I was living in Washington, DC when Donald Trump won the 2016 US Presidential Election. In the days following, I wrote an essay titled, ‘Why Trump? (Or America in Fragments). The UK is a completely different place, with an entirely different political system and culture. But I kept returning to thoughts I had back then, about a nation fragmented. So I wrote them down:
People want answers. On social media timelines, in newspapers and blogs, across dinner tables and at the pub, people are despairing that Boris Johnson is PM; the Conservatives back in power. People are asserting singular causes: it was Corbyn. Brexit. The media. London-centrism. Facebook. Disaffection. Fear.
The reality is more complex. There is no single person, group, strategy miscalculation, or media moment responsible for this outcome. Ignore the thousand Think Pieces and #THREADS saying otherwise. In the face of a desperately bleaker future, certainty is dangerous. It lets us look away from more complicated, more challenging, truths.
In some cases, people voted Conservative because they saw no viable alternative. That was not the majority instinct. Millions wanted this outcome. Across income levels, across constituencies – those that Labour lost and those it never had – Britain elected Boris. Telling ourselves lets the nation off the hook.
Other writers are debating Labour Party strategy failings and rebuilding plans; scrutinising and pontificating over where it all went wrong; which new leader might get it right. I want to ask a different question: “What kind of society wants Boris Johnson, wants this Conservative Party, to lead it?”
To understand the election we must be open to a complex, even contradictory, set of answers. We must look at the state of the nation, not the state of Parties. That nation – our Disunited Kingdom – can only be understood in fragments.