Sunday 3 June 2018

In praise of a happy ending

As those who follow me on twitter will know, I was a great Partisan of Susan Calman on Strictly. She went much further than anybody predicted and brought joy to a nation as she did so.

Anyway, when she got to Blackpool a galaxy of literary stars were rounded up in her support and photographed among them was the author Jenny Colgan.

It was, I confess, for that reason alone, having exhausted a Sunday newspaper some weeks later that I was drawn to an interview with Ms. Colgan. In that she commented that her real breakthrough novel was a book entiled "Meet me at the Cup-cake Cafe" about a woman who seizes the "opportunity" of redundancy to open a cafe where she bakes and sells her own cakes and, after various trials and tribulations, finds true love.

Andi is a mug for such tales and I thought it would make her a good Christmas present. Unfortunately it was unavailable in the late night garage on Christmas Eve, so Andi had instead to make do with a bunch of flowers and a puncture repair kit. And a bag of logs as a stocking filler. I told her it was the thought that counts. I'm not entirely sure she believed me.

Anyway, it turned out I'd have been wasting my money for, a couple of Sundays back, at the start of the good weather, I was sitting in the garden and had truly done the papers to death, so decided I would read a book. Only problem was that Andi's boy was back from Uni and in occupation of the spare room where my books are all kept.

But Andi's books are in a bookcase in the hall! So I had a rummage there and, eccola, there was the very legendary volume. And, on the principle of any port in a storm, I decided to give it a wee read.

And I loved it. Now, to be clear, even if you had known nothing about the book in advance, it would have been clear to you very early on that it would not end with the heroine dying of consumption penniless in a garret, or seeing all her children slain in a pitiless religious war, or even being sold as a wife at a fair.

No, from about five pages in, you knew this would be a book with a happy ending. The pleasure was just in seeing how it got there.

You see, people like a happy ending. That's why they had to have one final episode of Car Share. It couldn't, just couldn't, have ended as it did last year. The public wouldn't have stood for it! And if there is a man in the entire Country who knows what the public want, it is surely Peter Kay.

Now, you'll wonder where all this fits in to a political blog. Here's where. Really successful political projects promise a happy ending. Whether it was Attlee offering a new Jerusalem or McMillan you never having had it so good, or Blair, not so much New Labour as a New Britain or (even) Thatcher proposing a return to a more ordered way of life, all of these platforms were built on optimism about not just the country but the fate of its individual citizens.

Today, nobody is offering that. The Brexit riven Tories offer a future offering nothing certain except uncertainty; my own Party offer"struggle" (possibly mainly with each other) and, the SNP,  post Growth Commission, a country where Enver Hoxha's famous exhortation "This year will be tougher than last year, but next year will be tougher still", looks like it would replace Nemo me impune lacessit as the National motto.

Now, that's not to say optimism can be an end in itself. No matter how illusorily, Salmond, Tsipras, Trump and now the even more ludicrous Di Maio in Italy offer optimism without rationalisation. But there is no point in denying that they attracted or attract many to their banners for that reason alone.

And that is part of the problem. If the democratic centre fails to offer real hope then their ground is occupied by those offering false hope.

Ruth Davidson got this a few weeks back when she made a speech exhorting the Tories to, essentially, cheer up. Her problem is that, beyond the continued survival of the hapless Corbyn and his poisonous allies, they really don't have very much to be cheery about.

But, if someone, anyone, could come along offering real hope of a happy ending? The nation would be theirs. Without even a cup cake or a Gary Barlow song to assist.