The latest centrist trend in the British commentariat is to claim to be “politically homeless.” The concept rests on the fact that they would rarely vote Conservative but dare not vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, and all energy is spent attacking Labour. The “politically homeless” should have been served by Change UK/The Independent Group, but the whole endeavor collapsed. Westminster journalists were utterly convinced that a huge untapped centrist demographic sat waiting to be rescued by such a team. But alas, they disintegrated, and most members of Parliament (MPs) quit the group, with only three standing in this election, two of them using Labour colors on their posters, presumably to trick the electorate.
There’s a certain overprivileged indulgence in histrionically throwing around the phrase “politically homeless.” It’s impossible to walk down any main street in London without encountering homeless people. This is a new problem. Since the Conservatives came into power, street homelessness has risen by 165 percent. Near the Houses of Parliament, homeless people have put up tents to keep themselves warmer at night. In the subway that leads into Parliament, dozens of homeless people sleep away from the rain. Every train and Tube station in London has multiple beggars outside, while the London Underground regularly plays a robotic announcement asking people not to give to homeless people begging in the carriages. In London, one in fifty-two people have no home; less public are the 320,000 people that homelessness charity Shelter estimates to fall into the category it calls “hidden homeless,” those in temporary accommodations or sofa-surfing. But Shelter warns this is a gross underestimate: it’s almost impossible to find out the sheer scale of the problem.
By contrast, those who describe themselves as politically homeless are all from a very specific demographic. They are usually people in middle age who believed New Labour to be the height of utopian political policy. They own their own home and will never be at risk of homelessness. They are utterly convinced voters are exclusively concerned with Brexit and define themselves as Remain or Leave, largely because their friends do so. Their politics is based entirely on the fact that they correspond exclusively with a small group of friends who also graduated from Oxford, and they fetishize the 2012 Olympics, believing Britain was a utopia then.
The idea of “political homelessness” in the current political climate in the UK is indulgent in the extreme. Schools are begging parents for donations so they can buy pens and paper. Some are closing on Fridays because they simply cannot afford to run the school five days a week. Teachers talk of children coming in wearing unwashed clothes because their parents cannot afford to wash them, and many children admit to teachers that the only meals they eat are the free school lunches provided to the poorest pupils. Doctors report the return of Dickensian illnesses: rickets, scarlet fever, and scurvy.
A huge number of people live in poverty due to government sanctions that cut off benefits, and even those on benefits can barely pay their bills and are aware that the last thing they can cut without bailiffs hammering on their door is food. I’ve learned to go to interview people with coffee, cake, and snacks, because those who are kind enough to talk to me sometimes cannot afford to put the kettle on or buy coffee.
This election is a binary choice now that the Liberal Democrats are collapsing. The Tories offer more of the same, with a tiny cash injection that does nothing to address the deep cuts austerity has inflicted on communities for a decade. Labour offers a radical vision that fights poverty, addresses the deep inequalities facing millions of people across the country, combats the desolation of the postindustrial regions, and fights climate change with a Green New Deal. Simply put, the Tories offer more of the same, while Labour proposes a new society. To complain that one is “politically homeless” is to reveal how low the personal stakes of politics are for you: whoever takes power, your life won’t change, and the millions of people suffering under Conservative policies are nothing compared to the discomfort the idea of voting for a sincere socialist arouses in you. If you were playing poker, it would be a tell.
For decades, those on the Left were sneeringly dismissed, told to hold their nose and vote Labour. Now the tables have turned, but far more is at stake. The “politically homeless” need to bite their lip and vote Labour, or condemn even more people to misery.