I’m in the weirdest post-election haze. I’m happy. Sad. Bewildered. Confused. Slightly lost. Tired.
Yet, from it all, inspired.
Let’s start with the feeling I understand best. I’m ecstatic that so many of the Labour MPs whose seats seemed painfully at risk have been returned triumphantly. As beacons of hope, the huge increase in the majorities for Wes Streeting and Peter Kyle are matched by Luke Pollard and Lloyd Russell-Moyle joining the green benches. This is a credit to their ground campaigns, the dedication of candidates, and the way they have fought passionately for their constituencies and constituents over the past two years. I’m inspired by them. Should I ever decide to be a candidate myself, I will aspire to be like them.
That we gained seats like Stroud, Canterbury and Peterborough utterly bewilders me. As the exit poll flashed up there was disbelief – partly a self-protection mechanism after the scolding we all felt in 2015 – but primarily because it seemed so detached from what many of us had experienced on the doorstep. But seeing David Drew return to parliament, overturning a sizable Tory majority, is proof that Labour remains a party that can offer something to people across the country – not only to the urban, metropolitan youth. Against all commentary, we have a message that resonates.
For many, the rallies have been an inspirational aspect of the Labour campaign. The energy, vibrancy and enthusiasm – especially of those who have never campaigned with the party before – was truly incredible to witness. That so many new members and supporters got involved – not just on their social media – is a credit to the leadership.
But for me, the most rewarding part was being on the doorstep. No matter how many times you have done it before, there is always a small feeling of nervousness when you knock on a stranger’s door and ask them about their politics. You don’t know them and they don’t know you. Yet here you are. What I realised is how powerful this moment can be. Politics (slightly) aside, the act of talking to someone breaks down those barriers and assumptions linked to party preference, ideology or background. You realise that most people are nice, make rational decisions, and – bar a few exceptions – are happy to chat with you. If only we did this more often – and not just as members of a political party.
But still, this is not what I hoped for either. Despite real optimism, I can’t shake how disappointed I am that we are not the party of government. Our 262 seats is a move in the right direction, but we are not in power. This is not to undermine our significant achievements; rather it is to contextualise them against our ultimate goal. We are not fighting to be a strong opposition. We are fighting to be the Government of the UK – to transform people’s lives, communities and our environment. We remain a long way from this. This was, despite such a galvanising campaign, our third general election defeat in a row. For any party member, this is hard to take.
In this election, we have reached new audiences, mobilised young voters, and offered a positive vision. But the rehabilitation of the Labour Party is not complete – and it won’t be until we are in Government again. Next we need Conservative voters to place their trust in us. Only by persuading Conservative voters will we ever gain a majority in the House of Commons. I cringe every time I hear someone say that a Conservative voter is ‘evil’ – just as I would every other stereotypical prejudice. It is this placing of people in boxes – this refusal to engage meaningfully as human beings with those who we think disagree with us – that results in the polarisation of our communities and country. Never before has the UK felt so divided. For me, the act of knocking on someone’s door is a small act in overcoming that division.
The British left have been reenergised. This feeling of fight cannot be lost in the months and years ahead. But to win, we’ll need to go further. Today, I don’t know what this will take. But we cannot write off the 2017 election campaign as a runaway success: we too must learn from this election. At the next election, whenever that might be, we need 64 seats to have a majority – and these seats won’t be easy to win. Yes, we’ve increase our vote share – but so did the Conservatives.
This week we have shown that we are still a party capable of winning and governing. Let us not stop. To do so would be to risk all the gains we have just made.