The election that brought us together5 minute read

This will be remembered as the election that brought us closer together.

Bear with me on this one.

For me, like many, this election was the first where I was an active participant beyond casting my vote. I wish I could find numbers to support this comment, but all I have is anecdote.

On Monday night I went to canvass in the Kensington constituency, but went home without knocking once – there were more than 200 volunteers and only so many doors.

But my canvassing in Bournemouth West and Reading West meant that for the first time in my life I was purposefully engaging complete strangers in conversation about everything we humans hold most dear: our health, wealth, families and futures.

How could such meaningful conversations fail to bring us closer together?

Perhaps half of the people I spoke to weren’t remotely interested in holding an unsolicited conversation on their doorsteps. They’d convey this in a manner either polite or abrupt – I hold short of saying ‘rude’ because who knows from what I interrupted them?

But half of my answered knocks ended up with a profitable conversation of some sort. Of course, some of those conversations were with people intending to vote for the Conservative Party. Of course, we started from opposite poles of opinion. But did those conversations drive us apart? No.

The original sense of the word ‘conversation’ is to ‘live with’, rather than to ‘talk with’. For these brief moments, facing each other across a threshold, we tried to find ways of living together, squaring the sympathetic human before us with the antipathetic opinions they espoused.

It wasn’t always easy, but I always walked away feeling like I understood a little better and had lived a little fuller.

From brief glimpses, I guessed that the lives I interrupted were trimmed from the same cloth as the one I returned to after the door closed softly: a mother and son watching the football on TV, a woman washing the dishes before going out, one man drinking a beer after work, another taking the dog out for a walk.

So, for me at least, this will be remembered as the election that brought us closer together.

What do we do now?

Today, though, everyone is asking, ‘What do we do now?’

I’ve done the research. France sounds good – citizenship in two years if I enrol on a masters degree and don’t develop any ‘assimilation defects’.

Italy is a viable option too, assuming I can find someone – anyone – willing to marry a jobbing writer in his late thirties.

Quitting the country aside, what do we do now?

Last night’s election results have made me think more carefully about what I’m already doing, and to measure that against the yardstick of my ideal future society.

It’s not a complicated calibration – am I pushing in the right direction? – and I think this election gives us all a moment’s grace to tap the barometer and take a reading of our purpose.

If we decide that what we were doing yesterday is helping to create our own vision of society, then we should double down and use the vacant impotence of the general election results to motivate ourselves to work harder and faster toward our goals.

If we decide that what we were doing yesterday doesn’t align with our vision, then we must change. We must do whatever we can to change whatever we can in our lives today so that we are always working towards a more promising community.

Life is too short to stay indoors, praying for rain.

~

So I spent the morning working on Thighs of Steel, a project that creates the kinds of communities that I want to participate in.

This year, for example, the 90 cyclists raised over £87,000 for grassroots refugee organisations that I know have a uplifting influence on the lives of the dispossessed in our society.

So what can I do? I can use the energy of this election to work even harder on next year’s ride to make sure that it’s as successful as it possibly can be. That’s what I can do.

In just over a week, I will be volunteering with Crisis at Christmas. This year I’m doing three shifts instead of my usual two. It’s not a huge amount of work, but it’s the kind of response that I can make to the crisis of five more years of Conservative government.

We know that homelessness will increase again during this parliament.

Since the Conservatives first came to power in 2010, the number of households in temporary accommodation in England has risen by 60 percent (2017 figures; it’s got even worse since then) and the number of homeless people being treated in A&E has tripled (2018 figures). That’s astonishing.

I cast my vote for a party that promised to end rough sleeping within five years. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a priority for most of my fellow voters.

So what can I do? I can, in some small way, stand in solidarity with rough sleepers and homeless people by volunteering my time over Christmas. That’s what I can do.

~

Reading that back, it sounds like I’m virtue signalling, wanging my holier-than-thou altruistic tittery around like a politician before his scandal hits the newsstands. Sorry – that’s not what I meant.

I’m trying to say that everything we do is political because everything we do contributes to the future society that we’re building together.

So how does that society feel to you? And how can we use the energy and momentum of this election – however you voted – to deepen the ways we live with each other?

One more thing…

If you liked this post, then you’ll almost certainly enjoy my newsletter. You can check out the most recent issue on Substack. See ya there - dc:

David Charles Newsletter

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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