Impact of UK General Election on Science Fiction?

The UK woke up to an election result, which had seemed only a couple of weeks ago extremely unlikely – a minority Government led by the Tories with the support of the Northern Ireland’s DUP.

The implications of the results are being worked through as I write this, but some of the aspects will include the following:

  1. The election had been called by the Prime Minister to give her support for the Brexit negotiations. She did not get the majority of the country to back her – don’t forget the DUP are from Northern Ireland that voted to stay in the EU. That means there will be stronger calls for another Brexit referendum once the negotiations have reached the relevant stage – certainly within 20 months. To ignore such calls, would in many people’s eyes be ignoring the will of the people.
  2. The young generation came out in larger numbers to vote, mainly against the burdens of paying for university education and the high house prices stopping them getting on the property ladder. The opposition gave them hope that things could be better for them and they went out to vote to snatch at that hope for change. They didn’t get that, but went a long way to making their voice heard.
  3. In contrast the ‘grey generation’ seemed to vote to keep the status quo, despite the fact that many will lose out financially, which, in a notable proportion of cases, will diminish their security. They were looking for competence in leadership and stability their way of life. The hung parliament result has made that less certain.
  4. And there are many other factors in play here…

All in all, this makes for more debate and uncertainty in the future. The clear message is that there are a lot of unhappy people who want things to change. They know their immediate goals in the context of today’s society, but don’t know how to change society to allow the disparate groups within it to be content and work together. For instance, because of the limited amount of taxes that can be levied, there is a limited pot of public from which education and pensions can be paid. So you’ll have the young generation fighting the pension generation over who gets what from that pot of money.

But what does this mean for science fiction?

With more uncertainty going round, people will be looking for answers, ones that have a reasonable chance of working. The old ways are clearly not good enough for today and tomorrow. Science fiction has unique advantages in offering them suggestions. It can do so safely because everyone knows it is speculative by nature, there for thought provoking entertainment.

A good personal example is my latest published story, The Courage of Care (see here). It was written in reaction to my recent illness, when I saw what was happening in our local hospitals. The medical staff were run off their feet. And I thought what a pity they didn’t have conscription for care services, like they did for armed services when the UK faced two world wars and more. It led onto all sorts of ifs and buts, as you can see if you read this story.

Another aspect of science fiction is the ability to focus on certain issues in society without other issues impinging and clouding what was being said. A good example is Ian McDonald’s Luna New Moon and Luna Wolf Moon that are the first two books in the trilogy he’s currently writing. It deals with corporation wars, the kind of thing that’s going on here on Earth today. Only he has the corporations based on the basic industries that need to keep people on the Moon alive. The corporations, known as the dragons in the novels, represent transport (on and off Moon), mineral mining, helium collection for export to Earth to name the main three in the novels.  The lives of the drags and their families play out interactions that could happen on the larger, more diffuse, scale here on earth. The novels tell us about the the here and now aspects of our society, gives us a window into understanding more about what we’re doing today.

There is one aspect of science fiction that does need to be brought out here. The speed at which science knowledge is expanding and technology is developing.

Let me give you an, albeit small, example from the general election. We had a whole slew of opinion polls in the lead up to the actual voting day. In general they all showed the gap between the main parties narrowing, until about a week before polling day. Some tended to stabilise. These were the ones that tended to give the Tories the greater lead of up to 12%. Then came the shock of one opinion poll only having 1% difference. That’s when people started asking questions of why the big difference in the opinion polls. The reason was put down to it being dependent on the number of young voters who would end up going to the polls. Whilst all based on traditional methods of statistics and asking people their intentions, none of them, put Labour in the lead. There was one poll that did. It was based on an entirely different method – machine learning – sophisticated neural networks for the technically savvy. In effect it was extrapolating trends from historical data where there were complicated interactions. So this new method opinion did not get it quite right. But like all such methods in their infancy of development, the results can be improved upon for the future. Opinion polls using this method will be the ones to look out for in the future. And there will be consequences – like with further development identifying the factors that are important to winning an election and writing the manifestos around them. Hm… maybe I ought to write a short story based on this aspect.

But this is only one very minor aspect of how technology could be changing our lives before the next election. There oodles upon oodles more. And like the example I’ve given, lead to radically different perspectives from what we have now. And science fiction is needed to identify and spell them out for us.

So this UK election has resulted in the need for more near-term science fiction. It’s now up the science fiction community to respond.

As to whether it will, that is entirely another question.


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