You Think This Was The First Bad Year?
2018? Pah, that was nothing.
1974 was the year that really sucked.
In 1974 the top US songs were The Way We Were by Barbra Streisand and Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks. In the UK it was the time of the Bay City Rollers and Slade. In the bigger picture we had Nixon and Watergate, the fallout from the Oil Crisis, Edward Heath, the Tory PM, attempting to negotiate a coalition agreement with the Liberal Party and failing horribly, the unions crippling the country, bringing rolling blackouts and food shortages. In hospitals, emergency operations took place by torchlight. The top films were the only bright spot in a horrible year; Godfather II, Chinatown, The Conversation, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Blazing Saddles.
And so to 2019. After The Quisling Farage, Clown Bojo and The Haunted Chimney lied to the British people, leading them into leaderless, rudderless chaos lorded over by ‘Point & Shoot’ May, the Labour Party had an open goal that Catweazle the Invisible somehow snoozed through.
Just as ‘global warming’ was craftily downgraded to ‘climate change’ by Dick Cheney’s gang, so ‘Brexiteers’ conjured images of valiant mutiny instead of insidious racism and Remainers became Remoaners – not a leap of the imagination. The vote was split between urbanites, who had far more contact with Europe, and rurals, who were worried about loss of national identity. It was a phenomenon noted by the FT:
‘The split between a metropolitan elite and a populist hinterland is clear in western politics. Less often noticed is that the same divide increasingly defines politics outside the west — spanning places with very different cultures and levels of development, such as Turkey, Thailand, Brazil, Egypt and Israel.’
The vote split families and tore up rulebooks as anecdotal fake news swamped empirical data. As Stewart Lee’s taxi driver sneeringly said; ‘Yeah, well, you can prove anything with facts.’
Which brings us to 2019.
This is where the cold, hard facts will arrive too fast for us to handle and roost like vultures in our houses. Or – like most politics in an inherently democratic country full of relatively healthy happy complainers – it will be a fizzle, a compromise, a blustering fudge that drifts and gets pushed back until there are only crumbs rolling about, and those who madly believed that the UK could recapture the spirit of Empire will blame anyone and everyone.
I remember the jubilation that accompanied the country’s admittance into the Common Market, but as Roy Porter says in ‘A Social History of London’, ‘London is not an eternal city. It had its hour upon the stage between the two Elizabeths, between 1570 and 1986.’ Those benchmarks are the opening of the Royal Exchange and the closing of the (admittedly failing) GLC, making London the only major city without democratic governance. There are mayors again now, but the coming year approaches without any sense of governance once more – if it is there, it is being hidden from its people.
But these problems are anthills compared to the two 20th century slides into war that decimated our male population, the fallout of which began before I was born and has continued until now. London suffers for its history – so rich and complex that it must be unjustly forgotten so that we can find our feet again. But this time the UK will return as a scaled-down, inward-looking country.
I do not believe there is any justification in grading people into classes, types or colours. When the press attacks a few hundred desperate refugees for trying to enter a country of 65 million, I turn away from the press, and I suspect I’m not alone.
England has changed in this past year. Money is tight, people are downbeat, but the English imagination is fecund and filled with variety. It’s been an amazing year for breaking down race and gender barriers. That famous last barrier of class and race, the theatre, has its biggest original hit in the form of a black play, Natasha Gordon’s ‘Nine Night’, which has taken London by storm. It’s a great time to get creative.
This coming year there will be two new Bryant & Mays. I’ll be finishing my thriller, working on a historical fantasy and planning further books, along with a host of other projects. Life continues until it stops. Let’s make 2019 something to get excited about.
Have a fantastic new year.