It is difficult, sometimes, to pinpoint the exact cause of the depressive pessimism that it the mood music of 2020. Is it Covid-19? Or is it the government’s strange inability to collect and publish statistics on it? Or their tendency to blame others for problems rather than solving them? Is it that nagging sense that while the way contracts are being handed out might not be corrupt technically, it’s hard to avoid the whiff of something a bit off?
Is it the incompetence of the handling of A-level results? Or is it the bizarre situation where we’ll get worked up about a handful of people braving the Channel in a dinghy because they, bizarrely, think that life will be better here than any other European country? Or maybe it’s the utterly surreal suggestion by Priti Patel that they are trying to escape French intolerance?
I have started wondering if, actually, it’s because of all the polarisation it’s the one between optimism and pessimism that is most profound. It’s hard to imagine how making ourselves economically weaker while stoking intolerance is a cause for optimism but, when packaged up with terms like ‘freedom’ and ‘control’, it seems that even a government that’s equal parts ideology and incompetence can provide enough of the population with hope that it can dominate a broken electoral system like first-past-the-post.
The difficulty is that there is a finite capacity for pessimism and outrage. So, taking the A-level results, while there is so much focus on young people missing out their Oxbridge places there is hardly any media attention given to those elsewhere on the spectrum such as those who will miss out on a university place entirely. Those for whom the downgrading doesn’t mean the difference between a prestigious university education and slightly less prestigious university education but, instead, is a set-back that will last, with a huge economic cost, for the rest of their lives.
Or, looking beyond this, year, the fact that the algorithms have simply highlighted (and perhaps amplified) an annual inequality that downgrades the potential of children from deprived areas every single year of their education. Surely that is where the outrage should be: by limiting their potential we hold back the whole country.
I’m obviously one of the 55% or so that finds little cause for optimism in the UK. Perhaps the biggest cause of pessimism is that I don’t really expect the government to do anything to appeal to me, why should it? There is no need for consensus building when it can achieve electoral success by just appealing to its base.
Once upon a time politics was about hope and optimism. Remember that Obama poster? Perhaps that is an analogy, something that started positively but ended in disappointment and court battles. But politics was about hope. From Attlee’s ‘Face the Future’ manifesto in 1945, Thatcher in 1979 exhorting people to vote for a ‘better life’, Blair in 1997 offering the country a ‘new life’. Even May’s shambolic 2017 election, despite the comically memorable ‘Strong and Stable’, was under a manifesto entitled ‘Forward, Together’. The consistent theme is that, as a country, things can be better. And now…?
If there could be a more visceral image of a government destroying hope than downgrading the exam results of thousands and thousands of young people, mostly from less affluent areas I do not want to know what it is. Can we really take four more years of it?