‘Honestly, I think I would spoil the ballot paper’ says Harri Golightly a 33-year-old illustrator who divides her time between Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire and London. She voted Remain in 2016 and now says she couldn’t put her ‘support behind any of the current options in good conscience.’
I’ve voted SNP, Green, Labour and Conservative in the past,’ Harri adds, ‘but right now I don’t think any of the parties represent my personal experience or the values of my generation.’
Politically, Britain is the most divided it’s been in recent history. Even within the two main parties, there are factions which differ widely in their politics and principals. Perhaps this wouldn’t feel so drastic if we weren’t smack bang in the middle of what is now generally acknowledged to be a complete ‘constitutional crisis’.
As someone who was previously more politically engaged than most, Harri says she now feels ‘disengaged and distrustful of the landscape surrounding Brexit.’ She is one of many people who find themselves looking to politicians for answers and finding themselves asking more questions.
Harri describes herself as ‘politically homeless’ and she’s not alone in feeling that way. A recent study conducted by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) found that over half of the British Public do not feel they are represented by a political party. That’s not to say that they weren’t engaged with politics, though. In fact, 84% of people surveyed said that they care who wins the next election.
These findings were echoed by a report released by the Hope Not Hate campaign group in January of this year. After polling almost 33,000 people they found that more than two-thirds of the British public feel they are not represented by a mainstream political party.
Politicians who appeal to Harri include Labour’s Peter Kyle, Dawn Butler and the SNP’s Mhairi Black but she doesn’t think that any party is capable of representing her ‘hopes and ideals.’
What’s most troubling is that those ‘hopes and ideals’ should be a basic standard for politicians in Britain. ‘I expect a political party to oppose racism, sexism and bullying but all of this seems to be rife across Westminster,’ Harri explains, ‘meanwhile the bigger issues – like Brexit – are handled badly by incompetent people who seem to be constantly recycle around the various offices of Government.’
For the last year, commentators around the world have wondered whether Britain’s political system is ‘at breaking point’. They’ve speculated whether the pressures of trying to extract Britain from the European Union would stretch political divisions too far, causing a long-anticipated realignment of British politics.
In February, it looked as though a great realignment was coming when 11 MPs left their respective parties to form the Independent Group – a collection of politicians with varying outlooks, no policies and no leader.
However, all of this came with the massive caveat that our first past the post electoral system makes it almost impossible for new parties to gain any traction – so a change in name would not necessarily signal a change in practice.
Fast forward to this week and British politics is well and truly deadlocked. Parliament has been unable to agree on Brexit and the speaker of the House of Commons has denied a third vote on Theresa May’s deal unless it changes ‘substantially’.
So, does the Independent Group hold more hope for Harri than Labour or the Conservatives in the midst of all this chaos? Not really. ‘Individually I agree with some of their politics,’ she says, ‘but as a group, I just feel that they are a bit transient, they don’t really represent any fixed ideology, so they just reinforce the feeling of being politically homeless.’
Before Brexit kicked off, of all the generations millennials were the least likely group to say they identified with a particular political party. So, perhaps the bigger question is not whether Brexit will ever get through parliament but whether politics as we know it can survive it?
When all is said and done, will there be any politicians that people feel are worth voting for?
Twenty-four-year-old Ruth lives in Forres on the Moray coast of Scotland. She works as a theatre carpenter and technician for a company that regularly tours Europe. Like Harri, she voted Remain and has now lost all faith in conventional party politics.
‘It’s like we’re in some sort of reality TV show,’ she says. 'It’s all about who’s bitching at who, who thinks they’ll win, who can tell the near enough truth to get popular. Brexit has just exposed this, it’s made it clear that for politicians it’s all an act.’
Like Harri, the only politician that Ruth trusts is the SNP’s Mhairi Black. ‘Fair play to her,’ Ruth says. 'She has been pointing things out – saying how ludicrous the processes are – but does anyone actually listen to the SNP? It wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference if I voted SNP anyway because Scotland has no say down south in Westminster.’
Ruth’s disillusionment is weighing increasingly heavy on her as Brexit presents more and more uncertainty: ‘I was excited by the Women’s Equality Party, but it feels a bit white and middle class. The Lib Dems aren’t really functioning so who can you vote for?!’
Harri recently applied for an Irish passport because she’s worried about what happens next for Britain and Ruth says she’s contemplating ‘buggering off for a couple of years’ while the dust settles.
More than that, though, Ruth is angry with our politicians. ‘I’m angry that Theresa May carries on in the full knowledge that Brexit was probably interfered with and that the Leave campaign did dodgy things,’ she says ‘I’m also angry that Scotland is being pulled out of the EU when it’s not what we voted for!’
A poll conducted for the site UnHerd recently found that a malaise has set in across the board when it comes to how people feel about our two main political parties. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May scored negatively.
Ruth was once excited by Jeremy Corbyn but says that his handling of Brexit has put paid to that. ‘He’s some sort of weird under cover guy’ she says ‘I loved him before. I thought “yes!” here is a proper leftie who sticks to his guns and isn’t afraid of right-leaning MPs in Labour but…then…he did NOTHING about Brexit, is he even Leave or Remain? I don’t know. He did NOTHING about Anti-Semitism in his party.’
What would Ruth like to see from Corbyn or, for that matter, any politician? ‘Be constant, be stoic and just say what you mean,’ she says.
If people are losing faith in traditional party politics and those who head it up, what happens now? It’s an open question because if we’ve learned anything in recent weeks it’s that nobody really knows how to sort out the mess we’re in. And, the longer our politicians dither, the less voters trust them.
Neither Ruth nor Harri are hopeful that Britain’s turmoil will be resolved any time soon and neither has faith in the current political status quo to put the nation back together.
‘It’s already affected my business,’ Harri conclude. 'People aren’t inclined to spend money right now and if it continues I’ll take my Irish passport and move to Portugal. Brexit is a fiasco.’
‘I’ll say it again…politically homeless is a good description for our entire generation.'