Tuesday 30 July 2019

Boris, the backstop and Captain America

This post first appeared on the Radix blog...

It was watching the final Avengers film with my children that gave me the clue. Sometimes I have spent many of these films in the lovely Worthing tea shop outside the Dome cinema - though I must confess that I quite enjoyed Captain Marvel and Captain America (the fact that there are too many captains here is part of the underlying issue.

So here is my proposition, the Marvel franchise represents an explosion of nostalgia in American culture that I have a feeling explains something of the parallel phenomenon of Donald Trump. In the same way, we - I use the term without irony - have elected a Latin-spouting, Churchill-imitating, harkback to a bygone age as prime minister, with a predeliction for archaic phrases shorn of their original meaning (like 'British pluck').

I have a feeling that the nostalgia represented by the back stories of the Marvel heroes - most of which seem to involve dinners in log cabins in the woods - is only part of the picture. The strange world provided by the 20 plus films - earning £22.3 billion - is rather as ordinary Americans feel: watched over by mysterious heroes, using technology beyond their understanding, yet still threatened.
The 'real' world rarely features in these films, beyond staggered policemen and screaming victims of natural or supernatural disasters.

The last credits of the last film, Endgame, seemed to bear this out, ending the saving of humanity with an extroadrinarily nostalgic piece of music, a 1945 rendition of 'It's been a long, long time' (Kiss me once, kiss me twice etc etc).

Nostalgia as a source of new ideas can be extrardinarily powerful. but without that forward-looking element, it can be, well, a bit masturbatory.

So if Boris' nostaligic package takes us somewhere new, or if other new thinking is stuggling to get out - then I am more positive about him than perhaps I ought to be. Sadly, the empty rhetoric about HS3 and its potential seems to suggest otherwise. Nostaliga can provide the basis for new understading and a critique of assumptions, which we badly need - especially for economic asumptions which are looking pretty threadbare (like the assumption that transport links do anything more than move prosperity about).

I have no problem with hope, though the increasingly cynical - not to say nihilistic and puritanical - left find it pretty intolerable. If Boris Johnson can put some beef behind his hope, he may just win through.

But there is one problem with his ability to do this. If he wants to get through these difficult negotiations with European leaders, he must put forward a credible alternative to the Irish border backstop. So why doesn't he - is it because there isn't one?

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