I’ve just turned 81. That’s well past my sell-by date, I reckon, and indeed a bit of a bonus in view of the various afflictions that have hit me over the years: nothing really serious, but two or three of which would have almost certainly killed me in the days before modern medicine. (But isn’t that true of most of us?) Obviously, in the immortal words of Frank Sinatra (My Way), ‘the end is nigh’ for me now. I’m not afraid of it – it must be quite restful to have melted into nothingness – but only of the process, in case it turns out to be painful and friendless. Or is that too personal, and too heavy for this blog? I’m sorry if so. I won’t dwell on it.
But in any case it’s not my own situation that is getting me down nowadays, or even my ‘regrets’, of which I’ve had more than ‘a few’ (Sinatra again); but the situation of the world, and of the country of my birth in particular. It’s not only Boris and his cast of monsters (see my last blog) who get me down; but the whole tenor of British – and several other countries’ – politics at the present time. You’ll know what I mean: lies, corruption, foreign interference, one-rule-for-them, the necessity for food banks, propaganda, cynicism, greed, imperialism (still), ‘dead cats’, privilege, ‘populism’, ‘partygate’, ‘wokeism’ (distracting people from greater problems), fake ‘anti-semitism’, a corrupt press, war-scares, ‘celebrity’, Prince Andrew, anti-vaxxers, climate-change denial, and – in my admittedly biased view – the late-stage capitalist crisis that may lie at the root of most of these things. (I could go on. But it’s already getting boring. Indeed, isn’t that one of the dangers: that the government’s problems and misdeeds, endlessly recounted, get so boring as to make people want to push them away?) That said, however, I’ve never known such a depressing period, politically, in all my (too) long lifetime; and in particular cannot remember a time when there seemed to be so little hope, of anything better coming from it, on any front.
Of course little of this affects me personally, born as I was into a uniquely lucky generation (in Britain). But it may weigh heavily on my children and grandchildren and their generations; who won’t be able even to conceive that a welfare state like Labour and the Liberals gave us in the 1940s, free health treatment and university education, growing equality, together with a pretty flourishing industrial base, and a pretty civilised and honourable political discourse, are even possible. (And that’s without taking the international situation on board.)
Above all – way above all – they won’t be able to feel the hope that most people, even the most oppressed of us then (women, gays, blacks), cherished in the post-war years, right up to Thatcher: the ‘Whiggish’ faith, that is, that however bad things might be right now, they will get better. Who can possibly think that today? Corbyn seemed to be promising it in 2019, and politically re-energised millions of younger Britons as a result. But his defeat also marked the destruction of ‘hope’. Now the only hope being promised – apart from Boris’s and Jacob’s wet dreams of a post-Brexit free market heaven – is of mending some of the damage the Tories have done over the past thirteen years. Nothing more.
You may think I’m romanticising the post-war years in Britain. Maybe. Here’s a piece I wrote about the 1950s for the TLS a few years ago. (I may have posted it before.) That, too, emphasised the ‘hope’ that I see as the main casualty of modern times: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/swinging-fifties/. But I’m sounding like a nostalgic old fart now. Or the depressive I certainly am.
PS. Here’s another version of my ‘1950s’ piece, from this blog: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/28/1956/.