17th September

Another Country

The leader spoke. The message was clear: hope solidifies, ambition gels, the dream becomes reality. After all these years, now was the time. For if not now, when? If not us, who? If we were not to wait indefinitely, why hesitate now?

So ran the rhetoric. Powerful stuff, rhetoric. But it was more than that, because it described something within touching distance. The reasons were powerful too: to build a better country, one that was both more prosperous and fairer, one where material well-being went hand in hand with social justice. To build a society that worked, and cared.

And more than reasons, there were goals to be attained, and detailed plans for attaining them. Practical measures to do with recalibrating the work–life balance: an overhaul of the tax system, a renewal and reorganisation of public services, a negotiated, functioning relationship between the public and private sectors.

None of this was simple. It would mean work, hard work, with perhaps few rewards at first. There would need to be a realisation on the part of the better off that their standard of living would be static for a while, might even decline, in order to deliver a more egalitarian society, a more equitable spread of wealth and opportunities. And on the part of the poorer sections of the community, there would have to be a shift in expectations, an end to the culture of entitlement, an embracing of the idea of less being more, a revision of values. None of this, to repeat, was simple, but the leader laid out a road map, a route up the mountain, one planned phase after another. This, now, was within reach. It could be reached, grasped, embraced, if the people wanted it. But did the people want it enough?

A couple of diehards, who had been on the barricades, on the long march, who had been middle-aged when the leader was still in short trousers, asked themselves that question. They asked it over their beers, their beards, and their hard-won memories.

‘Aye,’ one told the other, ‘it’s doable, of course. It’s there for the taking. But you know, I liked it better when it was a dream.’

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
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