The election is over - I don't have to take an axe to my TV

Journal columnist and Newcastle headteacher Bernard Trafford says it is time for healing divisions

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire (Left-right) Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband, and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg
(Left-right) Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband, and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg

As election fever gripped, if not the nation, then the media, I started to feel sympathy for Lucas Hinch. Heard of him? He’s an American who’s been charged with firearms offences after taking his computer into an alleyway and shooting it five times.

Mr Hinch said he’d been having problems with his PC for months and carried out the dastardly act when a red mist descended. The act of pulling the trigger was a moment of great release for him: “It was glorious”, he said.

Not being in possession of a gun, as poll madness reached its height I wasn’t equipped to drag my television outside and end its life: nonetheless, every time I spotted the axe in my Northumbrian woodshed my hand twitched. It was getting bad.

It’s over now. The people have spoken. Ironically, what the people said, as a whole, was a surprise. Not in Scotland, perhaps: but no one south of Hadrian’s Wall [sic!] expected a Tory majority. It defied the pundits.

It was a relief to move on from the hype and tension (not to say hypertension) to VE Day. I felt for the same party leaders who, after barely a wink of sleep, had to turn out to the Remembrance Ceremony in Whitehall.

Dignity at the Cenotaph: politicians also demonstrated dignity and generosity in victory and defeat. That’s a typically British thing. There are plenty of regimes around the world where incumbent rulers are never defeated: or, if they are, they cry foul, start a riot or stage a coup.

None of that here. Indeed, David Cameron was both statesmanlike and magnanimous in victory. Easy, perhaps: but let’s not take it for granted.

With a majority government the PM can claim with some justification to seek a period of “one nation” government.

He needs to. By 21st Century standards he has a strong government. In contrast, back in the 1990s we’d have deemed his slender majority insecure: commentators have recalled John Major’s constant difficulty in preventing his backbenchers from rebelling.

The election result suggests that, as an electorate, we wobble around the middle: as does Cameron. He must stay there, and keep his right-wingers in order.

He must lay down the law. He’s instinctively a moderate centre-right politician: Maggie Thatcher would have had him down as a “wet”. He’s never belonged to the nasty party side of the Tories: he needs to distance himself from it now and silence his vociferous, Europhobic right wing.

It’s a time for healing divisions. I hate to see politics become entirely adversarial. There are many historical reasons why the North East remains staunchly Labour. But if we’re to learn the lessons of this election, both sides must stop seeing the other as the enemy.

It’s time to grow up: the opposition parties should stop demonising Cameron’s policies, and eschew silly, extreme accusations of Tories plotting to privatise the NHS or advantage the rich at the poor’s expense.

No decent politician would seek to do either. I think Cameron’s a decent man: but he must do his bit.

Unlike some, I believe a top priority must be to eliminate that deficit: we can’t live beyond our means and must free this country from debt.

But the process must be compassionate, not hard-nosed. Human values must protect the vulnerable.

Returning prosperity must be harnessed to obviate the need for food banks, reduce homelessness and create enough housing for everyone: surely some government, some day, will do it?

Those issues are even more urgent than fixing how we govern the four nations that comprise the UK: always keeping people and fairness at the heart of strategy.

I’d like to think Cameron would be in sympathy with my wishy-washy centrist view. I just hope that he and his new government are up to the task.

If they are, my TV set will be less at risk, and the axe will remain untouched.

  • Dr Bernard Trafford is Headmaster of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School. The views expressed here are personal.

@bernardtrafford

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