Unite or divide?

IMG_1269It’s a biblical quote: “A house divided against itself cannot stand” and it was used by Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois on 16 June 1858.  In a speech against slavery, he said: “I believe this Government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”  Lincoln was right but at that time he was heavily criticised for his courageous remarks.

Today, we are at a simple crossroads.  Two widely different political philosophies are in combat over our future.  This is a recurrent situation that waxes and wanes throughout our long history.  This fight is strikingly encapsulated in the campaigning antics of the social media age.

Temporarily, in the ascendancy is one approach that thrives on division.  Prompting and nurturing conflict wherever it can be found.  It’s strangely Darwinian, in setting one against another as a test to see who prevails.  Its instruments are aggressive, gaudy and indiscriminate.  It drains moral and wastefully plunders optimism.

As if it were the flip side of a coin, then we have a philosophy which prides itself; so easily summed up by the phrase: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.  The notion is that happiness, prosperity and strength come from cooperation and partnership.  It’s a constructive approach that believes that human institutions can be built to positively improve life.

Now 2018, we are 160 years from Lincoln’s speech and our national “house” is indeed divided.  Whether you call it; Like or Dislike, Left or Right, Remain or Leave, North or South, Public or Private, Nationalist or Internationalist, a polarising tribalism has set into our public debate.

I’ve set out to address the question: Why is it so difficult to occupy the centre ground?  Well, there it is; it profits some people to divide and rule.  Each of us is too easily drawn into the idea that our utopia can only be built by destroying the imagined utopia of another.  OK.  It’s not grumpiness that I want to promote.  It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that there’s no way out of this perpetual conflict and that its all bad.

Back to Lincoln a couple of lifetimes ago.  He was defeated so you might conclude that his; “A house divided against itself cannot stand” speech was a failure.  Truth is, it was not.  Friends later concluded that his speech did awaken people.   It was like clearing the path of debris so that people could get from A to B with hope and ambition.

I think, that’s what we need this coming year.  A dramatic reassertion that we work better together.  A proclamation and a proof that cooperation in Europe is a benefit to every single citizen.  Building a better world is a joint activity and not a lone struggle.


Future positive

IMG_0019So, what might be on the road ahead?  It’s clear, the road behind is littered with failures and mistakes but we have the capacity to learn from what went wrong in 2016 and 2017.  The year ahead is a great opportunity to make amends.  It’s the verge of the New Year and I’m happy to indulge in one or two predictions for 2018.

Efforts at predictions are a mix of; what happened last time, where are we now and leaps of the imagination.  Here I’ll offer more than a couple of leaps of the imagination.  Nevertheless, this is offered with a grounding of practical possibility.

Will there be a UK General Election in 2018?  I think it’s a 50-50 roll of the dice.  In precarious circumstances it doesn’t take a lot to completely upend the political landscape.

If Labour has a strategy, and it maybe let’s just wait and see, it’s going to dissolve like sugar in the rain.  The Conservatives have a kind of strategy but it’s a single-track railway line that ends in a cliff fall.  On both hard left and right, a certain number of people will always be found to be perpetually angry with the world.  They will continue to fuel much noise, smoke and mirrors.

This all points to a massive calamity which may, in fact, be a positive one.  Out of the ashes will come several new notable leaders, movers and shakers.  I’d say there’s a good chance that one of them will be charismatic enough to recapture the centre ground.

Even with the possibilities above, 2018 will be predominantly a wasted year for Government, much in the way of 2017.  What I mean is that the overwhelming focus will be on Brexit disasters, attempts at recovery and newspeak worthy of “The Thick of It”.

On the positive side, public and private organisations will kick in their worst case scenario contingency measures and by chance they will work.  A robust economy will struggle to finance these measures but a defacto-exit from Brexit will start to emerge.  The public mood will shift towards a positive pragmatic European stance and start to see of retro-politicians as to blame for the previous wasted years.   Having failed successively, populist nationalist will sink to less than 5% in the polls.  At the same time, popular non-governmental organisations will see their membership grow significantly.

In my view, a referendum or General Election is likely in 2019.  I can’t say what shape a winning Party of collection of Parties will be, but they will be different from anything we have seen before.  The anger that weaves through the social media of politics will still be there but a new generation of politicians will have adapted to this environment.   There will be an appetite for tackling big problems rather than running away.  Its often said that fashion is cyclic.  Keep those flared trousers for long enough and you will get to wear them again.

Optimistically, I’d say the decade from 2020 will be one where Britain returns to the European family and prospers greatly as a result.