Listeners of the Weekly Sceptic will know our Glorious Leader Toby Young is somewhat more optimistic. And now we have another optimist (sort of) in the form of Tom McTague, who claims in UnHerd that Britain has pretty much always been on the verge of collapse, at least in the eyes of the doomsters and gloomsters. Here’s an excerpt:
Have things ever been so grim? Given the depressing reality of contemporary Britain — with the endless stories of sleaze and decay, decline and division — it is easy to draw that conclusion. Surely the NHS has never been this dire, the union this fragile or the country’s economic prospects this bleak? Surely we’ve never had a Government, or a parliament, quite so devoid of ideas and ambition? For those, like me, who find themselves asking these questions more regularly than ever, there is a salve of sorts available: modern British history. If you think you’re living through the worst of times today, think again — it’s usually like this.
Over the past few months, researching a book on Britain’s long, troubled relationship with Europe, I have found a strange solace in the almost seasonal nature of our national life, with its endless wintery crises (usually involving the weakness of the pound and our ability to pay our way) that eventually give way to spring-like calms. Ben Pimlott’s biography of Harold Wilson, for example, is like a thunderstorm of charm and disorder, short fixes and political escapism. There was, of course, plenty of honour and achievement along the way, but as you turn the final page, you cannot help but wonder what it all amounted to. Here was a magical politician who dominated British politics for more than a decade, only to fade from national consciousness with alarming speed, his ghost barely even troubling the minds of his successors let alone haunting them. Today, Wilson is back in vogue as the man who finally ended 13 years of Tory rule, a favourite of Keir Starmer and some Sixties nostalgics, but this was a man almost broken by his own decline — and his country’s.
Wilson, though, is the rule in this regard, not the exception. A similar air of despondency hangs over almost all of Britain’s post-war leaders up until 1979, each of whom fixated on the notion of British decline but were unable to escape its clutches.