The Death of Hope

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/.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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3 Responses to The Death of Hope

  1. mickc says:

    Where to begin?

    Firstly…Happy Birthday! You’ve lived a long time, something to be thankful for, and seen a lot, most of it in the right direction generally. More people are better off, materially, than ever before in the UK. Probably better off in non material ways too, but obviously that’s very much a personal judgement.

    Btw, Sinatra lied. Most older people have many regrets. I certainly do but there’s nothing can be done so I try not to dwell on them, often unsuccessfully. It’s just the way we’re built as creatures. We’re also afraid of pain, but strangely not afraid of ceasing to exist, especially when old.

    Secondly I believe you are wrong. The particular “fever” which the body politic, being the current poor crop of “leaders” and MSM, suffers is reaching its peak and will break. Nobody believes them any more and will not obey them. That does not mean general lawlessness; it means disregard for stupid petty rules but complying with the “natural” rules which make society work…eg Canada.

    You will obviously disagree but the Brexit vote was in fact a cause for celebration. The voters did NOT do what they were told by our rulers. They did what they wanted. That is democracy, much smeared as “populism”, by those who don’t like actual democracy (“the people are stupid and should be ruled by us sensible people”….err…no thanks…that’s Fascism..)

    Yes there were lies…great big whoppers, on both sides. Nobody gave them much heed. Yes, the UK may be poorer ( but need not be) but the point, for me, was to regain the ability to throw out those who make our laws. In fact to apply Benn’s tests of democracy, which the EU signally fails, and as Gaitskell warned.

    I was all for the Common Market, and probably the Single Market, but not the EU. It won’t survive in any event. Like the USSR, it is not capable of natural evolution, just of following “the one true faith”. Like the USSR it will dissolve.

    The EU seeks to be an Empire. As you have pointed out, the British people are not imperialist, they did indeed become “absent minded imperialists”. The EU, or more correctly its rulers, have set out to build an Empire.

    Incidentally, I don’t believe anyone thought Corbyn was anti Semitic, if they gave it any thought at all. He lost because he reversed his view on complying with the Referendum result. Hence Johnson winning so many Labour seats…he, the Conservatives, won’t next time.

    Your taxi driver probably wouldn’t have voted for Corbyn any way. You had been discussing politics obviously, and he put forward a reason he felt would be acceptable to you for not voting for Corbyn, who he understood you supported. He was probably being polite.

    Britain, like most countries, has an inherent, but very low level of anti Semitic feeling (“well, what can you expect, they’re Jews, aren’t they?”) but not much more ( until recently?) than anti Catholicism, anti gay, anti anything (replace Jews in the phrase with the speaker’s pet bias). Generally the British don’t care either way, hold views on “the other”, but don’t act on those views.

    Internationally, the US Empire is drawing to a close, probably as is late phase capitalism (aren’t they the same thing?). It probably won’t collapse with too much violence, although goading Russia isn’t good. With a bit of luck the US Empire will simply “up stumps and retire for tea” as the Soviet Empire did eventually. It’s the direction Trump was heading, others will eventually.

    The Continental European countries can then come to a sensible understanding with Russia. And the UK to a sensible understanding with Continental Europe…err…and the USA…hopefully no longer “America’s streetwalker” (hat tip the BBC version of Tinker Tailor…)

    Incidentally, did Britain have a flourishing industrial base? I seem to recall shoddy products…cars etc.. delivered late, always needing “work” after delivery, same with ships, and other products.

    I also recall Sid Weighell at the TUC Conference warning that the militants were going too far and the result would not be good. He was shouted down…but right. Look what happened…

    Of course the problem wasn’t just the Trade Unions…management was useless too. Can’t blame Eton for that…Etonians don’t do industry…

    A Thatcher was inevitable…if not her, someone else. As Powell said ” the roulette wheel of history stopped opposite her number and she did not muff her chance…” The “Great Man” theory of history is wrong but undoubtedly “there is a tide…”

    So, who thinks things will get better? I do…and so should you. The future won’t be as we think, or want…but it will be better for more and more people.

    Sorry for a long, and no doubt tedious (and pompous? oh god, I hope not…) rant but I do think your pessimism is misplaced.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You could also add to your list the decline of the Met. Corruption, incompetence, extreme forms of sexism, racism and brutality appear ineradicable in the force. From the great distance of Melbourne, the British police of the 50s and 60s loomed as paragons of virtue compared to their counterparts elsewhere. No doubt part of this perception was built on myth; however, as with many stereotypes, there appears to have been a strong strand of truth in this widely-held view.
    One very minor anecdote from a visit to London twelve years ago. Very late at night I approached several offices and asked directions. I thanked them and as I walked away I could hear them laughing. It soon became apparent that they had sent me in the exact wrong direction. How hilarious to give a tourist the wrong directions!

    Liked by 1 person

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