Tuesday, 1 January 2019


Is the glass half full, half empty, completely empty or broken? As an irredeemable optimist who always looks on the bright side of life I really haven’t known where to look for the first time ever. Uncertainty is a malevolent state of being and right now I’m not even sure there is a glass. We should probably read Voltaire’s ‘Candide’ a brilliant satire on the flaws of optimism where he rousingly refutes Leibniz’s thesis that all is for the best in all possible worlds.

It isn’t and this is not the best of times. However all is not lost. So many good things have happened in 2018 and just focusing on the constipation and squalor of politics is short-sighted. Here’s my take on what 2019 might look like. These are not predictions so much as observations about change. So let’s lift our heads up and feel good.

The smell of war (or is it just fireworks?)

There’s a whiff of cordite in the air. It must have been like this in 1913 when the irritability built up and the lack of certainty made people yearn for something to clear the air. Rupert Brooke in his poem ‘Peace’ put it like this:
“With ….. clear eye, and sharpened power, 
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping, 
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary”

“Old and cold and weary” describes how many people feel right now. But there’s an increasing view that what’s been going on is just a political story “told by an idiot full of sound and fury and signifying nothing”.  (Shakespeare, Macbeth)

Grumpiness is in our DNA. In 1641 in Britain a Civil War started which we are beginning to realise never quite finished. When people stop debating and sharing ideas they usually start punching each other. This is when any sense of strategic intent or forward planning disappears. As ex-heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson put it:

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

But this awkward, argumentative country usually gets on with it and plays the cards its been dealt mostly in harmony even if it’s uncomfortable harmony.  What’s going on right now is a firework display not the battle of Ypres.

Only one cheer for democracy

EM Forster wrote a book called “Two Cheers for Democracy" in 1951 – that’s a long time ago but some ideas don’t change. In it he questions the hierarchy of power and says  - “I believe in aristocracy - not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky.” I sense that a democracy that brings us Donald Trump and Brexit may get only one cheer. We accept as an act of faith that democracy is the only good form of government. And here’s the good news - soon there’ll be a 46th President of the USA who will have been “in power” for either 4 or 8 years. Robert Mugabe was President of Zimbabwe for 40 years. That’s why democracy works. Half the world has been democratised and has the ability to oust its leaders. Maybe we’ll look back on this decade as one where the people voted irrationally just to prove they could.

Part 2 will follow around 10am gmt tomorrow...

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