Surely I’m not alone in becoming sick and tired of the nostalgia currently engulfing British politics? To me, it seems that every news item, and especially those who make lucrative careers commenting on them, comes served with a large portion of sickly, saccharine, syrupy sentimentality; the very consumption of which by the general populace risks widespread political diabetes. While some may find such an attitude to be just a slightly frustrating waste of time or even a charming little habit; during our politically turbulent times it is nothing short of a clear and present danger and we need to stop it if we’re going to be the serious country the world needs us to be.
This malodorous political nostalgia is somewhat of a unicorn in British public life, in that it seems to be shared by both our radicalised political left and right to differing, yet equally horrible, effects.
On the right, we have Brexit. As much as senior Brexiteer, and the MP who is surely most likely to carry a candle to his four-poster bedside, Jacob Rees-Mogg, protests to the contrary - Brexit is a nostalgic proposition. The ideas of reallocating of sovereignty, extra money for the NHS, and increasing international trade may have been interesting debate points throughout the referendum but the central tenant and message of the big Leave campaign was about “taking back control” from the institutions of the European Union.
Anyone who can’t, or, more likely, won’t see the obvious appeal to and cultivation of nostalgia in this proposition is either ignorant to the point of deserving ridicule or deceitful to the point of deserving condemnation. This is not to say that voting leave was inherently wrong (I don’t believe it was) but it was most certainly based, at least in part, on nostalgia for a time before mass immigration, globalisation, and a deeper level of European integration. Nostalgia is nostalgia regardless.
There is also much to delight the aficionado of nostalgia on the other side of the Westminster debating chamber. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking that the entire
modern currently Labour party has found a way to turn nostalgia into an endless fuel source - a ‘perpetual emotion machine’, if you will.
Labour’s present leader, Jeremy Corbyn, doesn’t seem to be able to go a single day without resurrecting a link between the militant wing of his party and some sordid group or other whose connections to the Labour Party were thought, by most, to have been severed during the party’s successful years. Add to that the talk of exhuming the electorally lethal Clause Four and a raft of other policy ideas and it seems that Labour’s militant past is enjoying something of a renaissance. This delirious left-wing nostalgia peaked recently at Labour’s party conference when Laura Smith, the MP for Crewe and Nantwich, called for a general strike to remove the current government... in the absence of a general election, of course.
It needs to be stated plainly... this wave of nostalgia is dangerous and needs to be stopped.
Because adopting a worldview that looks back to a previous time, whether it was a time in which belligerent organised labour could hold the country to ransom or one in which we did not have as close connections with the nations we’ve spent the better part of our history either warring with or helping others war with, is an inherently retrograde one and does not suit what I, and many others, have come to view as the character of the people who call these islands home.
When Britain is at its best, when it takes steps to protect those who need it, like allowing same-sex couples to marry, introducing maternity pay and paternity leave, and helping bring to justice the world’s sickest and most depraved political gangsters, we get there because we look forward to a more progressive, fairer, more prosperous, more free, and more enlightened future and not when we dwell on a cocktail of fantasy and half-remembered reality from the past.
The world as we find it now is replete with challenges. Vladimir Putin’s credulous political crime syndicate laughably calling itself a country, the duplicity of Xi Jinping’s China, the continuing mismanagement of the refugee crisis, fake news, the rise of the hardcore right and left, and many others face those of us who still believe in the ideas of the Enlightenment and treating people better than we did yesterday - it’s going to be tough. Great Britain must chose between being either a part of the problem or pulling ourselves up to our full height, remembering the values that made us ‘Great’ to begin with and choosing hope, optimism, and progress over the comforting but ultimately worthless intoxicant of nostalgia. We must choose wisely.