by Lynda Goetz
Every week there are yet more examples of a country, or indeed a world, which seems increasingly insane. Clearly, this is not the first time in history that the general populace has felt out of touch with its rulers and, assuming climate change continues as a relatively slow-onset disaster, it will not be the last. There is undoubtedly though, at the moment, a feeling of impending disaster and general doom and gloom which is not just felt in this country, but in many others around the globe. Should we believe those who feel that we have reached a new existential crisis point for humankind or should we be “Taking the Long View”*?
Here in the UK there is disenchantment with our present government, but as far as one can tell, not a great deal of enthusiasm for the Labour alternative led by Sir Keir Starmer. The Greens appear to be playing to both sides and presenting themselves as radical and outraged in the cities but conservationist guardians of the community in the countryside. It is hard to have any confidence or place any faith in our cohort of current politicians; no potential leaders stand out. Sunak seems capable, intelligent and steady, but somehow uninspiring and it is hard to tell what, if anything, he really believes in or stands for. One of his major drawbacks is that he was never elected as Prime Minister but came to that position by default; never an easy situation for his detractors to come to terms with. Sir Keir may have been elected by his party, but what he actually stands for is even harder to determine. Journalist Zoe Strimpel goes as far as to suggest that “There is no issue that the Labour leader can’t find a way to flip-flop on”. She is admittedly writing for The Telegraph, but even that supporter of the Right finds it extremely difficult these days to raise any sort of enthusiasm for this current Tory government’s policies.
Rod Liddle in The Spectator starts his most recent article with the comment “My default mood at the moment is bleak despair, although it can sometimes be triggered into nihilistic loathing, which I think I mildly prefer.” This state of mind is not sadly limited to middle-aged white men whose views are supposedly completely out of touch with the current ‘zeitgeist’. It exists on both Left and Right of the political spectrum and amongst those who profess no interest in politics. It is prevalent amongst the old, the young and all those in between. Unfortunately the polarisation of views, first so obvious in America, seems to have been exported to Europe. There would appear to be no consensus possible. On one side are those who believe that the whole of history (of which they mainly have little or no understanding or knowledge) is a gigantic conspiracy of the white “patriarchy” to subjugate not only women but all of the rest of the world who have different skin colour and beliefs. On the other side are those who consider that “the past is a foreign country”**, which we need to accept and understand and move on from without negating its positives or swinging away from so violently that we create our own contemporary cultural cul-de-sac.
Strangely, in our current world, the word ‘inclusive’ actually seems to mean the exact opposite of the definition in my dictionary. Whenever this word is used, it seems to precede the cancellation, silencing or ejection of someone with whose views the organisation disagrees or disapproves. The recent cancellation of Graham Lineham’s show at the Leith Arches at the Edinburgh Fringe is a case in point. The fact that The Telegraph subsequently gave him space to comment on this does not, as TV star Jenny Ryan suggests, stop it being a cancellation. In its cancellation announcement, Leith Arches said, ‘….we are an inclusive venue and this does not align with our overall values’. Very similar words were used by Coutts in their internal memorandum prepared before "debanking" Nigel Farage.
It is no longer enough these days that one is prepared to live and let live, we are increasingly pushed to "celebrate" difference. Those who have the temerity to suggest that they believe in biological difference or that they fail to understand why Snow White should not be White or that it really doesn’t make sense for a character in a particular play to be in a wheelchair or question why we need all our supermarkets and banks to spend a month celebrating LGBTQ++ can, if they dare to voice such opinions openly, find themselves without a job, bank account, X (née Twitter) followers or whatever. Those who questioned Lock-down during the Covid 19 pandemic were similarly silenced. This is not what should be happening in a democracy. Whatever has happened to free speech? Whatever has happened to debate?
In Europe, governments are moving right rather than left. However, Will Hutton in The Guardian takes the view that this will pass and that “ultra-right wing politics will retreat. Ultimately, people want prosperity, security and fairness”. The latter statement is obviously true and impossible to disagree with. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that what we currently have in this country is any of those things. Hutton, clearly a committed ‘Rejoiner’, goes on as follows “Starmer’s Labour has the opportunity of a generation: to turn the economy around, meet today’s grand challenges while retaining our great liberal open culture. Success will be defeat for Europe’s Right: democracy and capitalism shown to work. It will be our ticket to be readmitted to the heart of what will still be a great club that will emerge stronger, if battered. What we are living through is all part of the process: building Europe. Take heart”.
Our “great liberal open culture” is currently neither liberal nor open. It is divided, dogmatic and divisive. All we can hope is that with so many MPs proposing to retire at the next election we get the opportunity to vote in some energetic new ones with the vision to see that “our NHS” is broken and needs a new approach to management and funding; that our schools and examination systems likewise are not the envy of the world; that technology and AI will play an important role in our future, but that consensus will be required as to how extensive that role should be; that immigration is a massive worldwide issue which needs addressing on a worldwide basis; and that whilst climate and the environment are of huge concern, nothing will be solved by shooting our economy in the foot to eradicate our own 1% contribution to global emissions. A tall order? Definitely, but if the next generations want to tear down the patriarchy, then they perhaps need to roll up their sleeves and make a positive contribution rather than putting their fingers in their ears, whingeing about their mental health and the upset caused to them by ‘triggering’ events. It might also be useful if more were to study history, rather than sociology or psychology (currently both racing up the A-level popularity lists).
*A BBC Radio 4 programme which compares current events with similar situations from history.
**From L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between.