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Looking upon Labour’s "loveless landslide"

What watching a night that changed the country tells us about its mood.

Yaroslav is assistant priest at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, London.

A poltiical pudit opines in a TV studio while his colleague leans in and listens.
The Two Ronnies.

I very much like Mr. Vine, but he is like a Gremlin: you must follow the rules and not give him caffeine or sugar on Election Night. 

What on earth has happened to Aunty!? One of the few things that has united people from the left and right (at least according to my social media) is just how mediocre the election coverage was. The evening started badly for the Beeb when they let Channel 4 distract viewers a full 15mins early. This was to allow Not Going Out to complete its important work of informing and educating the populace. 

As a result, I found myself glued to Channel 4 for most of the night, intermittently flicking back to the National Broadcaster for bouts of genuine bewilderment. In a Channel 4 lull I made the jump only to have every sense immediately assaulted by migraine inducing swingometer graphics (it was synaesthesia inducing…I could practically taste the rapid mix of red, yellow, and blue). This neurological bombardment intensified with the commentary of Jeremy Vine. I very much like Mr. Vine, but he is like a Gremlin: you must follow the rules and not give him caffeine or sugar on Election Night. His high-octane performance drove me to the limit immediately. 

Regular further jumps gave me glimpses into the bizarre: a journalist standing outside of Rishi Sunak’s blacked-out home telling us the lights weren’t on, telling Steve Baker to his face that he was going to lose his seat, having an interview with Jacob Rees-Mogg where he looked like a hostage reading out demands…it really was dreadful! 

Stewart was reinforced by Channel 4 Political Editor Gary Gibbon. With a soft yet authoritative voice, and the appearance of a cheeky Beano character fifty years on. 

I stuck to Channel 4 as my safe space. They very much cornered the market for coverage by bagging both The Rest is Politics and the Gogglebox cast, as well as producing regularly mismatched line-ups of former MPs to pass comment. I must assume this was intentional, but even if not, it meant comedy gold. The scene opened with Emily Maitlis and Krishnan Guru-Murthy talking over each other in a stumbling staccato, while Kwasi Kwartang looked unbelievably uncomfortable sandwiched in between Harriet Harmen and Nadine Dorries (in various shades of pink).  

There were many other talking heads throughout the night, who each brought some magic to the night: Nadim Zahawi (looking like a cross between a wise owl and a Bond villain), Carol Vorderman (who might have started celebrating rather early), Sir Alan Duncan (looking like a wine merchant holidaying on the Amalfi Coast). Mhari Black brought a rather refreshing bluntness to proceedings. 

The standout stars, however, were Mr. Stewart and Mr. Campbell. They brought the Centrist-Dads-disagreeing-agreeably energy that has seen their podcast top the charts. They played off each other with precision and genuine affection, and a fair bit of humour. Campbell would get into a mild row, and then Stewart would jump in with careful analysis that tried to look at the broader political landscape. Dorries proved the perfect foil to Campbell - speaking in accusatory non-sequiturs, rhapsodically musing on the ‘virtues’ of Boris Johnson, weaving nonsense narratives that wouldn’t even make it into one of her novels. Campbell would retort in a tone that was at once bewildered, bored, and bristling. Stewart would valiantly intervene to find the calmer waters of consensus, and the whole cycle would repeat. Kwarteng looked increasingly uncomfortable until he just upped and vanished - perhaps from the embarrassment of being in the same party as Dorries. 

In his attempt to be serious and measured, Stewart was reinforced by Channel 4 Political Editor Gary Gibbon. With a soft yet authoritative voice, and the appearance of a cheeky Beano character fifty years on, he gave the careful analysis of the polls and the turnout, which Stewart would then run with in broader political perorations. The two hosts would often chip-in (quite chippily, actually), rarely able to sublimate their obvious and banterous contempt for some of the more egregious spin. 

Meanwhile, Harriet Harmon looked cross.

A sense of angry Labour malaise was one of the leitmotifs of the night...  there was a noticeable lack of celebration. No smiles. No D:Ream soundtrack. No positivity

This struck me as odd. Just before the show it had been announced that she was to be elevated to the Lords. This honour appeared to give her no joy. Harmen brought every answer back to how dreadful the Tories were, until Kwarteng tried to make a joke out of it to cut the tension: ‘You won, alright!?’ Every successful Labour candidate who was interviewed focused their responses on excoriating the legacy of the Tories, as if they were still in campaign mode. At times it got rather uncomfortable. Every time Rachel Reeves let a grin slip through, she seemed to feel the need to overcorrect by attacking her fallen foes even more harshly. On one of my disastrous forays back to the BBC I was greeted with Wes Streeting being positively thuggish in his language. It wasn’t until Sir Keir gave his victory speech that any Labour figures seemed to feel like they could actually appreciate their victory. 

A sense of angry Labour malaise was one of the leitmotifs of the night. From the moment the Labour Landslide was announced there was a noticeable lack of celebration. No smiles. No D:Ream soundtrack. No positivity. Perhaps it was because they all recognised the truth, succinctly put by Gibbon when giving his immediate reflections on the Exit Poll Result: ‘That looks like love…but that is a loveless landslide.’ Voter turnout was low. The Labour Party went backwards in its vote in many areas - sometimes due to Reform, sometimes due to Gaza protests. This was epitomised by Jess Phillip’s wafer-thin majority. The always pugilistic Phillips had to give both barrels in her speech to those who had campaigned against her, who continued to attempt to drown her out.  

The Labour Party’s massive majority seems to be built on sand, and Zahawi was quick to point out that sand can easily shift. Labour are the beneficiaries of our winner-takes-all electoral system (a system I very much support), and so were continually reminded of the fact that Starmer is no Blair and ’24 is no ’97. The landslide will give some cheer to those who desperately wanted to see the back of the Tories. But it belies the reality that with both the Greens and Reform having four MPs, a number of Labour MPs being defeated by Independents, and decreased majorities in safe-seats up and down the country, we are not a nation united around the charisma of our new Dear Leader. 

Stewart and Campbell continually try to draw the conversation away from the tittle-tattle of what this might mean for Labour infighting and the Farage fulminations we can now expect to see in Parliament, to the broader and deeper questions for the very health of our democracy…but the pull of gossip is sometimes too great for Maitlis and Guru-Murthy. 

None of this is helped by Dorries. 

A big victory, but one which indicates no national unity or confidence. A defeated government that was tearing itself apart long before the loss. Low turnout and lower trust.

From the get-go Maitlis and Guru-Murthy tried to inject intrigue into proceedings; a tough ask when the result was the confirmation of what looked like a foregone conclusion from the moment the election was called. They did their best, and got some sparks from Dorries and Campbell - a Stannis Baratheon-esque grammatical correction (‘fewer’) had me roaring with laughter - but all-in-all I was uneasy. Not quite bored, but not entirely excited and hopeful. Around 3am I fell asleep in my seat. I was awoken at 6am to my children bursting into the living room. I valiantly attempted to continue to watch the coverage while feeding banana-porridge to my son, head tilted in the strain of hearing the telly over the roar of the world’s loudest washing machine. I turned back to my son, admitting auricular defeat. There is no porridge in his belly; plenty all over his face and in his hair.  

At 7am I was banished to the bedroom by my exasperated and long-suffering wife - it has become clear that I am not giving my all to childcare. I saw the gracelessness of Liz Truss arriving late and then refusing to give a concession speech. I saw Stewart play the silent Scottish assassin, gently pressing Stephen Flynn to admit that perhaps the SNP’s losses have something to do with their mismanagement with the Caledonian public realm. Rishi Sunak suggested the election was about tax, and everyone groaned in disbelief - he really doesn’t have any political instincts. 

I never recaptured the magic of the first couple of hours, probably because there wasn’t any. From 10pm onwards there was an underlying sense of disappointment and despair. A big victory, but one which indicates no national unity or confidence. A defeated government that was tearing itself apart long before the loss. Low turnout and lower trust. I am not surprised by this. “O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man: for there is no help in them.” This is the warning of the Psalmist. I have already written, a number of times, about my own disgruntlement at the political process, and my doubt that it will be easily remedied.  

But watching the coverage - the baffling BBC, the political Two Ronnies that are Stewart and Campbell, the remarkable hat worn by the returning officer in Blyth - I was fortified by remembering that while the Psalmist is correct, St Paul nevertheless gave us clear advice and instruction: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” 

I shall pray for Sir Keir, for the new government, for all newly elected MPs.  

They need it. 

More importantly, we need it.

Article
Belief
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Life & Death
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4 min read

Did God save Donald Trump?

In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, Graham Tomlin asks whether or not we can see the hand God at work.

Graham is the Director of the Centre for Cultural Witness and a former Bishop of Kensington.

Red hat with the words Make America Great Again

Given the polarised nature of American politics and the venomous nature of the debates, the assassination attempt on Donald Trump was not entirely a surprise, even if a massive shock to the system. It was both tragic for those who were killed and yet a relief for everyone that Trump survived, not least for the unimaginable consequences across the country if he had not.

It doesn’t take a very deep dive into the maelstrom that is Twitter/X these days, to discover a common theme among Trump supporters - that God shielded him from a certain death. “God protected President Trump,” Senator Marco Rubio posted. “God saved the life of Donald Trump” say a million others, confident that the seemingly miraculous slight head tilt at the moment of the shot that ensured the bullet hit his ear, not going through the back of his temple, was a moment of divine intervention.

Yet look elsewhere on X and you can find vast numbers of people equally certain that this is complete nonsense. God did not save Donald Trump, either because there is no God to save anyone, or because if there is a God, either he doesn’t intervene at all, or even if he did, he certainly wouldn’t want to save the likes of Donald Trump.

If God saved Trump, they say, why did he not save the life of Corey Comperatore, the volunteer fireman who was killed by bullets fired from the gun that was used in the attack?  Trump supporters respond with the claim that Trump has a special calling, justifying divine intervention, to ‘restore the Judaeo-Christian heritage to America’ as one tweet put it.

So, which is it?

Christian thinkers have normally held to the possibility that God can and does, at decisive moments, interrupt the normal flow of history.

Christian thinkers have normally held to the possibility that God can and does, at decisive moments, interrupt the normal flow of history. After all, the central Christian claim is that he did this in remarkable acts of deliverance such as the Exodus, at key moments in the history of Israel and most importantly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, they claim, he does it in less prominent ways, as testimonies to prayers answered and apparently miraculous occurrences suggest.

Yet divine interventions like this are by definition rare. In one of Douglas Coupland’s novels, one of the characters ponders a Christian group that expects constant miracles: “They’re always asking for miracles and finding them everywhere. In as much as I am a spiritual man, I do believe in God - I think that he created an order for the world; I believe that, in constantly bombarding him with requests for miracles, we are also asking that he unravel the fabric of the world. A world of continuous miracles would be a cartoon, not a world.” He has a point.

Yet a world without any interventions at all would be a world which God had seemed to abandon to its fate. The idea that God set up his world to run like clockwork with no further intervention is Deism, not Christianity, a theology popular in the C17th and C18th, still found today, but leaves God watching us from a safe and uninvolved distance. It would lead to the conclusion that God did not really care that much about the world, leaving it to its own devices, especially when evil runs riot and nothing seems to prevent it. Such interventions are best seen as signs, special indications that do not ‘unravel the fabric of the world’, yet are tangible reminders that even though it is broken, God has not given up on this world, and will one day redeem it.

Yet if God can and does step in at certain moments to divert the course of history in a fallen and broken world, that doesn’t mean that every claim to divine intervention is genuine. So how can you tell? Who do we believe?

If God can and does step in at certain moments to divert the course of history in a fallen and broken world, that doesn’t mean that every claim to divine intervention is genuine. So how can you tell? Who do we believe?

At several points in the Old Testament, writers wonder how you can tell the true prophet from the false. One of them answers like this: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.”

To be honest, this doesn’t appear to help much. You can tell if a person has got it right if their prediction comes true, but at the time, you have no idea whether it will come true or not, so it still leaves you in the dark as to who to believe.

Yet it does suggest an important insight. You can only tell God’s intervention retrospectively. You can only say with a degree of confidence that God has ‘intervened’ when looking back on events and seeing how they turn out.

If Donald Trump is elected, and somehow brings about harmony and flourishing for as many people in the USA as possible, stabilises the economy, enabling all people to live a decent life, not just the rich and powerful, restores a sense of civility and generosity to public life, resists the forces of harm and evil in the nation and in the world, and brings freedom for Christians and others to practice and promote their faith, then maybe we might look back in future years and say that God did step in on July 14th 2024 to frustrate the purposes of evil in the world.

Yet if none of that happens, and what results from his survival is instead a deeper fracturing of social cohesion, a coarsening of public debate, a siege mentality that divides the world between ‘us’ and ‘them’, an increasing divide between the rich and the poor, the elites and ordinary people, then we might in future say it was mere chance, one of those random things that happen in this created yet fallen world with its mysterious blend of order and chaos.

Which will it be? Time will tell. Until then, we’d better be cautious about claims of divine intervention. Not because God never does it, but because we’re not very good at telling when it happens.