Pulling Together


Happy New Year, let’s hope

That’s the traditional greeting at this time of year, as the calendar turns over and starts again, but how happy can this New Year be?

We enter it with a devastating war in Ukraine which seems imperilled now by authoritarian backlashes in some EU countries and the USA, another, even more devastating, conflict in Gaza and to a lesser extent in the West Bank, and a largely overlooked civil war in Sudan.

There is considerable concern that democracy is failing in many countries, partly because politics has become detached from reality with demagogues on the extremes demanding others fall in with them and the vast majority afraid to speak up against them. Those who do are labelled extremists, intolerant, hate-driven -ists or -phobes by one side and “woke” by the other. As the coiner, or one of the coiners, of the term Wokeism as a shorthand for Pseudo-Liberal authoritarianism I cannot approve of the watered-down use of woke to describe anything the bigoted right dislikes. Wokeism has nothing to do with climate change or electric cars. It is about political intolerance and active persecution of dissenters. It is about loss of jobs or a public voice for having the “wrong” opinions, something most of us thought had been successfully purged from society decades ago. I was brought up in a free country, which meant anyone was entitled to an opinion, though to persuade others evidence was needed. Now others are “persuaded” by intimidation from their union or employer. We thought the secret ballot was brought in to stop employers and landlords policing the opinions of their workers or tenants.

This has made democracy a dangerous activity for many and a toxic wasteland for others, with the resulting disillusion becoming itself a threat to basic societal freedom. Where the 20th century was fearless in the West, the 21st has become a very different place where only extremists dare speak their mind. This limits informed debate and drives strongly emotional politics in which loyalties and identities become more important than reason and truth. Of course, no one claims to be an extremist; that title is reserved for any who dare to oppose “our” obvious, but somehow unproven, view.

I see this kind of emotional and vindictive politics everywhere, including in my own party, where we need reminding of the need to re-attach ourselves to reality by basing policy on the assessment of evidence, not just adopting a contrarian position to someone we dislike. I expect a showdown of some kind soon, but I do not relish it, however necessary it has become. This is not a happy place to be at any time of year, especially one involving a General Election.

Then there are those caught up in travel chaos with the cancellation of all cross-channel trains. That is a mystery to me. Why should a flooded tunnel preventing access to one station close the service altogether? Are there not other stations from which continental trains could depart? They used to go from Waterloo until the line via Stratford to St Pancras was built. Can they not go there again? Are there no other London stations to which the trains could be diverted? I’m sure no one travelling to or from the continent really cares about St Pancras as such. Surely, it’s just where the trains normally go. Either some very short-sighted transport planner took out all the points, thus removing flexibility from the system, or there is a lack of flexibility in the thinking of those who run the network. Is it a contractual problem resulting from the split-up privatisation? Is there a technical reason preventing the trains running on other lines? That could be overcome for a short distance with an engine to pull the train between the two systems. Frankly, cancelling an international service because one station is inaccessible shows a complete lack of resilience. Never put all your eggs in one basket. That’s taught at Primary School.

So, here we are, at a very uncertain time, looking forward to... what? It does make it somewhat hard to wish people a Happy New Year when circumstances seem so lacking in promise. So... what? Can things really get better? Let’s hope they can’t get worse, but I wouldn’t bet on it. We must find hope somewhere.

Have a New Year. Let’s hope it will be happy.

About the Author

K J Petrie has a Full Technological Certificate in Radio, TV and Electronics, an HNC in Digital Electronics and a BA(Hons) in Theological Studies.

His interests include Christian and societal unity, Diverse Diversity, and freedoms from want, from fear, of speech, and of association. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party.

The views expressed here are entirely personal and unconnected with any body to which he belongs.

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