I strive to write balanced posts whenever I venture into politics. I tiptoe cautiously, aware that kindness comes in all political colours and so does bigotry and self-centredness. I strive to have compassion for all, not just those who see the world through the same political lens that I do.
But yesterday, I cried. Our general election results will almost certainly mean more cuts to the poor, more foodbanks, more homeless on our streets. Because the party in power thinks we need to stop scroungers, whilst doing nothing to prevent big businesses avoid tax. It has no interest in tackling the complex issue of mental health that affects so many of our population. Within hours of the result the Department of Work and Pensions released a document on cuts to disabled work access scheme hours. By evening, I had an email from Amnesty UK saying: “With the election results now in it is likely that the Human Rights Act will be under threat like never before.”
I also feel sad when I think of how I stood for two hours outside a polling booth, smiling at voters as they went in. I’m not usually motivated to do this, but in last November, I happened upon a tweet about a Question and Answer session on Facebook with Ed Miliband, who has just resigned as leader of the Labour Party. I didn’t ask any questions, but I did read his answers. In just a few minutes there were so many questions he couldn’t possibly answer them all. What fascinated me was that the vast majority of those he chose to answer were on social care issues or mental health issues. I began to pay more attention to him them, to read about him and listen to him.
I didn’t agree with everything I heard him say. But I agreed with enough of it to know that I wanted to see this man as Prime Minster. It’s rare, very rare, for a politician to take responsibility for mistakes, and equally rare for one to be so interested in compassion, empathy and in mental health. As I’ve already said in the post Is Mental Health a Priority For Politicians, once I began looking around I discovered that Miliband’s interest in mental health was enough that he had commissioned a Taskforce to look into ways to that “society needs to change to prevent mental health problems and promote good mental health.”
You don’t need to read many of my posts to know that I think mental health needs to be a priority for all societies and that mindful awareness, allowing emotions and compassion, including self-compassion, play a massive part in supporting ourselves and others. So, although I could see that a few parties are aware of mental health issues, I particularly like that the Labour party recognises that mindfulness can prevent problems in the first place. It was clear Labour was never going to get a majority, so I hoped for a coalition government of Labour, Lib-Dems and Greens. All have good policies, not just on mental health but on several other issues. All seemed likely to be able to work together.
A few days before the election, I met my MP in the street. (He was out knocking doors to chat to constituents.) I spoke to him and asked how the campaign was going. The conversation very quickly turned to mental health – several people in Scotland have conspiracy theories our referendum last year was rigged, that M15 was involved. He said that many of the people he helps wouldn’t have the problems they did with just a little bit of mental health support. Sometimes people just needed to gain more confidence to resolve issues.
I think he was right, partly because of the people I met outside that polling booth. It was a fairly poor area, and many of the people coming to vote looked frail and unhealthy. Some were angry at me for even being there, since I was representing a party they now hate. They told me their reasons why. Some were not angry at me, but still angry at the party, and at politicians in general. They felt let down; they wanted to feel supported. One man was in remission from the same cancer my father died of, and his rented apartment was leaking. He’d called the landlord who had taken 48 hours to repair it, and even then it didn’t work. He felt worn out with the struggle, and, though he didn’t use the words, it was obvious he just really would have liked someone to take care of him. Yet it hadn’t occurred to him to ask for help from a politician or anyone else.
Earlier this year I reviewed: Them And Us, by Arthur Deikman. This is a powerful book that I would advise anyone with an interest in politics or the working of society in general to read. In it, among other things, Deikman describes how we all long for “the back seat of the car” – the safety of knowing someone else is taking care of us. Deikman says that in most of us this longing is unconscious – so we act on it without realising why we feel and act the way we do. It’s Deikman’s view that this lack of awareness is what makes the desire problematic. He’s probably right, though even when we realise we yearn for a parental figure, it doesn’t instantly make the yearning go away.
Since I read Them and Us, I’ve become more aware of this longing in myself and others. On Thursday I saw it over and over in the people who spoke to me. Their lives were hard, they felt let down by one set of politicians and were pinning their hopes on another. They glossed over the aspects of that party they didn’t like (just as they probably had done before with Labour) so it can preach anti-austerity, claim progressive policies and climate change concern whilst its leader flies around in a helicopter. It can rail against the establishment whilst having been the establishment in Scotland for eight years.
I could go on, but the point isn’t to attack another party so much as to point out that when we pin our hopes of a better life on a politician we are always going to be disappointed.No party and no politician can give us the life we want. Some can help to make it better, and some may undoubtedly make it worse. The inequality gap in the UK is massive and growing. That’s not likely to change now with a Prime Minster who defends the zero-hours contracts that when questioned repeatedly he admitted he could not live on.
So what those of us disappointed with the election result do? How can we create change? For me, the way forward is the same as it was before. First, we allow our sadness. And then we pick ourselves up, and we keep being the change we want to see. For me, of course, that means continuing to write posts about compassion and to encourage 1000 Voices Speak For Compassion to develop and grow. It also means we talk to the homeless and help them in whatever way we feel able to, we support our neighbours and the poor halfway across the world. We send loving thoughts to the leaders we have instead of longing for those we don’t have. We hold them accountable and we encourage them with kindness to see that kindness towards those at the bottom of our ladder doesn’t make any of us smaller, but makes all of us bigger.