Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Oh Happy Day

There must be a lot of very happy people in the States today, particularly the footsoldiers in that army of activists that has been Barack Obama's not-so-secret weapon all along. I envy them their happiness. If only there was the remotest hope of something similar happening here.

" ... I began
To think with fervour upon management

Of Nations, what it is and ought to be,
And how their worth depended on their Laws
And on the Constitution of the State.
0 pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For great were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven! O times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seem'd the most to assert her rights
When most intent on making of herself
A prime enchantress to assist the work,
Which then was going forwards in her name!
Not favour'd spots alone, but the whole earth
The beauty wore of promise"

Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1805

There's not a lot you can add to that. If you've ever been there, or very badly wanted to be there, you'll know how precious this moment will be for those who have earned it. Note that word earned: one of our many contemporary curses is the belief that politics is something that happens on TV, or that it is as mysterious and beyond our intervention as the weather.

And let's not talk about May 1997 (though there are lessons to be learned from that massive and unforgivable betrayal of hope) -- I was already well into the scepticism of middle age by then, though I'll never forget that warm, unfamiliar feeling of cautious hope as I drove through the West Country on that sunny May morning to a workshop with the photographer Paul Hill at Peter Goldfield's much missed Photographers At Duckspool.

Of course, not being a Labour Party member, I'd done very little to earn that feeling directly, unless you count two decades of trade union activism, marching and banner carrying, some striking and picketing, and even the occasional vote. I used to think that slogans like "Don't vote, it only encourages them" or "Whoever you vote for, the Government gets in" were clever and insightful. I wan't the only one. But, over the years, I've come round to the opinion that -- due to radical fastidiousness, or a horror of compromise, or a disdain for politicians, or all of the above -- some of the best of our generation stepped back from a proper engagement with the world, and allowed others to push to the front. Let's face it, New Labour was our evil twin, guys, and we should feel a certain shame about that, especially in light of the news we woke up to this morning.

Of course, not everyone stepped back...

But Obama he ain't. (N.B. your favourite blogger's head is just visible in the top left corner).

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