Life Experiences, Politics and Personality

Reflections on the reaction to Sarah Olney’s victory in Richmond Park, as well as a very personal look into the state of politics.

Despite how much I moan about how completely awful an experience it was, the International Baccalaureate did have one distinct advantage over A-levels: It made it possible to find links between concepts which seem hopelessly unrelated. This week, where the amazing victory of Sarah Olney in Richmond Park has happened alongside my continuing research into devolved education policy and a slightly unsettling experience on Spotify, that skill has very much helped me understand how the world fits together

The most striking event this week, for me and everyone else, is the Sarah Olney victory. As a Lib Dem with a record of supporting doomed political causes, the event itself was enough of a surprise. But more important than her victory, to me at least, was the heart-warming reaction of the people who supported her. It may just be that the Liberal Democrats have had a tough time recently — It may just have been that I was on the vodka when the results were announced — But seeing my timeline light up with so many positive reactions, with all their support and hard work paying off, made me far happier than any by-election should. It’s the first time I’d properly appreciated the people I follow as more than profile pictures with an opinion. It’s the first time I’ve really appreciated their experiences, their motivations. It’s unquestionably the most personal light I’ve ever seen them in. And now that I’ve seen why these people hold the views that they do, their narrative will unquestionably mean more to me in the future.

Seemingly unrelated, but also prominent in my thoughts right now, is a research project I’m doing on devolved education policy. Without going into too much detail (If I fail this project because the plagiarism filter picks this article up I’ll cry), the main advantage of devolution seems to be the ability of devolved institutions to adapt policy based on the cultural interests and customs of the region. In the current political narrative of people feeling ignored by the establishment, this advantage carries more poignancy — Unusually, we have an example of a popular, existing policy which caters towards individualism and the politics of identity, and has the potential to make politics seem a lot less like a descant, abstract concept. Admittedly, the links between this and the celebration of a Lib Dem by-election victory by my predominantly homosexual Twitter feed weren’t fully formed yet. It took something outside of politics to bring the two concepts together.

Unexpectedly, the experience which brought everything together was actually found in my terrible taste in music — Specifically, the “Classic Pop Picks” playlist on Spotify. Whilst normally full of aging, camp pop singles meant for the retro room in Pryzm, this week it also featured the overplayed, ‘Indie’ classic “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker” by Sandi Thom. A couple of lines in particular stood out:

“When accountants didn’t have control, and the media couldn’t buy your soul, And computers were still scary and we didn’t know everything”

Whilst the idea of the media turning us all into a mass soulless, homogenised mass seems interesting (and probably more relevant to the point I’m trying to make), it’s the last part which makes me think the most. We live in a culture where we claim to know everything, when there events and experiences in society which constantly remind us that, actually, we don’t. This might just be the IB experience presenting itself again (epistemology was a part of the core curriculum), but whilst we’re beginning to ‘know’ more as a society through research, the individual, emotional knowledge which comes about through life experience can’t — By definition, almost — be included in this. We can never fully understand anything, or discount any one experience or viewpoint as irrelevant, because there’s always more to be learned. It could just be that I’ve read to much into a cliché song, but that idea, presented in this political context, really struck a chord.

And that’s the point, really, of this whole article. This is far from the first time that the idea of ‘a more personal politics’ has been floated, but it’s definitely the first time I’ve really understood it’s importance. It’s the first time I’ve realised how much everyone’s lived experience can contribute, and how much individual personalities matter in the grand scheme of things.

I honestly couldn’t say that I’ve worked out what to do with this information. It might mean that I should be pushing for a greater emphasis on the personalities of individual candidates, or the need for parties and institutions to listen to as many, diverse viewpoints as possible (the work of Lib Dem Expand deserves a mention here, as they’re already working on this), but both of these are just broad assertions right now. I don’t have the answer.

But understanding all of this, and having that moment of revelation, has been a huge experience. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned here, it’s that experiences like that matter.