The political conference season, with its cod-revolutionary policy launches and poorly scripted fightbacks, brings to mind John Cleese’s famous line in the film Clockwise: ‘It’s not the despair… I can take the despair. It’s the hope.’
Like all great comedians, Cleese is at heart the eternal pessimist. In a recent interview he declared that he used to think that by mocking the follies of the world he could make people see sense, but now realised nothing ever changed.
In their own ways, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Caroline Lucas and so on stand in opposition to that world-weary take on life.
Yet by trading on hope they also look to cash in on our despair that change takes so long to achieve and is such a painful process.
Attention deficit is the bane of British politics, fuelled by media demands for instant analysis and off-the-shelf solutions, and encouraged by a mindset that labels every pause for thought as ‘dithering’ and every decisive act a knee-jerk reaction.
Contrast this with the real work of regeneration: the patient nurturing of potential within communities, the realisation of visions for a better physical environment, and the hard graft of turning business ideas into successful enterprises.
If we’re looking for solutions rather than scapegoats, we need to shift our focus from the conference halls and podium speeches and search for those who are engaged in long-term thinking and planning.
It’s heartening to know that Westminster isn’t entirely bereft of such people. The announcement this week of a strategy for Britain’s manufacturing sector is a case in point.
What’s interesting about this isn’t the £150m handout; it’s the belated realisation that manufacturing is important to our survival.
It’s especially significant that the future of manufacturing has been linked with the development of renewable energy; we’re decades behind our European counterparts on this, and need to catch up quickly to prepare for a world in which energy security will soon rank with food security as one of the first responsibilities of government.
We’re lucky in the UK to have vast natural renewable resources. Using them responsibly, and developing the manufacturing and technological expertise needed to do so, could be the best guarantee of the long term health of our economy and society.
What’s more, it provides a superb opportunity to redress imbalances between north and south, town and country – offering an underpinning for progressive social policies that no amount of fiddling with the tax system could achieve.
Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine