10th January 2018
Over the holidays I have been reading two inspirational books – Barack Obama’s book Dreams from my Father, and a new biography of Bobby Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for President assassinated in his prime in 1968.
Bobby Kennedy, brother of JFK, was the hero of my youth. He had the ability to recognise the great issues of his time – the Vietnam War, colour segregation, urban hopelessness – and to try to do something about them. I can still see the pictures of so many poor people, young people, black people, standing in sorrowful salute along the tracks as the train bearing his coffin back to Washington passed by, taking with it the hopes of a generation.
Barack Obama’s book described his search for his family roots and identity in Chicago, Hawaii and Kenya. The book is shot through with political insights, the challenges facing people ground down by economic insecurity, class and colour divisions and their frustrated aspirations for something better.
In 2018, we have Trump, Brexit and drift – a fearful, populist and nationalist agenda, oozing division and blame.
The indecisive European referendum of 2016 cried out for leadership, recognising the alienation that contributed to the result – but also the uncertainty and the division. Instead of the hard Brexit – or even the “no deal’” Brexit – the Conservative Government are pursuing, the Prime Minister should have tried to deal with the grievances and unite people behind agendas of hope and common cause, a new vision of European partnership not the insipid “Brexit means Brexit” slogan.
Theresa May’s botched cabinet reshuffles may have one good result – able people like Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry and Justine Greening are lined up resentfully on the backbenches. There is a potential cross party alliance with the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the Greens.
The missing piece is Labour – who, with notable exceptions have lined up behind the Tories as pitiful cheerleaders for a hard Brexit. My hope for 2018 is that Labour MPs will get some backbone and articulate the European future that most of them believe in.
In 2018, we seem bereft of leaders able to steer a more hopeful course!