Paul McNamee: Hope beyond chaos and the corridors of power

People want to see green shoots, not barren land

An interesting question is posed at the end of Withnail and I“If you’re hanging,” Danny says to Withnail, “onto a rising balloon, you’re presented with a difficult decision – let go before it’s too late or hang on and keep getting higher… how long can you keep a grip on the rope?”

Of course it can be facile to attach utterances from popular culture to the pickle the nation finds itself in, but this one gets to the heart of something. How long will people – on each side of Brexit – hold onto their rope before they realise that sooner or later they’ll have to drop down and sort things out?

It’s been quite a while so far, and looks like it’ll go longer. The landing will be chaos.

We can try and read the runes. We may express exasperation. We can harden our stance, or soften it, but ultimately, we’re at the whims of people at the hard tip of politics for whom as CP Snow says, it’s all a game.

And that game, he says, is not really concerned with policy but with whether “chances of a higher office were going up or down”. Sound familiar?

Sometimes we allow ourselves to forget there are other good things happening

This is not a bleak and fatalistic rendering of the situation. It just proves that there is nothing new under the sun. Snow was writing in Corridors of Power almost 60 years ago about the machinations in those corridors. He coined the phrase. His novel is set post-Suez Crisis when Britain was in another fug about identity and its place in the global structure. It should be required reading for every senior politician before they put themselves forward with a glib soundbite about the
will of the people.

It proves, it nothing else, that we’re not at the end of something, rather in another part of an ongoing cycle. We have no clarity, but things will change.

Last week we highlighted the Top 100 Changemakers for 2019, the people and organisations, the thinkers, agitators and campaigners who are shifting the dial. They’re taking up the reins themselves and in the teeth of adversity, making things better. The reaction has been warm and glorious.

People want to see green shoots, not barren land. And there is a celebratory delight in saluting those on the list.

Sometimes we allow ourselves to forget there are other good things happening. It doesn’t mean we should face the world in a blinkered and Pollyanna way, rather work for positive change, and celebrate it when we see it.


The Big Issue magazine is read by an estimated 379,195 people across the UK and circulates 82,294 copies every week.

With that, the best of last week came from Corinne Hutton. She lost her hands and feet through acute pneumonia and sepsis in 2013. Last week she had hands transplanted. She had waited years for a match with her blood group, skin tone and hand size.

The operation has been a success. It’s remarkable that we live in a time when science allows genius surgeons to attach the body parts of a donor, signed over by a family at a time of pain and sorrow for them, to a woman who has been through a world of pain and life changes herself. This is the best of the times we’re in.

When asked what was the first thing she was going to with her new hands, she said, through tears: “Hold my son’s hand.”

And if, when you watch the news report of her saying this, you are not smiling through tears, then you are a wrong ’un!