The End Is Nigh: The Rise Of Middle-Class Apocalypticism

  • Date: 02/07/19
  • Mark Palmer, The Spectator

Everything is a ‘catastrophe’ now

There’s a lot of anger about — and it’s not pleasant. But at least it means people are engaged as well as enraged. What’s more worrying and increasingly irritating is the negativity, the drip-drip of despondency that’s been allowed to seep into so much of daily life.

Everything is broken! All is lost! The end is nigh! Which is fine if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness or believe that the eschatological prophecies of the Bible have pretty much all come to pass.

Every day we are told repeatedly that ‘catastrophe’ awaits. It will be ‘-catastrophic’ if we leave the EU without a deal, ‘catastrophic’ if America withdraws from the Paris Agreement on climate change, ‘catastrophic’ if we push ahead with fracking, ‘catastrophic’ if Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister and so on.

The whingeing middle classes have convinced themselves that the game’s up to such an extent that it seems almost rude not to join them in their grumbling. It used to be only fogeyish Tories who thought the world was ‘going to the dogs’. Now everybody does.

Whether it’s the end of democracy, the destruction of the environment, the rise of populism, impending famine in Africa, fears over nuclear warfare, the pollution of our oceans, the threat of terrorism, worries about how the young will become homeowners, the increase in the cost of private education, the lack of decent avocados in Waitrose, the endless roadworks on the M4 — whatever your gripe, the bourgeois apocalypse is upon us. All that seems to unite Britain now is the idea that we are hopelessly divided. According to a poll, more than two-thirds of us feel pessimistic about the state of the economy.

My wife and I don’t get invited to dinner parties often, but a friend who does says he comes away from them not so much with a headache of disappointment as a migraine of despair. Which makes me think (to borrow that awful phrase from politicians under pressure) we need to get things in context.

This is not, thank heavens, the summer of 1939 when people huddled around the family wireless waiting to find out if the proverbial balloon had gone up and their young menfolk were about to be pressed into armed conflict.

We are not nearly in such a parlous state as we were in 1956 when Egypt’s president Nasser took control of the Suez Canal, or in 1962 when the Cuban missile crisis brought us to the brink of the mother of all wars with the Soviet Union.

Yes, of course we’re in a dreadful mess, and yes, a lot of people have zero confidence in Westminster, but where is our resolve? Don’t we trade (when it suits us) and take pride in our ability to look adversity in the eye? Aren’t we a people who eat fish and chips in the rain? Surely, as that feel-good ad for Hattingley Valley English wine puts it, ‘we’re a nation who won’t be deterred from any endeavour… we reward courage and encourage eccentricity… we go out in the midday sun and take our mad dogs with us’.

Perhaps it’s no bad thing that the political landscape is changing. Both the Conservatives and Labour have been running on empty for years. No one believes a word they say. Could it be that a dramatic shift is long overdue?

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