The State Of My Nation



I’m at a crossroads in writing. I’ve delivered books for 2018 and have a clean slate for 2019. Usually I have three or four slowly gestating ideas in different stages of development. Everything I write reflects something of the times. I make sure there’s themes, parallels, touches of zeitgeist. But after the last couple of years of rollercoaster politics, both domestic and international, I’m left without inspiration.

‘Inspire’ comes from the Latin inspirare – ‘to breathe or blow into’ . The word was originally used of a divine or supernatural being imparting a truth or idea to someone. To become inspired you gather opinions and ideas, and create from them. You then apply the rules of your craft, because writing is about 60-40 craft/inspiration.

This time it’s harder. Thanks to social media, the last few years have seen people hiding their real personalities from view in order to gain consensus and peer approval. Nobody feels comfortable expressing strong opinions.

In my lifetime there have been the following Prime Ministers of Britain; Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson (2), Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron, and now May.

Only four of these, like them or not, offered any sort of social vision; Churchill, Wilson, Thatcher and Blair.

Three were unelected and fared badly; Callaghan, Brown and May.

Under another three, Wilson, Thatcher and Blair, there was considerable prosperity (although of course such seeds are often sown by predecessors).

With the exception of Tony Blair in his earliest, most idealistic days, none of the last five evinced any sort of personality at all. When you start checking a woman’s shoes for signs of character traits you’re in trouble. We expect political parties to have implementable ideas, but at the moment we have two leaders armed only with trace survival instincts.


The British have a habit of sending its unpopular governments messages that the populace will not simply be railroaded into decisions that affect all. Unfortunately protest votes usually leave countries internationally weakened. I believe in the young and I’m glad they’re finally finding a voice.

Books have gestation times of (for me, at least) around three years. I don’t have a crystal ball.  This time all I can tell is that Theresa May will scrape the nation through a soft Brexit with the help of the backward-facing DUP, and that there will probably be a Labour government after her. Hopefully it will not be under the insipid Corbyn, who is both for and against Brexit, for and against strong security, and reduced the planks of his manifesto to low student fees and, bizarrely, renationalising the railways. Not very inspiring.

I have strong beliefs. I am an atheist pro-Europe Democrat, always happy to amend my viewpoint before a well-reasoned argument. I think Angela Merkel is leading the free world by example, not Donald Trump. I want to keep learning and absorb fresh ideas. I like my books smart, my meals spicy and my beer cold. I trust my readers more than my leaders.

And right now, the crossroads before me could lead anywhere. I wonder if that’s how others feel.

14 comments on “The State Of My Nation”

  1. Brian Evans says:

    I am also an atheist pro-Europe Democrat. However, I don’t agree with some of Admin’s views.

    1. Thank goodness for Churchill with regards to the 2nd World War. But when he returned as PM after Atlee he was extremely backward-facing, he lived in the past and was dead set against a welfare state and NHS.

    2 I don’t hold Corbyn with the same distain as Admin. I don’t know yet whether I like him or not, or whether to believe everything he says. However, considering that before the election some pundits were opining that Labour would be destroyed due to the result, and would split into two, I think his achievement has been stupendous. Especially as his enemies were in his own party, and that the Tories thought he was a gift to their own campaign. Can anyone be more foreward looking and inspiring to young people than Corbyn? He has forced the Tories to change. It would appear that very few of them voted Tory so if they don’t change they will find their old supporters dying out and not being replaced by youngsters-just like Marks and Spencers

    I think this election should be nick-named the Facebook election. I have always held Facebook with disdain, but I am changing my mind. Three of the Tory press papers on election day had vile, nasty personal attacks on Labour and Corbyn. Instead of helping the Tories to win, like in the past, it helped them lose. It made Facebook users go out and vote Labour to defy them. To me, the biggest victory of this election is that it has killed off the influence of the right wing bias of the gutter press in Britain for good. It’s no more “It’s the Sun what won it” -it’s now “It’s the Sun What Lost It.” So thank you, Mr Corbyn.

    3. I don’t like spicy food.

    4. I like warm beer.

  2. Vivienne says:

    I don’t see Corbyn as insipid and I am really pleased that a truly socialist, or inclusive, manifesto was put to the voters and they didn’t all run away screaming in fright. Also agree totally about the press, Mail and Murdoch in particular and heartened that people are not as gulllible as they hoped and I feared. I’ve lived through those PMs too and remember worrying about Strontium 90 in the school milk and imminent nuclear war, so my security talllies with Corbyn’s there.

    I would like to put paid also to the idea that the young were just bought with tuition fee bribes. It seems that rents, jobs, lack of ever owning a home are just as important and desperately need addressing. My son stood as a Green Party candidate so he is able to give me feedback on that side of things.

    Cold lager but warm beer.

  3. Peter Tromans says:

    Prosperity under Wilson and Thatcher? I remember them as the times of cut and destroy. In London, things might have looked different, but for most of us they were the beginnings of the end for a whole way of life. Perhaps, I’m an old git, but I prefer steel works, car factories and a world of manufacturing to endless shopping malls.

  4. admin says:

    As a Londoner I saw insane prosperity under Thatcher at the expense of the rest of the country. Many unions were fighting to keep dead technologies alive (print, coal) but there had to be better ways of dealing with the problem.

    My brother still works in manufacturing, which in today’s global economy involves outsourcing to the cheapest bidder and working people into illness for small profits.

    My problem with Corbyn is his indecisiveness in opposition that prevented him from speaking out, and appealing to the student vote was a cheap bit of lazy bribery. My fear is that he will easily manipulated by unions into taking us back to disastrous nationalisations.

  5. Martin Tolley says:

    I was alive when Churchill was PM (just), but my first political memory was Macmillan, and really the ascent of Douglas-Home. I remember not understanding him having a name spelled one way and said differently. Wilson had the vision to try to devolve education to the masses – comprehensive schooling and Open University, which did so much to enable folk to achieve their potential. Whatever else his reputation may have suffered from, he probably did more to help “the left out” and “the left behind” than most politicians of the last century. Heath participated in, and saw the devastation and suffering a European war caused, and had the vision to lead us into a union intended to ensure peace and prosperity. We now seem to have outgrown that need.
    Thatcher and Blair both had powerful views of how the world should work, and followed that vision with evangelical fervour. Both were seen at the outset as saviours of the country, and both are now tarnished. Both over-played their hands. Both of them maybe brought down by over-playing the very characteristics that seemed so believable and charismatic when they started. Maybe that’s also a little true of Ms Sturgeon north of the border.
    In my view the rest were managers, just minding the shop during opening hours.
    Someone said all political careers end in failure. Perhaps it’s just the start(!) of curmudgeonly gittish old age with me, but I find that all political epochs, movements, end up leaving me disappointed. Maybe it’s mostly grey with the odd brief flash of lightening. Where that next illumination may come from in this country – who knows? None of the current crop seem to me to have much of a spark or even a sense of where to look for the candles. In Europe Merkel behaves like a leader, someone who seems to want to do the right things, and perhaps Macron will be the future lightening in Europe.
    The good thing about recent days (if it’s true) is that more younger people are getting interested in politics. I have spent most of my adult life teaching 18-24 year olds, and my experience of almost every cohort I’ve mixed with is that most are forward-thinking, optimistic, resilient and concerned about the world. The world has to be about their future and not our pasts. I don’t think our current breed of politicians fully gets that.

  6. Davem says:

    I believe in the young and I’m glad they’re finally finding a voice.

    Couldn’t agree more!

  7. Chris Webb says:

    Jeremy Corbyn got off to a bad start because he was catapulted suddenly and unexpectedly into a job he could never have dreamed of having, even the day before he became party leader. With hindsight it is obvious that he needed a long time to find his feet, and to a great extent he still is. Obviously he is not exactly charismatic but is that what people want? I’m fed up with political parties creating and presenting policies using the same methods used to market mobile phones or shampoo.

    We owe a huge debt to the great socialists of the mid 20th century, most notably Aneurin Bevan, and the Thatcherite dream of making us all prosperous middle-class and thereby making Socialism obsolete never came off.

    I think the odds of another general election by the end of the year are very high (instead of polling cards they should issue season tickets!) so maybe the Labour Party will spend the next few months making themselves truly electable.

    I have about 60 feet of books, about 50:50 fiction/non-fiction; the non-fiction mostly science and history. I think I have actually learned as much if not more from the fiction. History and science can give you facts and interpretations but fiction can give you so much more.

    Have you thought of writing any historical fiction? Your knowledge of the history of London is formidable (although I am aware you get most of it from Arthur Bryant 🙂 ) so how about something set in the Golden Age 20s/30s? Or maybe Victorian/Edwardian times?

    By the way, have you thought about changing your user name? As noms de clavier go it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi!

  8. brooke says:

    The state of my nation (the US) is also a snarl …while UK citizens were dealing with the outcomes of a general election, on this side of the pond, we watched a former FBI director tell sordid tales about the current president. I am not bragging about which is worse. As William Pitt the younger supposedly said during another complex time…”My country, my poor country.”

    But I’m not clear about Mr. Fowler’s personal crossroads. From a personal political point of view, now is the opportunity to exert influence over the least obnoxious political group that you can tolerate. All are in marginal positions; you can influence the agenda.

    From a professional point of view, I would think these times are fertile grounds for inspiration and imagination. Just describing the currents within the zeitgeist would make interesting reading. And what happens to ordinary human beings of various estates and ages during this turmoil? What do they think, feel and how do they react to possibilities and/or diminished horizons? You’re not required to be predictive about the outcome of our respective states but there are some interesting “what if” scenarios.

    This post began with a tremendous list of activity–perhaps it’s time to take a break so inspiration has time to take over.

  9. Peter Tromans says:

    Dear Chris, I just about totally agree with your admin comment. Yes, many industries were no great loss – how could we justify sending men down holes to dig out coal? But what did we replace those industries with? Much of manufacturing could have evolved and remained UK based. If Germany could do it, so could we. And I believe we still can, given a financial system that understands and supports its value.

    Instead, we have a fastbuck finance system and rely on importing rich people and their money. Most of that is into London to turn it into the expensive, inaccessible place that you described the other day.

    Most likely, with JC and TM, the erection result was the best we could have hoped for?

  10. Steveb says:

    I think you misunderstand Merkel.
    Other than that although I know we disagree politically I do surprisingly agree with nearly all of what you say.
    The great debates which this country should be having are scarcely addressed and let me be honest least of all in the Guardian. The few columnists for whom I have real respect for example Nick Cohen seem to be progressively being isolated instead of driving the debate.
    Another irony is that the only politician to properly address Europe was Thatcher (dont misunderstand me as a Thatcherite). Since then it’s all talk but no real engagement, which is one of the reasons I support Brexit – when something so consistently doesnt work, it’s not the people it’s the system.

  11. Steveb says:

    As for Germany, Germany was already richer in all important respects than Britain by 1950. The roots of why Germany is as it is go back to before Bismark. It’s just fantasy to say, ‘if Germany could do it so can Britain.’ It’s a totally and utterly different society.

  12. admin says:

    What a pleasure it has been to read these comments. I agree with Peter, that the result was the best we could get under the circumstances. And thank you, Brooke, for reminding me that it’s not my job to predict the future but catch the passing tone. It interests me that some of the most creative writing came from the Thatcher era, as authors were galvanised with the rapidly changing world.
    I do find it hard to believe, Chris, that Corbyn was the only available choice in the entire Labour party (I suppose in the same way that May would be trusted to do as she was told, like Major before her). Yes, I have a nom de plume cropping up next month, and a piece of historical fiction scheduled for next year (if you think 1968 is history, unlike Mr Bryant)…

  13. Helen Martin says:

    (Hit leave a comment BEFORE you hit next!)
    Agree with much that Admin offered but remembering my friend’s mother who was denied access to a care facility because she had “someone at home to care for her” when that someone was her son who had to work and the mother was losing her grip on reality. The schools in which he was substituting were as scary as the worst class I ever had to deal with. How was an open university to help kids who had been stuffed into those schools the same way as Dave’s mother ended up in a 14 bed ward.
    I agree about Churchill. Why do people insist on staying in politics until they are so out of date that even the electorate can see it? Our provincial election resulted in the same uncertainty as Britain is facing.
    No spicy food.
    Tepid beer. Have you heard that Guinness is producing a blond lager for the US and something that is advertised as an African Guinness?

  14. Chris Webb says:

    ” Yes, I have a nom de plume cropping up next month”

    Sorry, I didn’t make that very clear. What I meant was that on this blog your name is shown as “admin” and a lot of people refer to you as that in comments.

    In the UK most large companies are PLCs so are heavily focused on maximising dividends and share value short term. In Germany many very large companies are privately owned so can take a more long-term view with regards investment and R&D.

    There are two sides to every story, and many people in Germany and elsewhere are concerned and critical that Germany appears to be heavily reliant on traditional engineering and manufacturing whereas other western nations are more technology and service orientated.

    We in Britain seem to suffer from eternal grass-is-greener syndrome. I saw a graph on Twitter the other day of murder rates in various countries, and was quite shocked that ultra-peaceful and civilised countries like Norway, Switzerland and Finland have murder rates many times that of the UK.

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