Freedom News

Bye by-elections, hello hope

On July 20, we saw three by-elections resulting from three different stories of Tory hubris. With the votes all counted, the picture is mixed and open to a certain amount of interpretation and/or spin. Labour and the Liberal Democrats gained seats from the conservatives in Selby and Ainsty, and Somerton and Frome, respectively, with the Tories managing to hold onto Boris Johnson’s old seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

While some might think it’s nice that everyone went home with a prize, all the cool kids did anyway; the results show a clear loser. Ultimately it was not a good day for the Tories, who only avoided a wipe-out by holding onto the relatively safe seat of Uxbridge by a few hundred votes.

The most obvious takeaway is that people are generally sick of the Tories. This isn’t surprising, and, as with the rest of the country, the polling in the run-up to the by-elections reflected just that.

However, despite being predicted to win in Uxbridge, Labour still fell short by about 500 votes. Some may play this off as always a bit of a long shot or even blame the recent expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone. Still, the fact it came so close should worry those considering Labour’s prospects at the next general election to be “essentially a shoo-in”.

Despite an impressive swing to the Lib Dems in Somerset, they’ve traditionally had a strong following in this area, often beating Labour to second place. They’ve been putting in the footwork over the last few years, and the effort seems to be paying off.

Finally, the voter turnout was relatively low, under 50% in all three constituencies, although this is common at by-elections held outside of a general election.

The question is, what does this mean? All three parties are celebrating their respective wins, so who came out on top? Arguably the Lib Dems did the best in so far as they finally won a seat they’ve been courting for the last few years. However, it’s still hard not to see the overall results as more about anti-current-government sentiment rather than in favour of anyone in particular.

As we move closer to a probable 2024 general election, the current state of affairs sees the three main parties increasingly indistinguishable. Each offers only a mildly different serving of uninspiring neoliberal hellscape, with only your choice of authoritarian topping to set them apart.

Anarchists have always made the point that liberal democracy is a path to nowhere, and as things currently stand, the somewhat reductive phrase “all the parties are the same” feels more accurate than ever. Yet this critique often translates into an excuse to ignore electoral politics altogether, a mistake that should be avoided.

With “hope” quickly becoming a dirty word in mainstream politics, a void is emerging that needs to be filled, and as anarchists, we offer a viable and positive alternative. But while we regularly talk about the pointlessness of voting in elections, we are still struggling to put our democratic alternatives into terms accessible to those outside our pre-existing bubbles. It’s all very well saying: “Don’t vote, organise,” but this is pretty meaningless if we aren’t creating the structures to show people what this means.

With more and more people turning away from voting and towards apathy, political alienation is increasing. It is crucial at this time to move beyond simple sloganeering and be there to catch the people dropping out of mainstream politics and show that we offer a new and better direction. A direction in which “hope” is more than just a meaningless buzzword and where “change” is a real and achievable goal.

~ Sam Skelt

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