2018: STUCK BE­TWEEN STRONG­MEN AND SNOWFLAKES

Thank good­ness for Gareth’s waist­coat, says Al­li­son Pear­son, as she in­tro­duces our photo-a-day re­view of the year

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - News -

IT WAS A TETCHY, over­cast sort of year, but the gath­er­ing gloom was pierced by mo­ments of su­perb na­tional joy. A royal wed­ding un­like any other, an Eng­land team at the World Cup that made you think that, if foot­ball wasn’t com­ing home, at least you no longer felt like run­ning out of the room scream­ing every time our boys took a penalty. Man­ager Gareth South­gate’s natty waist­coat – £65 from Marks & Spencer – was the Fash­ion State­ment of 2018. It set the sar­to­rial stan­dard for a new, calm, busi­nesslike ap­proach to a game that too of­ten in the past had been the cue for a na­tional ner­vous break­down. Bliss was it in that record-break­ing sum­mer to sit in the gar­den with a glass of some­thing cold and chart Eng­land’s progress purely by the ju­bi­lant cries and moose-sized groans burst­ing from the open win­dows of every home.

The per­for­mance of South­gate’s squad re­in­stated pa­tri­o­tism as a guilt-free plea­sure and, for 90 min­utes plus ex­tra time, we were nei­ther Leave nor Re­main, just Us again. Mo­ments of such na­tional unity were all the more pre­cious for be­ing rare. The tribal fault lines that were ex­posed dur­ing the EU ref­er­en­dum in June 2016 had not faded; on the con­trary, as the dead­line for Brexit grew nearer, the scars be­came more livid. ‘Most peo­ple just want the Gov­ern­ment to get on and de­liver a good Brexit, and that’s ex­actly what we are do­ing,’ the Prime Min­is­ter said in her New Year mes­sage for 2018. Theresa May’s hope was that the elec­torate, ex­hausted and dis­gusted by the Brus­sels shenani­gans – there was even a new acro­nym for it, BOB (Bored of Brexit) – would go along with her flex­i­ble def­i­ni­tion of ‘a good Brexit’. Or (whis­per it low) a good enough Brexit, which would some­how con­trive to hon­our the wishes of the 52 per cent who voted Leave, while keep­ing on side Re­main­ers whose pri­or­ity was eco­nomic sta­bil­ity. The PM was right to de­duce that we had had it up to here with talk of ‘reg­u­la­tory align­ment’, ‘be­spoke cus­toms union’ and some­thing called the back­stop, which, sadly, turned out to have noth­ing at all to do with rounders.

She was dead wrong to think that weari­ness alone would cause Bri­tons to ca­pit­u­late to her pushmi-pul­lyu deal, drawn up be­hind the scenes by civil ser­vants – to the not in­con­sid­er­able sur­prise of two suc­ces­sive Brexit Sec­re­taries. A pow­er­ful group of Re­main­ers (from left and right) lob­bied for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum called the Peo­ple’s Vote which, they claimed, would set­tle the mat­ter once and for all. (Yeah, right.)

By July, when the PM tried to blud­geon her Che­quers deal through Cabi­net (min­is­ters were warned their of­fi­cial cars would be con­fis­cated im­me­di­ately should they re­sign), her mantra, ‘No deal is bet­ter than a bad deal,’ seemed to have been su­per­seded by, ‘Any deal is bet­ter than no deal.’ David Davis re­signed, fol­lowed shortly by Boris John­son who, for Brex­i­teers, as­sumed the tal­is­manic power of a King Across the Water. An­other acro­nym was coined: BRINO (Brexit in name only).

In an at­tempt to un­plug her May­bot im­age, May gamely joined in the danc­ing at a South African school. A stranger to rhythm, she looked like a stork struck by light­ning. Un­de­terred, she reprised the rou­tine to break the ten­sion at a deeply un­easy Con­ser­va­tive Party Con­fer­ence, com­ing on­stage to Danc­ing Queen. It bought her some time, but crit­ics sug­gested she had cho­sen the wrong Abba track. May was cer­tainly a Su­per Trouper but, as her net favoura­bil­ity score plunged to mi­nus 37, it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore she faced her Water­loo.

Sure enough, it came to­wards the very end of the year, when her With­drawal Agree­ment was hastily with­drawn, and her lead­er­ship was put to a vote of con­fi­dence by her own MPS. She won it by 200 to 117. None­the­less the pound slipped back from ear­lier highs. It was as if ster­ling, like the rest of the UK, un­der­stood that, from now on, she would be PRINO: Prime Min­is­ter in name only. The one piece of luck was that the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion was al­most as un­pop­u­lar as she was. Jeremy Cor­byn must have de­vel­oped rag­ing haem­or­rhoids from sit­ting on the fence through­out the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

If back­stop was the word of the year, the run­ner-up was the even more toxic Novi­chok. Few Bri­tons had heard of the deadly nerve agent smeared on the door han­dle of a house in Sal­is­bury owned by Sergei Skri­pal, a re­tired Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer. Skri­pal and his daugh­ter Yu­lia were found col­lapsed on a bench in the city cen­tre, poi­soned by two GRU hit­men. Iden­ti­fied by CCTV, the bull-necked as­sas­sins gave a price­less in­ter­view on Rus­sian tele­vi­sion in which they claimed to have been mere tourists in ‘the won­der­ful town’, mak­ing a light­ning-fast trip ‘to visit the fa­mous cathe­dral and its 123-me­tre spire’.

The most dis­turb­ing as­pect of the case was that Vladimir Putin’s hench­men had taken out a rel­a­tively mi­nor traitor not be­cause he pre­sented any dan­ger, but sim­ply be­cause they could. A warn­ing to any­one in Rus­sia’s elite who might think of act­ing against the pres­i­dent, it was also a swag­ger­ing sign of con­tempt for the UK.

The 12-year-old we had watched fol­low­ing his mother’s cof­fin fi­nally got his happy end­ing

An­gered by a re­mote, self-serv­ing class of glob­al­ist politi­cians, or­di­nary vot­ers turned in their mil­lions to tough-talk­ing pop­ulists. Time mag­a­zine dubbed this the Strong­man Era. In the Philip­pines, Ro­drigo Duterte acted more like a mafia boss than a pres­i­dent. China’s Xi Jin­ping con­sol­i­dated his hold on the coun­try when he erased pres­i­den­tial term lim­its. In Tur­key, Pres­i­dent Er­doğan played a sim­i­lar tyran­ni­cal game.

Hopes for re­form in the Mid­dle East were pinned on Saudi Ara­bia’s Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man. Saudi women were fi­nally al­lowed to drive a car on 24 June, al­though they still had to cover their faces, which made you worry about their three-point turns. Alas, the Crown Prince’s rep­u­ta­tion took a bit of a dent when his hand was de­tected in the as­sas­si­na­tion of Ja­mal Khashoggi, a Saudi dis­si­dent and jour­nal­ist. Khashoggi’s grue­some mur­der in the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul had eerie echoes of the Sal­is­bury poi­son­ing. The as­sas­sins were brazen, the of­fi­cial de­nials pre­pos­ter­ous but, in both cases, their mas­ters had cal­cu­lated they could get away with ex­tra-ju­di­cial killings

on sovereign ter­ri­tory be­cause weak-minded states ei­ther needed their cash or didn’t have the stom­ach to re­tal­i­ate. Mean­while, ear­lier in the year, the re­pres­sive theoc­racy of Iran demon­strated that it could con­tinue to do as it pleased: in Jan­uary, the im­age of 31-year-old mother Vida Mo­va­hed stand­ing on a street cor­ner in cen­tral Tehran sim­ply wav­ing a white head­scarf to high­light the lack of women’s rights in the coun­try, be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing on­line. She, along with dozens of oth­ers this year, was ar­rested, but, stir­ringly, the protests con­tinue.

The Strong­man was also throw­ing his weight around in Europe, to the hor­ror of a prig­gishly sim­per­ing EU. Vik­tor Or­bán won an­other land­slide in Hun­gary as prime min­is­ter, while Italy’s elec­tions pro­duced a pop­ulist coali­tion promis­ing to de­port 500,000 mi­grants. In a speech to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, Pres­i­dent Macron said, ‘There seems to be a cer­tain Euro­pean civil war. There is a fas­ci­na­tion with the il­lib­eral, and that is grow­ing all the time.’ He couldn’t know that the war would soon open up in his own land when the so-called gilets jaunes co-opted yel­low hi-vis vests as sym­bols of re­bel­lion and fought pitched bat­tles in the streets of Paris. Os­ten­si­bly a protest against fuel prices, the yel­low jack­ets were an­other ex­am­ple of or­di­nary peo­ple try­ing to de­fend their in­ter­ests against con­de­scend­ing glob­al­ists.

In­creas­ingly em­broiled in scan­dal, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump could be seen as the poster boy for the Strong­man Era. Pre­vi­ously, the leader of the free world could be re­lied upon to act as a coun­ter­weight to dem­a­goguery, but this one pos­i­tively rev­elled in flout­ing the fun­da­men­tals of Amer­i­can lib­erty. Fa­mous for brand­ing crit­i­cal re­port­ing ‘fake news’ – a phrase that was grate­fully adopted by Putin in the Skri­pal case – this year Trump went even fur­ther, call­ing jour­nal­ists ‘en­e­mies of the peo­ple’. Among other depths the pres­i­dent was un­afraid to plumb was the sepa­ra­tion of hun­dreds of mi­grant chil­dren from their par­ents at the Us-mex­ico bor­der as part of a ‘zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy’ to curb il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. At the height of the out­rage, Me­la­nia Trump went to visit some of the chil­dren in de­ten­tion. She wore a mil­i­tary-style jacket with ‘I Re­ally Don’t Care, Do U?’ scrawled graf­fiti-style on the back. It

was hard to tell whether this in­di­cated a chill­ing lack of com­pas­sion or sim­ply shock­ing stu­pid­ity; ei­ther way it was the Worst Look of 2018.

While all this was go­ing on, the lib­eral left re­sponded with trig­ger-sen­si­tive iden­tity pol­i­tics. Race, gen­der (al­ways fluid), trans rights, even ve­g­an­ism were all mine­fields in which the un­wary could see their liveli­hood taken away by the Twit­ter mob. Manch­ester Univer­sity Stu­dents’ Union rec­om­mended that ‘jazz hands’ be used in­stead of clap­ping, lest anx­ious peo­ple be star­tled. The new sec­u­lar Pu­ri­tans were nearly hoist by their own petard when some­one even more ‘woke’ than they pointed out that jazz hands could be seen as cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion. Oops! You can’t be too care­ful.

ON A MORE SE­RI­OUS LEVEL, the nom­i­na­tion of Brett Ka­vanaugh to the Amer­i­can Supreme Court caused a furore af­ter Chris­tine Blasey Ford, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor, claimed that Ka­vanaugh had sex­u­ally as­saulted her while they were still in

high school. In gen­eral, Re­pub­li­cans heard the al­le­ga­tions, shrugged and said, ‘So what if he did? He was just a kid.’ On the Demo­cratic left, it was com­pul­sory to be­lieve the vic­tim.

Some­where be­tween the Strong­man and the Snowflake, be­tween mind­ing too much and mind­ing too lit­tle, is where most of us used to live. A place of give and take, of harm­less ban­ter and flir­ta­tion. In 2018, that mid­dle way got much harder to find.

No won­der that es­capism, wher­ever it turned up, was in such de­mand. Strictly Come Danc­ing pro­duced a mini scan­dal when co­me­dian Seann Walsh was pic­tured kiss­ing his pro­fes­sional part­ner, Katya Jones, in the street. Seann’s girl­friend, Re­becca Humphries, put her beau in the modern stocks via Twit­ter and waited for out­rage to en­gulf the cad. Which it duly did.

With­out doubt, the big­gest watercooler mo­ment of the year was the royal wed­ding. The mar­riage of Prince Henry of Wales to Ms Meghan Markle had threat­ened to go awry – the ‘Markle De­ba­cle’ as palace in­sid­ers called it – af­ter the bride’s fa­ther naively co­op­er­ated in a pho­to­shoot and then failed to be present at the cer­e­mony. In the end, Prince Charles stepped in to es­cort the bride half­way down the aisle. That kind ges­ture felt ut­terly right at an oc­ca­sion that some­how man­aged to com­bine tra­di­tion and moder­nity, ac­ces­si­bil­ity and elitism, Bri­tain and Amer­ica, black and white, Thomas Tal­lis and Ben E King, Ser­ena Wil­liams and Prince Philip, skimmed-milk C of E and full-throt­tle Epis­co­palian, sti­fled gig­gles and heart-stop­ping beauty. For their part, the Bri­tish peo­ple were sim­ply de­lighted to see that the 12-year-old boy they had watched fol­low­ing his mother’s cof­fin had fi­nally got his happy end­ing.

God knows, 2018 was a ran­corous 12 months, with the bad blood threat­en­ing to seep into next year, and tol­er­ance and for­give­ness in short sup­ply. So let us end with that crazy, joy­ful tor­nado of a ser­mon given at Harry and Meghan’s wed­ding by Bishop Michael Bruce Curry from Chicago. ‘Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, pas­sion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire.’ Bug­ger the back­stop. Just for one day, a glo­ri­ous and glad­some day, the Power of Love got the Peo­ple’s Vote.

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