-cross'd lovers, who I suspect are quite alike in dignity, were rumbled this week sharing an embrace across the political divide. In fair Oxford, where the pair were seen, did political grudge break to political unity?
David Cameron was the future once. Quite what he anticipated this future to look like I can’t be sure, though I suspect as his premiership progressed, the image in his mind’s eye increasingly reflected the one of him enjoying a tipple and tab at a music festival this week.
In the early days, Prime Minister Cameron certainly had a lot on his plate. Desperate to extricate his party from its “nasty” moniker, trying to placate disgruntled backbenchers, struggling to build up momentum with ankle-grabbing Lib Dems weighing him down, Cameron nevertheless seemed to manage a certain self-confidence that convinced voters to return him to office in 2015.
Re-elected, Cameron returned bullish. He pushed for gay marriage against the wishes of many in his own party, utilised the rhetoric of liberal conservatism, and attempted to unify a country with the idea that aspiration and determination could see one overcome any erstwhile barrier.
We all know how this ends. The public reaction to the economic crisis was a slow burning shift towards the concept of national identity and disillusionment with a perceived elite. The Brexit result ended David Cameron’s tenure and has left him spending his days wondering why his friends can’t come out to play tennis on a work day and cuddling Corbynistas at festivals.
The image of the relaxed Cameron embracing a Corbyn fan seems to both symbolise and contradict current political tribalism. Traditional thinking would have it that these two individuals should inhabit different social, as well as political worlds. Yet the socially liberal former prime minister and the Corbyn fan in the socialist jacket (that reportedly cost £300) probably share more in common than the symbolism would suggest.
Whilst much has been made of the move towards the extremes of politics on both sides of the spectrum, when it comes to policy, the proponents of both factions seem a little muddled. Received wisdom would have it that on the one hand, the right has a predilection for self-harm, wanting the UK to retreat from the world and close us off from progress, whilst the left has once again gotten lost in an ideology which sees them worshipping false idols and falling prey to in-fighting.
This is all pretty miserable. But as we saw with the surprising results of the 2017 general election, these extremes do not form the majority of public opinion. A small majority for the Tories, a few more Lib Dems, the destruction of Ukip, none of this suggests a huge public swing of opinion to extreme left or right wing politics, but a rather pragmatic and polite request for incremental change.
The reality is that the majority of Tories and Corbynistas are more likely to be found embracing each other at festivals than fighting ideological battles about the UK’s future. Many who support Corbyn are looking for a change and a fairer society, not a lurch towards communism. Likewise, Conservative voters are more likely to be optimistic about Britain’s future, rather than gunning for a scrap with the rest of the world.
The symbols and slogans of the extremes undermine the reality of an electorate that is broadly consensual when compared to other nations. I just hope our elected representatives can recognise this and emulate our protagonists’ embrace.
This article was written by Gerard Cockburn, Account Executive at MPC.