Gaza, Israel and Ukraine are rocked by bombs and rockets. Tensions rise between China and the West. Africa has unlocked a new wave of violence. The world appears adrift, yet the guiding pilots that are the West’s senior politicians lack conviction, direction and confidence.
Future historians may argue that the instability that spread like fire across the globe in the third decade of the 21st century had its roots in the financial crisis of 2008. That certainly seems so to many observers. The crash was the end of the West’s post-Second World War leadership of the planet. Capitalism’s status as the winner of the Cold War vanished with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Capitalism survived to fight another day. The system recovered its engine but lost its authority. That loss badly wounded the liberal democratic model.
Choosing our leaders
There is today no known politician in any of the great democratic nations of the Earth with the public support, moral compass, force of personality or compelling ideology to lead the free world to a better place. The USA, EU, China and much of Asia operate their own diverging models of capitalism. Where is the UK in all this? Neither of the two parties of Westminster government has a coherent ideology or a coherent plan. At Westminster we are rudderless, economically and ideologically.
We will soon have a general election in the UK. We, the voters, will serve the future well by more actively scrutinising local candidates. We need to know who has character, who a moral code, who an inclination to honesty? Who would you want standing at your side at a moment of crisis?
We, the voters, complain incessantly about our politicians. But would we buy a house, car, or holiday with the same inattention most of us give to the vital matter of deciding who will lead us? The world is on an unsteady heading. We have a chance to help make it a more secure, less volatile place. So, don’t abdicate responsibility for making the future. Help make it yourself.
Crisis of democracy
And as for much of our media, it too must take responsibility. It must help us build a more robust democracy, a more morally trustworthy ruling elite and a more equal economic settlement. As Martin Wolf, the distinguished Financial Times writer says in his recent book, The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, “we need to look very carefully at whether our media are helping the health of our democracy or undermining it radically by disseminating untruths and promoting violent anger and hostility, rather than some sort of civilized discourse among citizens”.
Media or citizen, we have, many of us, lived a gilded life in a safe and affluent society. If we want future generations to inherit a world of hope we need to look ourselves in the eye and ask, “What can I do to make them a better world?”
This article was first published in The Herald on 8 December 2023