The statistics that suggest young people in this country are amongst the most anxious and miserable in Europe are particularly depressing for a grandparent. By commission or omission, the world our children and grandchildren are inheriting is the world we have collectively made. The current struggle to get social media platforms to eliminate addictive portrayals of self-harm is a worrying symptom of a wider malaise. I do not understand the psychology of self-harm but it must have something to do with rejection, isolation, frustration and pain. But it clearly leads to human tragedies. For a long time those with immense social media power have pretended that their cyber-platforms do not entail the responsibilities of a publisher towards the vulnerable, particularly the young.
Once this very human pain, rejection and frustration come into focus, the question follows: Is a whole country capable of collective self-harm? Fintan O’Toole presents some whacky ideas in his Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain. But he convincingly answers yes to that question. He describes the pathology of England’s identity crisis as a nation. “Self-harm is surely not the only logic in England’s experience”, he asks hopefully, after vividly describing the dynamics of what he calls ‘sadopopulism’ in recent years. The consequences of this national turn to predictable self-harm are legion.
Unless a wide range of British institutions, most notably the Bank of England, have mutated into a conspiracy of REMAIN propagandists – and by this I mean alumni of the Boris-Davis-Farage school of casual liars – they are, responsibly and urgently, giving a warning to both government and people. There is now a wide-ranging consensus from those in a position to know, a virtually unanimous conclusion, that a No-Deal exit from the EU is catastrophic and any viable future May-fudge would have damaging consequences for the economy and particularly for the poor. So why is it foolish and undemocratic to heed this warning and to give the British public their right to respond to it in a People’s Vote?
Trying to avert economic disaster is, of course, instantly dismissed as Project Fear. Yet after a decade of austerity shouldn’t we fear a decline in GDP, productivity, investment and employment? Especially when those who have suffered most in the last decade will be the worst affected. Some fear is salutary. Is a doctor’s warning “if you continue to gain weight you risk getting diabetes, heart problems and possibly cancer” Project Fear? Self-harm, reinforced by images and feelings of intense frustration, is compulsive. Its distorted perception of social, political and economic reality means it tragically ignores warnings, seen as conspiracies to block a resolution of the problem. Project Fear is anything you don’t want to hear.
The Corbyn faction of the Labour Party, despite Labour’s membership being overwhelmingly in favour of Remain and a Peoples’ Vote, is now toying with joining Theresa May, apparently in a quest for a kinder variety of self-harm,. It is a shabby tactical game. Every time I hear the Shadow Trade secretary’s, Barry Gardiner’s, dulcet tones on the radio, he sounds to me like a clever scammer selling a Ponzi scheme to the unsuspecting. Labour Party policy on BREXIT is crystal clear. Everything is still on the table we are told. Except the truth.
These are strange political times. Members of the Labour front bench abstain from a whipped vote, betray their fellow MP, Yvette Cooper, and do so with impunity. McDonnell and Corbyn have a calculated difference of emphasis in public. Keir Starmer has the impossible job of shepherding a herd of cats into following a coherent policy. It all feels like a phoney war, the lull before the storm. Under fifty days and counting. Which reminds me to cancel my direct debit to the Labour Party, and get an international driver’s licence. The Labour Party leadership has now become more than a walk-on part in the BREXIT debacle.
I don’t know about you, but I draw the line at paying a membership fee to the Labour Party to promote a policy whose results will be a less catastrophic version of national self-harm: banking on more food banks to feed the poor, further cuts in public services, even more understaffed NHS, increasing numbers of homeless on our streets, and giving the waiting paramilitaries in Ireland a new casus belli. That is not why for the last fifty years I have voted Labour. As you get older you get more risk-averse. And that, I confess, on behalf of my grandchildren, is one reason I am not willing to go along with such dangerous risks.