No one seems to dream of England’s future any more, just its imagined past. When the post-modernists proclaimed (again) “the end of history” what they should have been announcing, in England at least, was the end of the future.
The Conservatives have consistently sold a dream of the past to the people of England: a desire to return to the nostalgic safety of yesterday in Deep England while while promising
high quality, innovative, British jams tomorrow.
And this backwards-looking vision hasn’t been countered. Opposition parties have all proposed their own policies or reacted against those of the government, but they haven’t created a popular compelling vision of the future that people could conceptualise other than “much like it is now, but with the obvious bad bits gone”, which as political visions go is fairly uninspiring — as well as unachievable — and fails to capture the imagination. Some of the opposition parties’ policies may be radical and applaudable, but there’s no cohesive narrative of the desired future being sold to the popular imagination. It’s not that the policies are all wrong (or all right) so much as they’re stray words that haven’t been arranged into a memorable sentence that describes the promised land. And so England seems locked into a present controlled by an imagined story of the past, but with no imagined story of the future to aspire to.
The problem with “much like it is now, but with the obvious bad bits gone” (which could arguably be referred to as “centrism”) is that “how it is now” absolutely depends on “the obvious bad bits” to keep it going: poverty, destitution, and food banks for one portion of the population is the essential underpinning foundation that allows an overabundance of affluence for a few, while keeping an electoral majority in just enough relative comfort — or at least the tantalising vision of that comfort being attainable — to keep voting for more of the same. It’s a very clever and controlling balancing act.
A few days ago K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher was finally published, and as I started reading some of those fantastic old blog posts contained in this excellent book I was reminded of Fisher’s concept of Capitalist Realism, which could be pithily summarised as “the greatest trick Capitalism ever pulled was convincing the world that alternatives to Capitalism didn’t exist”.
Popular science fiction before the 1980s imagined a variety future societies for England, but all we seem to have now are the lost futures of hauntology, the fading memories of past futures. You might find a few radically-imagined future Englands in science fiction novels, but they are absent from children’s television shows and popular films - it always seems to be the capitalist realist “now”, but with more technology.
And so in the new series of artwork I’m planning, following on from England’s Dark Dreaming, I need to explore radical future(s) for England, to imagine promised lands and the turbulent journeys needed to get there from where we are now. Because “much like it is now, but with the obvious bad bits gone” is never going to happen, and I need something to hope for.
Image from the 1979 TV series Quatermass.