The past

What’s disheartening about the current political debate in the UK is that it’s so backward looking. Now, I appreciate the real impact of demographics. Yes, we have an aging population and the trend for population ageing is continuing[1]. So, the audience of voters that existing politicians are trying to seduce is predominantly over 50 years old. This shapes the message that they send out.

If I go on about how much the world has changed since my school days, I’ll bore your paints off. I have endured such stories from local Councillors, relatives, and work colleagues for many a year. Nevertheless, perspective can be lost if I don’t make a few points on this subject.

I was surprised to read that the world’s first e-mail is over 50 years old. So, that medium that has taken over our lives and practically displaced post office delivered mail and that ancient artifact, the letter, is a decade younger than me. Of course, the use of e-mails took a while to get going and so it’s the time since Windows 95 when the greatest change has taken place. The first website is just over 30 years old. Now, it’s impossible to imagine a world where everyday information is not displayed on a screen of one size or another.

The transition has been from a predominantly analogue world to an almost exclusively digital one.

What I find amusing is occasionally having to explain analogue technology. Although some long-standing devices have endured. Mechanical wristwatches continue to be valued and vinyl records are making a resurgence.

Before I get side-tracked the core of my argument is that we have been through a monumental transition in my working life. It’s happened at pace. It’s happened well ahead of political thinking. OK, savvy political operators have populated social media. Although, many campaigning efforts are derisory and ineffective. We are in an era when about 242 million iPhones are sold annually. Not doing social media is not an option.

If it’s worth engaging in political debate it should be about what happens next. What’s behind us can teach us but it’s not a pattern for the future: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.[2]” Endlessly raking over the past can be a huge distraction. Thatcher, Blair, and Ashdown were of their time. The global issues they faced were of their time.

Instagram is 12 years old; Snapchat is a year younger, and we have only had TikTok for 5 years. These social media platforms are the places where younger people get their daily news. On that basis they form opinions and may act on those opinion.

The further monumental transitions that are coming our way ought to occupy, at least, a part of contemporary political thinking. That doesn’t seem to be happening. If the UK wants to play a leading role on world stage our traditional myopic attitudes need a good shake up. If we intervene on global issues promoting 19th century views the results will be disastrous. Be warned.


[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/bulletins/populationandhouseholdestimatesenglandandwales/census2021#age-and-sex-of-the-population

[2] Leslie P. Hartley (1895-1972) British novelist and short story writer