Monday, 11 May 2015

Heroic defeat

Imagine what it feels like. You wake up on Monday morning feeling flattened. Perhaps for a few seconds there is blissful oblivion, but then the full weight of your disappointment crushes you like never before. This is Ed, this is Nick, this is Nigel and all the MPs who lost their seats last week. The political casualties of the general election are facing up to their failures, after six weeks of campaigning hype, nerve-bending adrenalin and exhaustion. Their bid to change history, to alter the course of their own lives, has come to nothing.

Picture of a door to the polling station during the UK general election 2015
Being shown the door on election night
Of course these men and women are thick-skinned and tough - to survive in modern politics you probably have to be - but I imagine public defeat still makes them feel empty and demoralised. Where they may differ from us ordinary mortals is in their ability to pick themselves up, dust down their political colours and get on with their lives. 

Claire Ward, a Labour MP, who lost her seat in the 2010 election, told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning that the experience of losing her seat felt like a "sense of bereavement". One of the worst repercussions for her was handing out redundancy notices to her staff. "That's absolutely heartbreaking, to know they've lost there jobs too because you are in the firing line." After leaving parliament, she eventually became chairperson of Pharmacy Voice, a trade association for community pharmacies. 

As a writer, I am fascinated by failure. In a novel, where there is often a need for character development and dramatic twists, failure is grist to the mill. A flawed character can become heroic because of her/his attempts to overcome setbacks or catastrophic misjudgments. Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd is full of such trials: Gabriel Oak losing his sheep farm and fortune, or Bathsheba's callous treatment of her suitor Boldwood and her subsequent guilt, are but two examples.

Resigning the leadership of their parties was inevitable for Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, but by falling on their swords with dignity, they have taken a step towards a kind of heroism. Even if I didn't always agree with their policies or their judgement, I do respect them for risking so much in the name of public service. I would never have been brave enough to do it myself. And who knows? Perhaps there will be a film or book in it one day. Brotherly rivalries, unlikely alliances across the political spectrum and the odd glamorous wife... Plenty of material for an aspiring writer!


FURTHER READING

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
The story of the free-spirited Bathsheba Everdene, whose bold independence attracts three very different suitors with all the attendant heartbreak and sorrow.