Last night, I put on my special Hat of Democracy and went out in the pouring rain to vote. I did not go with a dance in my step. I went grumpily, out of duty to the Pankhursts.
But the funny thing is that it was like a party, at our tiny village hall. There were dogs and helpful people with umbrellas and the old and the young. Well, I thought, rather startled, the democratic process is still in rude health. This cheered me immensely. I’m not tribal. I gave up tribalism years ago, because it was so tiring and often led to shouting. I want a government that works and gives people a chance. It’s not very sexy, but that’s what happens when you get to fifty and won’t leave the house without a hat on. That people were there, voting, minding, leaving their mark, seemed to me a great good.
In the small hours of the morning, the democratic process, in its rude health, came out and did the fandango. It got stroppy. It punched a few people on the nose, because it could. It confused all the pundits and the pollsters and the psephologists, and it made David Dimbleby say ‘bloody hell’ on an open mic. (For my foreign readers, this is a bit like The Queen saying bugger.)
Twitter overheated and had to go in for repairs, its broken engine letting out great gasps of steam. All over the country, people who had planned to go to bed did not go to bed. Nobody knew what was happening. Jeremy Corbyn went in and out of his house like a jack-in-a-box, at least one MP appeared to be drunk on national television, and Ken Clarke stood square in his Hush Puppies and called everyone an idiot. (I love those elder statesmen, in the twilight of their careers. They have nothing to lose and no reason to stay on message, so they come out and say exactly what they think, and it’s like a tall glass of water.)
In the morning, the rumours started: on the telephone, on social media, in the street, on the email. ‘Did you hear?’ said the gossips, in shock and delight. ‘Did you hear?’ Did you hear that one Tory described Theresa May’s bus as the Bus of Fucking Failure? Did you hear that Conservative ministers are saying they did not know what was in the manifesto until they saw it on the BBC? Did you hear that Boris is already on manoeuvres? Did you hear that May would not consult anyone except for Nick Thing and Fiona Thing?
The fierce rain of criticism rained down on the Prime Minister for a campaign that left people utterly baffled. The strange psychological power of expectations meant that Labour were being hailed as dazzling giant-slayers, even though they actually lost. Never was a defeat celebrated so much as if it were a victory. Everyone on the Left was dancing in the streets, because the young people came out, because even some of the Scots came home, because the hard Brexit landslide turned out to be a chimera.
There were wild conspiracy theories that the Conservatives had thrown the election on purpose because they knew, in their secret hearts, that they could not climb Mount Brexit.
Here in Scotland, the SNP juggernaut was picked up as if it were a Tonka toy and thrown off the road. There, said the voters, fed up with independence obsession and dire education results and the bonkerness of the Named Person plan, take that. The glittering, gleaming irony was that it was Scotland that stopped a complete Tory meltdown, even though the joke was for many years that Scottish Conservatives were as rare as giant pandas.
The DUP, a small group of Northern Irish politicians, came blinking into the spotlight, like people who had spent many years living in a cupboard. Everybody had to scramble to remember who they were and what they stood for. Now, they were the kingmakers, the only people who could keep the government alive.
‘What do you think,’ said a friend, pensively, ‘that the Queen is going to say to Theresa May?’
Nobody knows, I think. Nobody knows anything. I have absolutely no idea what the electorate was trying to say or what this election means or where dear old Blighty will go from here. The democratic process, having had its little joke, has caught a bus to the seaside and is eating Brighton rock, leaving the country to wonder and ponder and gossip and speculate and bitch and celebrate and mourn.
I dream, idly, of a government of all the talents, a little like the one we had in the war. There were a lot of very poor performers in this election, but, in tiny offices and unsung constituencies and dark Whitehall corridors, there are good men and women of thought and talent. There are interesting people who did interesting jobs before they stood for parliament – doctors and soldiers and experts in foreign affairs – and when the government totters, as I suspect it will, I dream that they might all be called up, from across the party divides, to steer the ship through the stormy seas.
That would never happen, of course, but wouldn’t it be lovely? These are serious times, which call for serious people. Nobody out in the front of these campaigns seemed to me very serious, or not serious enough. I yearn for a Dream Team, who would make all the nonsense make sense.