From David Maughan Brown in York: Optimist or pessimist?

Q: Why would anyone need a lorry park?
A: To replace the green fields of Kent

December 11th

To get the ball rolling (or, alternatively, decléncher la conversation) at our final U3A French conversation group for the year, our excellent group leader asked us each in turn to say whether, and why, we were feeling optimistic or pessimistic about the prospect of 2021.   I was tempted to offer, but didn’t think my French was up to an instantaneous translation, so refrained from offering, a French version of William E. Vaughan’s definition of the difference: ‘An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.’   

Given that it was a French conversation group, it could be taken as read that our collective vision would by definition extend to the world beyond the white cliffs of Dover, or, perhaps more pertinently, the newly created lorry parks of Kent – one of which has seen 27 acres of the famed green fields concreted over to provide ‘spill-over’ space for around 2000 heavy goods vehicles when the motorway inevitably becomes completely impassable.  Our government’s recently postured conversion to environmentalism would appear not to have seen any contradiction in the creation of 29 such concrete lorry parks around the country to cope with the fall-out from its failure to achieve what it had predicted would be the “easiest (trade) deal in human history”.

But I digress (it is very easy to get carried away when contemplating such matters.)   In spite of the Francophile character of the group, I found that I was the only member to declare himself or herself to be ‘very pessimistic’ in response to the question.  A couple of the other members came down on the side of pessimism, but most declared themselves, overall, to be optimistic in spite of their lack of enthusiasm for Brexit.  In each case this was on the strength of the remarkable success of the scientists in managing to produce an effective vaccine in less than a year.  One member’s partner had already been contacted and given a date for his first vaccination next week.   The vaccine will unquestionably make our lives much easier in the short to medium term, but, however damaging and distressing Covid-19 has been and still is, its longer-term effects are bound to be eclipsed by the damage a no-deal Brexit will wreak.

In what is still, though one suspects not for long, the fifth richest country in the world, the Social Market Foundation recently released a report stating that nearly two million UK children ‘went short of food this year.’  The report stated that some 16% of surveyed parents had said their children had to make do with smaller portions, had to skip meals, or had to go without eating at all for at least one day between March and September.  Any kind of Brexit can only make matters worse over the coming months and years, as every serious economist has been making abundantly clear for years now, and even our congenitally mendacious government has had to admit. The no-deal Brexit we are now hurtling towards, with the introduction of tariffs and the inevitable increase in food prices, will inevitably make matters very much worse.   It is shameful that so many families in UK already have to rely in food banks , and there is a limit to the extent to which food banks, and the likes of Marcus Rashford, can compensate for our government’s stupidities and inadequacies.

If Donald Trump’s reign of chaos and incompetence has been catastrophic for the United States in terms of lost lives and reputation, it seems reasonable to fear that the scar left on his country will be likely, in the medium to long term, to be far less disfiguring and long-lasting than the one that will be left on what is left of the UK by Boris Johnson and his fantasist colleagues.  More individual and family lives in the USA will be permanently scarred by the number of unnecessary deaths that country will have suffered, but most of the short-sighted and often self-defeating policies Trump has embraced can be undone by Biden over the next four years.  Brexit, by contrast, cannot be easily reversed.  The damage Johnson’s contemptibly immoral and dishonest behavior has done to our national standing and reputation is almost certain to be equally irreversible, as is the damage done to our relations with the countries of Europe whom Johnson persists in hypocritically referring to as “our friends”.  Both men have been equally divisive for their countries, and my only hesitation in anticipating that Johnson’s legacy will be far worse in the long term than Trump’s will be lies with the deranged number of guns carried by both sides of the divide in the USA.   

I’ll certainly be staying up on December 31st to make sure that the old year leaves, but I don’t think it is too unreasonable not to be wildly optimistic about the New Year as I see it in.