Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The dunces' decade

"It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way ..."


I've always loved the opening to Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, even though the novel is not one of my favourites. It captures the ambiguity of revolution perfectly. It's being revived as the theme for a TV advert for BT. I'm not a purist, I am delighted to see good literature made visible, even in this way. It may make some people read. And it got me thinking about the decade we have just lived through and how we would describe it. Could we use the same literary device?

It was the era of idiocy and the era of ... er ... more idiocy.
It was ... no, that's about it. Idiocy. We are living in an idiotcracy.

Anyone who writes a history of the 2010s in the future could do a lot worse than call it, WTF were they thinking of?

Anyway, let's try and write a brief chronicle of the politics of the decade.

The 2010 general election was held in the wake of the financial crisis and at the tail end of the New Labour governments. It resulted in a hung parliament, partly as a result of a Liberal Democrat surge on a raft of left leaning policies. Then the Lib Dems destroyed themselves by going into coalition with the Conservatives, putting Cameron in power, and instantly reneging on their promise to abolish university tuition fees. There was no way back after that. WTF were they thinking of?

The government's response to the effects of the crash was not to continue with the mild stimulus that had stopped the global economy grinding to a halt, but to cut spending, do enormous damage to public services, halt the recovery, and let the Liberal Democrats take most of the flak. WTF were they thinking of?

The 2015 general election, partly as a result of the collapse of the Liberal Democrats, gave the Conservative Party its first majority for 18 years. Cameron had a problem with fringe eurosceptic loons in his party and UKIP outside. He was certain that the one thing that Britain must not do was to leave the European Union. So, to make sure that it wouldn't happen, he called a referendum on whether it should or not. Without any safeguards. Parliament voted for one. It was advisory, but Cameron insisted that the government would treat it as binding. He lost. WTF were they thinking of?

Labour's response to its 2015 defeat was to elect a new leader using a mad method that gave a vote to anyone prepared to pay £3. MPs nominated someone for the shortlist who they didn't want to win. He won. He was an elderly backbencher of no discernible ability and with no record of achievement of anything other than support for anti-Western dictatorships and dodgy violent movements, expressed together with his visceral hatred of the State of Israel. He had never held a cabinet or shadow cabinet post in thirty plus years, with good reason. But he became a symbol of the left and the object of a bewildering cult of personality. Those of us who pointed out that not only was the emperor naked, but he also had an unsightly skin complaint and poor personal hygiene, were abused and cast into the outer darkness. Labour lost every election - local, European, and general - that he led them in to. He was hailed as a saint. WTF were they thinking of?

2016 and the new Conservative PM, Theresa May, announced that "Brexit means Brexit" as a way of not telling anyone what Brexit meant. Parliament voted to invoke Article 50 without knowing what Brexit meant either. It turns out it meant something that the Leave campaign promised would not happen. Then in 2017 she called a general election to increase her majority and lost it. She shored up a minority government with the only Northern Ireland party to oppose the Good Friday Agreement. WTF were they thinking of?

I can't possibly track the humiliations that led to May's resignation and her replacement by a man universally acknowledged as unfit to be PM, who illegally prorogued parliament and failed to resign for a resigning matter. Having lost his majority, only one thing could have saved him, a general election against a divided opposition. The opposition could have blocked it. They didn't. They gave it to him. And remained divided. WTF were they thinking of?

And now we stand on the threshold of a new decade. It will begin with a pointless and expensive act of self-harm, from which recovery will be difficult. And with our absurd, deeply unserious, and dishevelled Prime Minister begging for money - "bung a bob for a Big Ben bong" - to fund repairs to the clapper of Big Ben so that it can ring out to celebrate an event that more than half the population don't want to happen. That's how far we have sunk.

Things can only get better. Perhaps.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The answer, to coin your good self, is a lemon. I may plagiarise your whole post, verbatim, and use with my students..