Before voting in last week’s elections, I collared a 31-year-old who had never voted before.
I was, as a local journalist, on the prowl for some stories, who was voting for who – more importantly, why?
I was standing outside a Baptist church in Aylesham, Kent, a village conceived 100 years ago as a home to families of miners working at the local colliery.
If you could build a Labour area from scratch, you’d look to Aylesham for a blue print – the original miners were brought in from Manchester, Lancashire, and Wales – it was probably the most working class area in Kent.
In short, Labour.
And yet, as the industry died in the late 1980’s at the hands of a Tory government, and as an influx of more middle class outsiders – such as myself – swarmed into a succession of new builds – the village followed the rest of the county in turning blue.
The first time voter was a cleaner at the local hospital. She feared the impending closure, she feared her elderly father getting unwell, “there are no beds, none,” she lamented, she feared the stresses and strains of immigration in the area, she feared losing her job.
These are serious concerns, echoed by many across the county and indeed the country, who then, I asked, was she voting for?
“Conservative,” she shot back.
If you’re observant enough, fate often provides the narrative to life, we provide the dialogue – and as fate would have it, our dialogue was interrupted by a Labour canvasser.
You know the type: Dreadlocked hair, elaborate tattoos, a T-shirt which read, in red: “Not in my name,” accompanied by a picture of a fox. A real moralist.
Leaflets, or as the left say, literature, were thrust into our hands – one, I remember, mentioned Cuba, the others praised the new dawn we were sure to wake up to under Corbyn’s premiership.
We were spoken at for about 90 seconds: “Evil, cuts, many not the few, refugees, corporation, low tax, big cats, etc.”
Nothing this impassioned woman touched on was remotely applicable to this voter’s life: a voter who earns close to minimum wage, a voter who lives in a working class area, and freely admitted a kind of innate “repulsion” voting Tory.
But vote Tory she did, “It’s not wrong to talk about immigration, come to the hospital with me, and you’ll see what too many people does to an area.
“Wait till you can’t get a dentist appointment, wait till a school teacher writes to you asking for money because they can’t afford to stay open.
Statue of a miner in Aylesham, Kent, celebrating the village’s mining heritage.
On June 9, my social and professional circle was delighted. Yes, they had lost, but the moral victory was in the bag. No question.
Many of them, residing in the people’s front of north London, praised a genuine left wing victory, “change at last,” they tweeted, “victory for the many not the few” they Facebooked.
In fact many of them, between polishing off their smoothies, texted me to gloat at the collapse of my world view.
And yet Aylesham – which as a collective, closely resembles my own political world view: broadly blue labour, voted Conservative.
As someone’s whose job is to talk to people, my advice to my comrades in the people’s front was as stark on June 9 as it was on June 8 – the middle class, faux socialism, won a great victory.
Scrap tuition fees, blame America, neoliberalism, and hike up the minimum wage for Costa, and the local barista alike. Oh and solidarity with Cuba, naturally.
What was said of immigration? What was said of a benefits system so chronically abused by generations of families? What of industry long gone? And how are we paying for it all?
Aylesham voted blue – lots of working class areas did the same.
One member of the Tory youth party – I know, me neither, text me to say: “Nothing to fear, all middle class kids like you… all turn right wing with taxes/kids… if working areas are voting blue we’re ok!”
And he’s right.
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