Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

While I am intensely interested in politics, it may not have escaped the notice of readers of this blog that I am also incredibly cynical about them.

My first memory of politicians were fuzzy black and white pictures of Harold Wilson, Ted Heath and Jim Callaghan in the grim years of the 1970s (oh how well Life on Mars recaptured that era), but my first political awakening came one sunny day in 1979 when I woke up to discover that Margaret Thatcher was our new Prime Minister. I was fourteen years old, my parents were so fed up with Callaghan they were thrilled, and it was to be nearly twenty years before I experienced a Labour government as an adult. Such is the general foaming at the mouth hatred engendered by the liberal middle classes in this country, when they think about Thatcher, it is easy to forget that actually that last Labour government was shit. I remember my childhood as being a time of strikes and bread shortages, and the Winter of Discontent was certainly not the best advert for Labour. So I do recall that mood of optimism sweeping the country (or well parts of it anyway) at the thought that now there would be change.

By the time of the next election, my political mindset was more set, and less focussed on what I'd overheard my parents say. I just missed voting that year and was quite glad I did, as I hadn't a clue who I'd have voted for. Although I did know one thing, I wouldn't have been voting for Thatcher by then. The next two elections I could vote in, it felt like I was wasting my vote. The Tories were going to be back by a foregone conclusion (even when Neil Kinnock made that dangerous speech in 1992), my natural inclination to vote Liberal was a waste in Labour Liverpool where I first voted in '87 and even more of one in sunny Tory Surrey where I've voted ever since. By the time John Major came into office I despaired of ever seeing a Labour government. Now of course, I despair of ever getting rid of one.

But in all that time, I have never ever felt (even when Tony Blair came in and the winds of change did seem for a moment to blow across the land) that there was someone in government to inspire, to lead, to somehow make us better then we are. And being the old cynic I am, I always thought it would stay that way. Politics is a rough and dirty business, you probably can't retain much integrity and survive, at some point your morals will have to be compromised. It is I think, the nature of the beast.

Or that's how I've always looked at it.

Until today.

Now I'm not going to go over all gushy and write some tosh about how Barack Obama is the new messiah or anything, but hearing him speak tonight, I thought finally we have a leader of the free world who can speak with compassion and feeling, who has a sense of his nation's past, and the humility to realise the problems of its future. He makes no bones about the difficulties that lie ahead or the problems of the task that faces him. Crucially (I think, having witnessed far too many new bosses sweeping in making huge changes without figuring out what actually works) he doesn't seem to be in a hurry to change things too fast, which I hope means that he's going to give himself time to work out how the hell he's going to do this job.

Now it may be that in a year's time some skeleton will come out of the closet, or Barack will have fucked up in a major way. Or god forbid, someone will have taken a pot shot at him. But...

JFK died two years before I was born. No one who's ruled his country or mine since has made me feel in the slightest bit inspired.

And today, Barack did inspire me. He did make me think, even if only for a moment, that things could and will be different.

So for once I'm going with the flow and put my cynicism aside. It may be in four years time I'll be saying I was wrong, but for this one tiny moment in history I'm going to allow myself the audacity of hoping that change really is on its way...

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