Politics has always been an emotional subject for me. Some people view politics through a logical prism. My politics has always been about a yearning for things to be better than they are. This is reflected in the blogs I write and the campaigns I support. Those who know me might be surprised to know that I spend a lot of time doubting my beliefs. That’s because I believe it is important to be self-critical. Even if my feelings about politics are emotional, it’s important to re-examine your thinking every so often.
I was busy re-examining my thinking around at about 7am on Friday the 8th of May 2015. Some of this was fuelled by being awake for more than 24 hours staying up all night to watch the election results. The night had started badly with the exit polls and had gone downhill from there. I was worried about the future and what the first Tory majority budget in 18 years would mean for friends who were disabled, unemployed or needed care.
Beyond this worry was an anxiety that the way I saw the world was fundamentally different from the majority of people. I had thought that the electorate would take a look at the pain that five years of coalition austerity had caused and would vote David Cameron out of office. The opposite was true. The voters had taken a look at five years of cuts to essential services that people relied on and decided we needed more of the same.
Plagued by the doubt that what I wanted from politics was radically different to what most people wanted, I was in need of some hope. This hope arrived in the form of Jeremy Corbyn running for Labour leader. I had a strong feeling that the Corbyn was the change the Labour Party needed. I joined Facebook groups that were passionately pro-Corbyn and followed Corbyn-supporting Twitter feeds. Ordinary people were connecting online, drawn together by someone that they felt could change politics for the better. I wasn’t out of touch with people at all.
There are few news publications I read regularly (the Guardian, New Statesman, BBC – metropolitan, lefty stuff), but generally when I have a free moment I go to Twitter or Facebook. Soon I was regularly checking these pro-Corbyn Facebook and Twitter pages as it helped with the worry that my views were out touch with regular people. It’s worth noting that most of what I was reading didn’t come from people I knew personally, but from like pages, groups and feeds that social media sites suggested to me based on my politics. These sites convinced me I was connecting with ordinary people
Expect I wasn’t connecting with them, I was lurking. I was inhaling the interactions of others without leaving any mark on these pages. At the time I was fine with this, it was exhilarating to find people who felt about Corbyn as I did. Lurking or passive usage of social media sites can “can harm your emotional well-being” according to a story on Mashable.com that sites a study from the University of Copenhagen. According to Mashable the study stated that: “if one uses Facebook passively, one should reduce this kind of behaviour.” So it wasn’t good for my sense of certainty.
I’ll spare you the recent history recap, but 2016 was not a good year for the politics I support. The EU referendum, the unstoppable rise of Donald Trump, the Labour leadership election, all revived my doubt that the political changes I yearned for were not what other people wanted.
The political upsets of last year caused huge division on the social networking sites that I lurked on. The memes and new items posted by in Facebook became accusatory, the comments deseeded into harsh exchanges. Twitter users compressed as much rage as they could into 140 characters and fired them at their political enemies.
I felt that the collapse of Labour was my fault for wanting politics to change. My doubt in my beliefs, led me to try seek out different Facebook groups to lurk in. Ones where people were angry about Brexit and blamed Corbyn for his lack of an enthusiastic defence of the EU. I consumed angry tirades on how Brexit was Corbyn’s fault and how the Tories would be in power for decades. I also lurked in groups that continually denounced “Blairites” and those trying to sabotage the Labour leader. It was a vicious time in Labour social spaces and I drank it all in, trying to figure out what was right.
I couldn’t escape the fear that the problem was that I doubted. I doubted that Corbyn was the right man for the job. I doubted that Owen Smith would do any better. Everyone online seemed so certain, but I didn’t know what to do, so I voted for neither candidate in the leadership election.
The decisions facing the Labour Party and every party member had huge implications, which made my worry that I didn’t know what was right worse. Should Brexit be accepted as a democratic result or fought as economic folly? Was Corbyn taking Labour away from the centre ground and leading the party into the electoral wilderness? Or was he changing Labour to avoid the defeats suffered by Hillary Clinton, Benoît Hamon and Labour Party in the Netherlands? The centre-left didn’t have a solution to the crisis other than getting rid of Corbyn, but Corbyn himself was polling terribly and looked unlikely to be able to implement any policies.
There was so much certainty on each side, but all I had were doubts. Was there something wrong with me? Why couldn’t I see the way out of this mess as clearly as everyone else?
Fortunately, 2017 has been a better year. The predicted huge Tory majority failed to materialise in the general election. The future is still very uncertain and I still have doubts about what is right, but I have learned to accept these doubts. It may sound strange for someone who runs a political blog to say that they have doubts, but having an open mind is important as is caring about finding the right answers to the problems we face collectively.
Politics will always have a degree of subjectivity. Those who know what they believe and never doubt have a religious belief that can lead to serious errors.
This is not argument against belief, weak or strong, radical or conservative. This is not an argument for or against Corbyn, or Brexit, or anything else that has happened recently. This is an argument that politics is emotional. It is subjective and there is room for doubt along with belief. Your doubts don't have to lead to an existential crisis and the conviction of others is not weakness on your part. There's a place in politics for those who question.