The Sky Has Not Yet Fallen
The Sky Has Not Yet Fallen
An idle thought that turned into a nostalgic moment that somehow morphed into a piece of political analysis.
I remember the morning of 2nd May 1997. I have a clear memory, one of those rare, precious shards of childhood clarity. I am lying on my front, ear to the speaker of a radio in my aunt’s house, listening to the World Service. Parquet floor, a rug covering the centre, dining table and chairs behind me. Somewhere in the room is the resident gecko, biding its time behind one or other of the pieces of furniture or climbing impossibly up the walls. This is Hong Kong in late spring, humid and hot. I am nine years old and I am aware that something special is happening. My parents are excited, happy. Later, my father and I will take a walk down the hill and through the city, the two of us taking in the city and bidding farewell to its sheer glass colossi. Whether I realised it at the time I cannot really say, but unconsiously at least we knew that we would return to a different place from the one we had departed.
This was undoubtably a Good Thing (Everyone not familiar with the concept of the Good Thing first espoused in Sellar and Yeatman’s 1066 And All That may struggle here, and should preferably beat a path to the nearest dusty secondhand bookshop to locate a copy). A young, smiling, fresh-faced man sweeping away the sober, sad-looking old man in Number Ten. Right had triumphed over Wrong, the needs of the many for once outweighed the needs of the few.
I write now as a member of the generation who grew up through the New Labour experiment, who witnessed the spectacular early successes and blinding optimism of Cool Britannia, watched the flow of public cash zero in on waiting lists and class sizes and then looked on as this great white hope began to wither away post-9/11, our young, principled government decaying in the grip of an ill-advised foreign policy and a Special Relationship that drew it off course.
All the same, we are a generation of young people who can’t listen to David Cameron without flashing back to Gap Yah and who are still expecting him and his chum George to chunder all over the nation. Much as we might admire his rhetorical jousting skills, the sight of William Hague actually in charge of a ministry gives us chills. Theresa May in charge of equality? It would be funny if it wasn’t so scary. That The Tories are a Bad Thing, to be avoided at all costs, tactically voted against and generally reviled is a given, an unspoken truth. Conservative governments are things forced upon us by other people, older people, richer people, the Baby Boomers who have all the cash, all the jobs and all the property and would like to keep it that way, thank you very much. It seemed so utterly clear at the last election; as a sixth-former, I watched as the battle lines were drawn between those of us who considered ourselves moral beings and those who cared more about how much of daddy’s fortune they’d be taxed on. A Conservative government would be a Bad Thing.
And now, all of a sudden, after a long year of ominous certainty and a weekend of utter confusion, we have one. Sort of.
And yet, and yet…the sky is still there. No-one has been rounded up and shot. We’re all still here, and all sorts of Sensible Things are happening. Things like scrapping the third runway at Heathrow, ditching ID cards, discussions on an elected House of Lords and a referendum on Alternative Vote. Of course, the honeymoon period is alive and well; it is all too easy to believe that this is a new era. But if we do so, is it not because that is what we want? This coalition is too accountable, too fragile, too potentially catastrophic, to disregard the will of the people, says the voice of the inner optimist. Surely now, we can put all that bickering behind us and concentrate on making things better? Blind hope, but hope all the same.
To what extent our hopes will be rewarded might well come down to the fact that this isn’t a proper Conservative government but a coalition of the (relatively) willing. The involvement of the Liberal Democrats can scarcely be given too much significance when discussing this government, it seems. AV is down to them, of course, and the emergence of Nick Clegg (marking the peak of not just three weeks but ten years of steady growth for the LibDems) has forced the issue of electoral reform and will, even if nothing else about this government does, change the face of British politics. A more proportional Commons and an (even partly) elected Lords will alter the way Westminster does business forever.
The rest, however, might just be down to the swinging of the pendulum of democracy; of all the checks and balances built into western liberal democracy as a system of choosing government, the tendency to reject the incumbent in favour of the opposition every two or three terms is the biggest. Policies like the third runway and ID cards, things that Labour had become ideologically bound to despite it becoming increasingly apparent that they were both foolish and unpopular, will be rolled back simply because the other lot are in, and that might be no bad thing.
So where does this leave us, the generation raised to believe that the Tories were bogeymen, hiding under the collective bed and waiting to come out and get us the first chance they got? I can’t help but feel like a kid who finds out that the biggest school bully is actually not so bad after all when you get to know him. Not great, but not the devil incarnate either. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that the new government is a Good Thing, but it might not be that bad after all.