I have a bad case of blogger’s block. Last week I wrote only two (which is the equal lowest total for any preceding week in the last five years) and this week find myself late on Tuesday evening without anything to write about other than having nothing to write about. What has happened?
The first excuse is that I am a bit miserable. I know this is to succumb to what a psychologist might describe as the ‘lump of joy fallacy’, but my post last week about reasons to be cheerful seems to have used up my last ounce of optimism. Normally when if feel like this I try to snap out of it. Getting slightly drunk can work quite well, not so much because the world looks better through beer goggles, but because coping with the hangover provides some sense of mission and accomplishment.
But there is so much to be worried and miserable about in Britain right now I have lost the will to pull up my own socks even when such an effort provides the excuse for drinking five pints of extra strong Struttock's Old Dirigible. I keep recalling the definition of an optimist as someone not in possession of the full facts.
A couple of people have asked why I haven’t blogged on the Euro summit. Sure, as a former insider I could have railed against Number Ten’s lack of vision, failure to manage expectations, lack of diligence and emotional intelligence, but all I really felt was sad that we as a country are so negative about the region of the world in which we live.
Often when I have little to say I fall back on the Big Society (yes, yes, I see the irony). But the other day at a rather grumpy and down beat event at NCVO I found it terribly hard to muster an argument against those who say with complete conviction that the whole endeavour is at best misguided and at worst a cover for an attack on public service entitlements. When someone shouted ‘isn’t it time we got bloody angry?’ my usual reply would be to suggest it is instead time to get engaged and creative. Instead I had to stop myself saying ‘how about if we all just got a bit sad?’.
The question is whether mild misery can ever be a good thing? It looks like we have to say goodbye to the assumption that, in material terms, the future will be better. Maybe the farewell has to be followed by the stages of grieving, in which anger is followed by depression before reaching resignation? Things going wrong in wider society rarely has as much impact on us as misfortune in our personal lives, but if we knew someone who had suffered lots of bad news but never seemed down about it we might conclude they were in denial.
Until a few days ago I would have said the biggest absence in current political discourse is hope. Perhaps we need collective sadness before we can get to hope. Think of the European summit; if in the run up David Cameron had said all the likely outcomes were difficult but that he was going to try to get the least worst for Britain and Europe might it have been easier for him to find some room for meaningful negotiation. Having to emerge upbeat with some kind of victory was a disastrously high hurdle to jump.
So, there we are then; it isn’t just that I’m a miserable old git who is unhappy due to some random combination of aches and pains, horrible weather, West Bromwich Albion’s ’s home form and the failure to get a new Radio Four series commissioned. No, we are a nation that needs to be woken from a slumber of denial and anger to face up to a grim reality and only then begin the long process of renewal.
Now I see that my grumpiness is in fact a powerful, insightful – I might even say inspiring – symbol of a deep social malaise, well, you know what, I’m actually starting to feel just a little bit better.
Al Mathers Anthony Painter
How can the government tackle the UK's chronic and enduring regional inequalities? We explore three plausible areas of focus for levelling up: economic development, social cohesion, and community power and identity.
Hannah Webster reflects on new research that highlights the difficulty for those with long-term health conditions to achieve economic security.