Friends used to tell me that as years went by I would mellow with age – just learn to accept things more gracefully. It isn’t working. These days I find myself getting cross about almost everything. Quite apart from the things I forget that I should be cross about. I am more likely to see genetically modified pigs flying over my local skyline than adopt a chilled attitude to life.
It would have been pleasant to have spent the last year or so in a relaxed alcoholic haze, watching with mild and benevolent interest as the younger generation led the country towards better times. But then Liz Truss came along. Proving once and for all that it was possible to be a worse prime minister than Boris Johnson.
If memory serves that was quite a hard thing to do. But then my memory doesn’t serve me all that well and I really can’t rely on it anymore. The other day I looked back on the days of lockdown and seemed to recall that our prime minister and our health secretary at the time told us with great sincerity that we were all in the crisis together and must act responsibly for the collective good.
So, I must have got a bit muddled and confused in my dotage. Because that prime minister and the current one both got fined for breaking the lockdown rules and the health secretary had to resign for not keeping enough social distance between himself and his best friend’s wife. Before entering a career as a reality TV show contestant.
Getting confused and forgetting what you’ve done or said is obviously a bit catching. Even our current prime minister has begun to suffer symptoms. He can’t remember getting the Cabinet office to fight against the court’s insistence on seeing his WhatsApp messages. Like the earlier prime minister who curiously had a very similar mishap, he can’t remember why or how those messages got deleted when he changed phones. Despite having a security detail whose job it is to protect his messages. And he can’t remember what was in those messages.
They may have contained nothing but lovely kind words about his colleagues and how much he enjoyed working alongside them in an atmosphere of trust and mutual support. As they all focused on making decisions in the best interests of the country, and were driven by the science, I am probably being unfair in thinking there might have been anything less savoury. Such as details of who was getting very lucrative contracts without any obvious ability to fulfil them. Or what the government really thought about the people it was supposed to be protecting.
It’s quite possible that Rishi Sunak is looking back over the past year and comforting himself with the thought that he has led the country into an era of careful and responsible government. Whilst most of the rest of us hold our heads in our hands over the sight of yet another version of the Conservative Party messing up the economy in the enthusiastic pursuit of daft right-wing theories.
The right notes in the wrong order?
Sunak was of course an early and enthusiastic supporter of Brexit, and anyone who still pays any respect to facts knows how well that has turned out. He told us on the very day that he took up the job of being our Dear Leader that Truss had tried to do the right things but in slightly the wrong way. Which will come as great comfort to all those whose mortgages or rents rocketed last year. And those who will come off fixed rates and encounter brutal increases next.
He also told us often, and with the loud support of his friends in the media, that he was the man to tackle inflation and restore good order to the country. Then he let investment bankers take home bigger bonuses with lower tax bills whilst offering nurses, teachers and rail workers such hefty real-term pay cuts that the country suffered months of damage from avoidable strikes.
War, war instead of jaw, jaw
All this might generate less anger and frustration if I could turn on the international news and get a healthy injection of good news stories. Instead, Vladimir Putin is launching the full weight of the Russian empire’s military machine against a neighbouring country, and much of the western world’s far right now wants to stop sending arms to the Ukraine.
Then we had to watch in horror whilst Hamas killed peace campaigners at a pop concert for the crime of being Israeli citizens. Before watching in every bit as much horror whilst Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist nationalist allies organized the killing of Palestinian citizens with such efficiency that his troops shot dead three escaped Israeli hostages, unarmed and shirtless and waving a white flag, without taking the time to consider who they might be. With that level of care, it is open to question how many thousands of innocent Palestinian children have also been killed by ‘mistake’.
Hard enough to stomach if our own country had simply been a neutral bystander arguing for peace and the long-term settlement of conflicts. Instead, our prime minister chose to go to Israel and assure Netanyahu that our nation wanted him to win. In a highly competitive year that statement won my personal award for cynical stupidity. It was presented to the world as Britain’s unconditional support for all-out military victory by one side.
Not much comfort as we end 2023
So this catastrophic year was topped off with rancid icing on top of the whole vile-tasting cake. We had COP28, a globally important climate conference chaired by a representative of a fossil fuel state, who told us that we didn’t need to phase out fossil fuels in order to tackle the emissions that cause climate change. He then brokered a deal which contained a few encouraging words and not a single binding commitment on anyone anywhere to do anything before any deadline.
The only hope on the horizon for many people in the UK is the upcoming general election. The good news is that any incoming government is going to find it very difficult to be worse than the outgoing one. The bad news is that the leader of the opposition sounds timid and confused whenever he is urged to back radical action and seems to admire much of what was done by Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.
I leave it to the good judgement of readers to make their own decision about whether Keir Starmer is up to the job. Personally, when I listen to him I get very tempted to reach for a bottle and go all out for that alcohol haze. Instead, I will be standing for the Green Party in the parliamentary seat of Skipton and Ripon. I may be getting on in years, but I refuse to accept all this gracefully and without a fight.