‘I suppose,’ I said to a friend the other day, ‘that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.’ There was a short pause, and he replied: ‘I wish I could share your optimism.’
There is Brexit, horrible as it is, and there is something even more horrible: the crashing of our political system. The whole business of democracy as it has been understood in this country appears to be in ruins, and my gloomy friend is not alone in being unable to see that leading anywhere good.
It’s bad for everyone. Even those on the other side of the Brexit debate from me can’t be comfortable with the idea that traditional ideas of rights, of debate, of consensus, of the rule of law and of tolerance appear to be losing their purchase.
As someone who observes and comments on the national press I am amazed by the behaviour of right-wing, establishment papers. As revolutionaries, as wreckers of public institutions, they now bear comparison with the Bolsheviks, and yet they seem to believe that wealth and property (an in particular their own wealth and property) will be immune from the effects of what they are doing.
Though the corporate papers are in the forefront, like Brexit they are not the whole story. The benefit system, the Health Service, the Union, Northern Ireland, education – there is scarcely an aspect of our collective existence that is not in a state which, in a less appalling environment, would constitute a grave national crisis in its own right.
So while we need to argue about Brexit, we also need to talk a lot more about the political crash. And this is where I confess that I am writing a puff. In fact, two puffs.
The first is for The Convention, two days of debate at Central Hall, Westminster, on 12 and 13 May – Friday and Saturday of next week. It is the brainchild chiefly of the Observer writer Henry Porter and it has as one of its slogans the refreshing thought: ‘We listen as well as speak’.
It looks like a forum that the megaphones of Murdoch and the Mail cannot drown out, and that might rise above the repetition of mantras such as ‘strong, stable government’. And quite a lot of work has gone into ensuring that it is not just the 48 per cent talking to themselves.
The other puff is for the Byline Festival in Pippingford Forest, Kent, on 2-4 June, just days before the election. Writing here, at the home of Byline, I hardly need to explain it, but if you don’t have tickets, get them now.