It is sad to say that I can look back to 1997 and wish we could once again sing ‘Things can only get better’. Right now there is little prospect of that and each week seems to provide ever clearer indication that this is the case. Or does it? I was asked by a couple of members of my audience in Saturday why I am a relentless optimist, which slightly surprised me; I was not aware I was. But I do, I admit, look for signs of hope amongst despair.
The despair is easy to find right now. If Brexit was ever going to succeed that looks increasingly unlikely, and David Davis has now confirmed that the government has done no planning for that option.
The Union is at risk, and many in the country as a whole can now understand why.
The government is so weak it cannot deliver its only tax reform of the budget. It’s dogma is so poor it looks possible that it’s education plans – one of just two other policies announced less than a fortnight ago – may also fail. This might be rightly so, but it still suggests it to be without any authority at all.
The pound is weak.
Underemployment and low pay remain as chronic problems.
Debt – domestic but not government – remains out of control.
And the Labour Party shows no sign at all of becoming an effective opposition with Corbyn and his cohort clinging to power in ways wholly destructive to the democracy of this country.
And then there’s Trump.
And African famine, to really bring matters into focus.
The despair is, then, justified.
So why the optimism? This one is harder to explain, but amidst my anger that the above situations are allowed to prevail (because they are not necessities or foregone facts) I always presume that we humans are capable of solving problems. I am uncomfortably aware that this might be a characteristic I share with market fundamentalists. They believe, without a shred of evidence to support their dogma, that whatever the problem the profit motive will solve it. I value business, and what it can achieve, but this assumption is utterly naive. It presumes the desire of one person can solve the problems of another to whom the person with desire is entirely indifferent: of course it can’t. I do therefore make use of a wholly different assumption. I presume people do care about others.
I am, of course, aware that some think is is as naive as the belief of the market fundamentalist and in a sense I have to agree: of course it is, barring one thing. That exception is that the evidence shows that it not only really happens, but that it works.
All successful religions have, as far as I know, been built on this foundation. I am not saying their followers have always lived by the maxim, but the prescription is clear.
It is also the basis for most charity. Again, I know there are exceptions where self aggrandisement is the goal, but that does not defeat my argument or the fact that the continued existence of charity proves it works.
And it is the foundation of most modern political thought, from one-nation Toryism onwards, even if (yet again) lip service can result.
So this idea exists. And although some adherents fail, many succeed. And when they do succeed they quietly change the world. And because that happens so often – whereas trickle down economics has never worked – we do not notice it. But I suggest we should. It is the basis for my optimism.