Whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s by-election (and mini-EU referendum re-run) in Sleaford, Lincs, CARO FENTIMAN celebrates a Lib Dem victory over
Brexiteer Zac Goldsmith in Richmond
THE SUN positively beamed through my bedroom curtains the day radio news led with the story of Sarah Olney’s impressive victory in the Richmond Park by-election.
The year 2016 has been a murky disappointment in so many ways that at times it had seemed that the clouds would never lift. This had so far been the year of whatever is the opposite of the underdog (the year of the overdog?), so crawling towards the end of a grim twelve months the anti-Brexit result renewed my hope that quieter voices might be heard.
Shifting in bed, the weight of a little daughter pressing into my neck, the Lib Dem victory was something to smile about as I sipped my cup of tea.
Last night, another little daughter gripped her arms tightly around my neck, sobbing as she told me of mean girls who had not let her build a den. This particular daughter is feisty and outspoken, and it is rare for her to be bothered by things. These mean girls were bigger, though, and she is still young enough not to understand why everyone can’t just get along. Within this simple analogy it is hard for me to comprehend quite how the world got so messy, why we can’t all just be nice to one another. But if this year has shown me anything, it’s that bullies have a nasty way of getting what they want.
From the mendacious, aggressive Brexit campaign and the vile American presidential election to the hideous violence in Syria, 2016 has demonstrated the very worst of human behaviour. How can we expect our children to respect one another when even our politicians can’t play nicely?
Newspapers scream ‘Brexit’ day after day, as if this sham of a situation should define us. Meanwhile, school and hospital budgets shrink, people grow poorer and the planet gets hotter. What began as a disastrous experiment in power has become a monster threatening to devour us.
Whilst Brexit was obviously what clinched it for Sarah Olney, the huge sigh of relief that swept across social media (at least across MY bit of it) suggests that those who believe in progressive politics in any area would grab the moment and run with it.
For my tribe of four little girls, the image of a smiling woman standing firmly on a podium, her arm raised in triumph, was crucial. My nine-year old is currently studying Ellen Wilkinson, the formidable MP who led the Jarrow marchers; sketches of suffragettes litter our kitchen table. This history is inspirational and fascinating, but we need more modern, visible role models.
Americans sobbed openly as they realised that their daughters would not see imaginary shards falling from the glass ceiling last month. They will have to fight even harder to protect and advance their rights. European friends talk of moving away from the UK, they don’t feel good about the direction our country is taking.
Meanwhile, the woman who vanquished Zac Goldsmith entered politics only eighteen months ago and offers hope to those of us feeling disenfranchised and powerless. Good to see [murdered Labour MP for Batley and Spen] Jo Cox’s legacy continuing as Olney promises to reject the politics of anger, intolerance and division.
Sitting uncharacteristically quietly at the table last night my sad little daughter was drawing, unbeknown to me, a cartoon of her day. In the first picture, she smiled happily as the sun shone and a cheery fox sat with some chirping birds. In the next, three looming figures with cartoon eyebrows scowled next to a weeping little girl. The black and white nature of the images, the good against bad, sun versus clouds, all made me think that humans really manage to complicate things.
There will always be mean people with fierce eyebrows, and often their voices will be louder. It’s not about how loudly you shout though, it’s about what you say.
There’s nothing like a barnstormer of a tune to get you up and dancing, but a slow-burner will stay with you forever; 2016 lost another sparkly genius when Leonard Cohen died last month. His music had spoken to me through the floorboards of my teenager bedroom whenever my dad played his Cohen LP over and over in the early hours. The singer’s rumbling tones never clamoured for attention, but he spoke of beauty and human emotion with truth and meaning.
It’s time to move on from the cartoon baddies, the warmongers and the bullies. Give me a cheery fox and some chirping birds, it’s time the sun came out again.
We are the Voice of The North and we would like to be your voice, too