Bleak House


It’s the realisation that we have another five years of a Conservative government, as well as the heavy rain, that the title seeks to evoke, rather than the Priory Hall cafe. I cried in 2010 when the Conservatives won, and before that when I read Jonathan Freedland’s warning about the impact a Tory government would have on the vulnerable in society. At the time the tears expressed my sense that something of extreme value was about to be lost.

No tears today, but an intense feeling of loss, of looking out at an extremely bleak landscape and fearing the impact for those who are vulnerable, for those who the government has set up as scapegoats. This isn’t about party politics – then, as now, my foreboding regarding the Conservatives detached itself from any expectation that, should Labour win, there would be a great turn around in direction. I had felt that the Tories would win again – I told Mark that was the case, and he dismissed the idea. I had also hoped that they wouldn’t win, that, while Labour didn’t offer strong hope, there was a whisper of a chance that if Ed Miliband’s Labour got in, we might have a government that was prepared to listen and at least try to adjust to the new reality.

I came to Lancaster because I wanted to make an event of the election, to face it bravely, rather than slink away from it, or just let it pass me by, with a now familiar stare towards the horizon that can be passed off as watching the TV or reading a book. Feeling again the proximity of the loss of Mark as I always do when I find myself on the streets I was wandering on at the moment he died, I’m back here, trying to make sense of all the feelings stirred up by they Tory win. It’s as if the two losses have wrapped themselves around each other, to produce a vast future-sapping grey fog that I can’t see beyond.

Yet the words I wrote for the 28 Days project are challenging me as I sit here on this rainy Lancaster day – even in the face of defeat, of sorrow and loss, can we say it was wrong to hope? I find myself rallying, reconfiguring my thoughts as I read what I wrote then:

But just as important as what we dream of or hope for is what we do when everything seems lost. We keep on. We march, to the booth, on the streets, wherever it takes us. One foot in front of the other, we keep going, hoping, showing up.

As I read this, the women at the next table are discussing the election and the fact that, despite their disappointment with the results, and the apparent selfishness it reflects, they remain convinced that there is potential for something different emerging. It’s important that we don’t just slip back, says one: “Someone has to keep holding the candle”.

Later on, the other of the two says she’s sorry if their conversation has disturbed me, and I tell her far from it, all that she said reinforced what I was thinking.

“It’s a tragedy, she says, not so much for me or you, but for the people who are vulnerable in society, I think this will be terrible for them.” We discuss the implication of the election, the need for something new to emerge from this, and I tell her why I’m in Lancaster, and finally, about the article I’ve written and how life and politics are flowing together for me. We chat for some time, and it feels good and hopeful, even if, as she says, we can’t be sure what it’s ultimately building towards. “Thank you for being hopeful,” she says to me when the time comes for us both to leave. “And the same to you,” I reply.

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