Opinion

When will this stuttering 21st century finally get going?

This time last century was a moment of massive change. When will the 21st century kick into gear?

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One thing you can rely on in 2024, is that Big Issue will be here. Image: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

At some point in the new year, the new century will start – hopefully. Given that we’re about a quarter of the way in, it’s a touch overdue. Things have stuttered so far.  

Each time it’s felt like the wind was in our sails, we’ve hit the doldrums. Everything was before us and nothing was before us, as some other lad once said. 

First, 9/11 shifted the globe on its axis. Soon, the banking crisis hammered down, followed by austerity punishing those who didn’t cause the thing. Meanwhile, the mess of Brexit and its polarisation still feels on pause rather than resolved and we’re in a doomspin of Tory leadership battles driven by culture wars and naked ambition, instead of any sense of the greater good. Oh, and Covid added a very bleak shadow. 

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This time last century the first Labour government was ready to appear, signalling a seismic change in the UK political tectonic plates. Globally, the internal combustion engine was driving the rise of the car and immeasurably altering how we live, John Logie Baird was readying his prototype television and the American Century was dawning, as Louis Armstrong, Elvis and Dylan would soon swoop in like aliens tuned to a higher vibration changing all of everything for ever. Ed Sheeran isn’t quite going to manage that. 

Consumerism, led by tech bros in hoodies who keep finding newish wrinkles to increase their
gravity-bending income, is the new Aristotelian truth. It’s there, so we must buy. (Philosophy students, I know I’m mangling quotes and meaning here, but lay off – it’s been a tricky year.) 

The reality is we need something to get going. This time next year we’ll have just had, or just be about to have, a general election. It would be useful if the winner of that poll were to focus on positive change and PROPERLY fixing health and housing, rather than getting mired in t-shirt slogan politics. That hasn’t worked so well this year, has it Rishi? 

We will have had an American presidential election, after which all bets could be off anyway, if Trump stays out of jail and gets again to the Oval Office. 

Perhaps Poland, with a new progressive government and prospects for sustainable economic growth, can provide the blueprint for good governance in the coming months. 

And perhaps Manchester United will learn how to play football again; perhaps I’ll, finally, understand the acronyms my children use in communications; perhaps I’ll find the perfect cut in a shirt (that exists in my mind); perhaps inflation will actually be brought to a level that means people can breathe easier and raise their eyes to the future rather than fearfully to the ground. 

Nothing is certain, except this – Big Issue will be here in 2024, to help our vendors earn their living, to offer opportunity to those for whom it seemed beyond and to speak for our community of readers, supporters and all who stand firmly for the futures we want to build. 

We will remain. May 2024 offer all a chance. 

Happy new year. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter.

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