Coffee House

The optimism deficit

24 April 2014

12:52 PM

24 April 2014

12:52 PM

The extent of public pessimism in Britain is striking. 54 percent of people think that young people’s lives will be worse than that of their parents’ generation.

This pessimism, I argue in the column this week, explains why Ukip is doing so well. If you think that life is getting worse regardless of what you do, then you want to cast a vote of no confidence in the entire political class—and the easiest way to do that is to vote Ukip. As one Tory minister says, ‘Ukip has captured a zeitgeist of grumpiness.’


I think there are three things fuelling this mood of pessimism. There is the financial crash and the subsequent squeeze on living standards combined with the sense that those who crashed the system haven’t paid for their mistakes. Then, there is immigration, which has caused cultural and economic insecurity in some parts of the country. Finally, there’s the sense that life is going to be even tougher for people’s children.

This mood of pessimism is a particular problem for David Cameron as the incumbent. If the Tories are going to win the next election, then they are going to have to show voters that they are getting the country back onto the right track​.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Mike Barnes

    The political class actually CELEBRATES the very things that make life hard for normal people.

    Rising property prices and rents, wonderful for the buy to let MPs (one third are landlords), pretty ruinous for young people.

    Immigration, wonderful if you want a cheap foreign nanny or builder, terrible for young British worker.

    Tuition fees introduced by the generation that got it for free etc etc.

  • Frank

    For once a good article by James Forsyth! Mind you, we don’t dislike just David Cameron, I think that we dislike pretty much all of them across the political spectrum (tory, labour and lib-dem).
    The point you missed is the anger over MPs’ expenses, the anger over the absurd climate change windmills/etc, and the anger that large parts of London’s elite are taking the p**s. And that is without referring to the disgrace of how all the best bits of central London have been sold off to foreign crooks.
    Currently, we have the edifying spectacle of Boris trying to work out whether he is going to ride in to rescue us! At some point, all this anger may develop into something more creative.

    • Donafugata

      Announced yesterday, yet another energy price rise, 2% , so we can have more windmills.

  • Tom Tom

    Well James let’s look on the bright side. If the US pushes matters too far we may not have any worries at all. Having destroyed the global financial system, made Monsanto a cornerstone of US foreign policy, and pushed the TTIP overriding national courts and legislatures for corpocracy; they may as well wage war against Russia directly rather than by proxy.

    Who cares about pessimism and trivia like UKIP or the EU or Westminster ? It is wholly irrelevant to the major usurpation of democratic accountability by international organisations seeking total global hegemony.

    To have private arbitrators in some tax haven decide on private property rights in the UK is an outrage, to reduce Voters to observers at a oorporate feast as under Arts 32, 45 of TTIP is to make a mockery of the whole voting process and make the Armalite a better choice

    • you_kid

      Funny how no one ever objects to what you say. Are you a God?

      • Tom Tom

        If I am I am heading for a new world soon so hang on every word whilst you can…….only a day or two left

  • RavenRandom

    It is not surprising. Here are the big things changing our lives that we have or had no say on.
    1. Mass immigration.
    2. European super state.
    3. The English question (lack of representation), Scotland pulling away, now they’ve even decided Cornwall is a micro-state.
    4. Same old same old, political class is unchanged. Who fought for Labour’s leadership… two brothers. Husband and wife in shadow cabinet, sons and daughters of politicians parachuted in. Expenses.
    5. We talk ourselves down (thank you BBC, but to be fair the entire media is a fearmongering elite), no other country as affluent as ours constantly rains crap upon itself.
    It’s good that the economy is repairing. But more fundamentally I see my nation being slowly dismantled, and that makes me sad.

    • Ricky Strong

      With regard to your last point, I find it particularly tragic how many people who were born on this beautiful island take such malicious pleasure in that dismantling process. The liberal ‘elite’ really have done their jobs well in infecting so many of our fellow countrymen and women with the virus of self loathing and wilful destruction.

      • Tom Tom

        Don’t count on your elite being “liberal”. They use any battering ram to weaken your resistance then they get to show how authoritarian they really are

        • Ricky Strong

          Point taken – I was trying to avoid profanities.

  • you_kid

    People will get bored with pessimism.
    If its not heart-felt but guided by the stomach it will lead into Actionism — in the true sense of the word as conceived by Adorno: left-wing anti-intellectualism.

    • anyfool

      The Left Wing can only survive on sour pessimism, hence the need for Labour to keep up its unremittingly gloomy prognostications.
      It is what keeps it going, although I notice they all make vast swathes of money during their political lives.

      • you_kid

        As some viceroy fool would put it – that’s not socialism, that’s theft.

  • Cooper1992

    What people fail to understand is that after societies have reached their peak, they start to go through a period of erosion. Roman Empire, Spanish Empire, British Empire, and the current American Empire

    Those who have built the great society, through discipline, hard work, determination, creativity and drive; are soon replaced by those who enjoy whinging, obsessive ‘equality’, and who believe in a some fantasy utopian world.

    When that happens a society starts degrading. The Western society is already degrading: our children are poorly educated, there are no notions of discipline or hierarchy, public office has been exploited for personal gain, people lack loyalty and patriotism, and worst of all people genuinely think that they are all ‘equal’. That the doctor is equal to the patient, the teacher equal to the student, the parent equal to the child.

    China is rising because of the exact opposite – discipline, hierarchy, patriotism, loyalty, realism, determination.

    The Western world is being dismantled by whinging idiotic utopianists. That is why our world is falling and that is why we are pessimistic.

    • Makroon

      When were the Roman and Spanish empires “obsessed with equality” ?

    • Donafugata

      And we have invited the barbarians in to set their own standards.
      The rot has a.ready set in as corruption is a way of life for many of the immigrant “communities”.

  • Alex

    Maybe voters are grumpy and moving to UKIP because they have noticed that this country has no major political party that believes in small government, personal choice, free markets and economic liberalism?
    Just a suggestion.

  • Kitty MLB

    Oh, come on be fair. ‘pessimism’ We hear the economy is doing much better the expected and there as been other good news today,yet the media, the wretched Left
    and the BBC just talk the country down and concentrate on pessimism.
    But yes the entire political class of today are so very far removed from the electorate it serves and the electorate feel they do not have a voice.
    ‘ Young peoples lives being worse’ and yet Labour destroyed this country for future generations and the present day young, spend all our money and have the audacity
    to object against any type of reform.

    • telemachus

      Yes things are better
      They would be better still if Osborne had not choked capital investment on accession
      I approve infectious optimism
      Remember D:Ream

      • Kitty MLB

        This is the first time you have agreed with me, you are clearly
        up to something Telemachus- can feel it in the water !

    • Shazza

      Totally agree with you Kitty regarding the ‘wretched Left and the BBC’ – and the disasters that they visited upon this country.

      James mention immigration as his second factor. What he neglects to mention is the quality of the said immigration. The elephant in the room. Third world immigration with emphasis on a certain ideology which is causing great concern in the general thinking public. They can see where this is heading and what it bodes for the future for their children and grandchildren. It is very easy to criticise EU immigration but the reality is that 70% of the immigration under Labour came from the third world. If you import enough third world people into a first world country, you eventually end up with a third world country. No wonder people are depressed.

      Whenever any article appears concerning this demographic on sites like this and The Telegraph, the comments are very revealing. I am finding that even on Left wing sites, the comments are becoming more critical.

      • Donafugata

        I couldn’t agree with you more, Shazza.

        I grew up in, what was then, a small market town of west London, the same place that Carole Middleton was originally from.

        It was never posh but it had a civic pride which gave us municipal parks and quiet, clean streets. All the houses were neat and well maintained with pretty gardens front and back.

        Recently I decided to pay a visit to my aunt who still lives there but have a stroll around ( junior school, my first public library etc.) before hand.

        It was horrific. The houses are now slums, the gardens full of old fridges, mattresses and bags of rubbish. All the lovely features in the parks have gone and the grass is like a burned out savannah.

        If in the immediate post-war period people and corporations could manage to make a respectable and pleasant town

        • Donafugata

          Continued, (the damned I-pad doesn’t like me rejecting its auto correct and the keypad then freezes)

          Why is it such a slum now when there is a lot more money about?

          This is why I am so rabidly anti-immigrant, especially from the third world. They say they come for a “better life” but they don’t abide by our standards. They are rapidly turning this once decent country into the. Same sh** holes that they want to escape from.

          Southall is notorious for its shanty town of garden sheds. Why doesn’t the council do something? Because the people who don’t mind the mess are the council now. The minority have become the majority and this is going to happen everywhere.

    • monty61

      The whole ‘left-right’ thing misses the point. This is a phenomenon thoughout the west, resulting from the limited growth opportunity for a mature economy, and the anxiety of young people in mature western democracies being caught up (and, in their deepest fears, surpassed) by their peers from dynamic, confident, growing emerging countries. It’s not a left-right issue at all.

      We can see this perhaps most clearly in Taiwan right now with anxious students managing effectively to forbid a weak president from negotiating a trade deal with China – because they fear greater integration with the Chinese economy won’t just lead to political integration, but of them being out-competed by hungrier peers. But it’s not unique by any means – some element of this can be seen everywhere.

      In fact it’s the free market model that’s in danger of going bankrupt: the rise of the super rich, equality going into serious reverse on just about any measure, home ownership going into decline in parallel with the rise of a new BTL rentier clas, and burdening young people with debts their parents never had. Environmental degredation, perhaps irreversible, offshoring of skilled jobs and the hollowing out of the middle class, and falling relative living standards the main things to look forward to. The absense of hope is palpable across a generation (I speak as a father of teenagers, lucky ones at that).

      This was not all a New Labour phenomenon, indeed wealth concentration has increased under the Cameroons – hardly surprising one might say given the cabinet’s composition – while students debt burden is trebling with no effective benefit to the economy it seems.

      Just to blame NuLab (as the Lefies blamed The Tories before) solves nothing. If we are not careful we may find the whole Capitalist paradigm rejected, just as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by another generation of people that it failed. This would be a tragedy for the country but perhaps an all too obvious consequence of the political class’s tendency to be ‘relaxed’ (as Blair was and Cameron no doubt equally is) of the tendency for the rich to get ever-richer.

    • Frank

      Kitty, I like your posts. However we are not out of the economic blues whatever Gideon says. Until our imports are lower than our exports, we are living beyond our means. If the EU, or China go pop, or Putin starts getting serious sanctions and turns off the taps, our very very fragile slow climb towards some sort of healthy balance of trade will be seriously set back. Plus you only have to look at the IPO market in London to realise that some sort of significant adjustment is due any moment now.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    OR, the political class treat the general population with at best disdain. They appear to despise us. Are we wrong to detect that and to be grumpy about it? Is James Forsyth wrong to ignore similar suspicions written here below the line for months and years and then put his own bubbleers interpretation on it? Should he take his ideas and stuff them where the insolation is nil? Yes, yes, yes.

    • Makroon

      Only political junkies could have such a narrow view.
      The vast majority are not much interested in politics.
      Look no further than our dire and ignorant media, forever trying to out-do each other with ever more negative spin, on the foolish assumption that ‘bad news sells’ – that must be why they are all doing so well. Not.
      Foreign visitors who bother to tune in to the local media (in the European country with the fastest growth/growing job market), are usually shocked at the distorted and sick negativity.
      Of course, there are a large bunch of opportunists and other interested parties, hoping to feed off the apocalyptic fantasies.