This is the piece I wrote for the last edition of The Independent on Sunday, which closed forever on Saturday 19 March 2016. Hope triumphs over anger just about …
So here we are. This is the end, beautiful friends, and I have to say I’m angry. Not angry at the end of this title’s print version; that’s more of a sadness. But angry at all the things that have not been fixed or that have got worse since I wrote my first piece here more than 20 years ago, despite all the people who have appeared in these pages, promising to make them better.
Angry that successive politicians have broken their promises and our hopes, so that even when the country is in a mess, millions of people just don’t bother to vote, believing it won’t make any difference.
Angry that there is so little outcry when a Chancellor uses a sugar tax (which will hit the poor hardest) to sweeten the bitter pill of a Budget that contains more than £1bn a year in cuts to the care of disabled people who need help to get dressed or go to the loo.
I’m angry that a cabinet of millionaires persists in telling us we’re all in this together. Even Iain Duncan Smith, architect of chaos and misery in his welfare reforms, doesn’t believe that any more, according to his surprise resignation letter. When even IDS says the cuts to benefits are too cruel, you know they really are too cruel.
A million people a year are forced to use food banks to feed themselves and their children. Nearly five million live in food poverty.
I’m angry that we’ve let things get so bad. Angry that so much of it is unnecessary.
Ceceline, a mother of two I met just before Christmas, happened to write a number in the wrong place on a form. The £70 a week with which she feeds and clothes herself, her son and her daughter was stopped without warning for a month, driving her to the brink of despair. There are so many stories like that: nearly half of all food bank clients are there because of failures in the system.
I’m angry that our Government has so obviously lost all sense of compassion. Angry that we tax people for daring to have a second bedroom, even if they care for a severely disabled partner and need to sleep in a separate bed sometimes, to get some rest.
Angry that these life-changing, misery-inducing decisions are made by ministers with multiple bedrooms, second homes and staff.
Anger is not all I feel right now, by any means, but it’s a good start.
I’m angry that junior doctors have to strike. Angry that hospitals still have to warn people off coming to overstretched accident and emergency departments, as Wigan has just done for the third time in a fortnight. Angry at the break-up of a health service that has cared for successive prime ministers’ children.
This is personal. David Cameron swore the NHS was safe in his hands when I sat in his kitchen for the IoS a decade ago. He talked about his debt to the doctors and nurses who cared for his son Ivan. Yet here we are on the other side of one catastrophic initiative after another, with health workers in revolt.
Tamal Ray, a junior doctor, says: “For the first time in my career, I can see real unity among my colleagues. Our eyes have been opened to the subtle dismantling of a healthcare system we believe in and this has inspired a movement for change.”
He’s hopeful. I’m angry that it has come to this; that we live in a sick, unjust society, after all the fine talk. Angry, too, that the gap between us is getting wider. Angry that a short walk across London takes you from a £300m house in a ward where the average income is £100,000 to another where people are living on £13,000 a year and the life expectancy of a man is 30 years shorter.
Angry that the billionaires who own such fancy houses live here, play here but pay no tax here at all.
Angry that on match days across the nation, footballers earning astronomic sums are served by waiters, stewards and cleaners on less than the living wage. And angry that friends who burn with a passion for fairness go weak at the knees when it comes to the (once) beautiful game. They turn a blind eye to the riches, the excesses of their heroes and the utter disconnection between the players and the communities in whose name they play.
I’m angry that we have become a nation that will let you in if you’re loaded, but will stick you in a detention centre if you happen to be poor, sick or in need of asylum. I saw that for myself in Yarl’s Wood, where a woman from Sri Lanka tried to tell me her story, her mind fractured by the pressure of being held there for so long without trial or explanation. It’s inhumane.
This is not a party political broadcast: the current situation is the result of deals done by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party as much as the Tories. We fell in turn for Maggie, Tony and Nick, like dizzy new lovers, and were let down every time.
I’m angry that the word politician has become synonymous with liar. Angry at the breathtaking cycle of privilege, in which the same well-connected people take turns to pop up and lecture us about how society should be run, without anything ever actually seeming to change.
Meet Lord Adonis, for example. His Labour party had 13 years to fix the roads and rails, but now he is the chairman of a Tory-born commission demanding that they be fixed immediately. As if we would not remember. As if we have the memory spans of goldfish. Do we? I’m angry that it seems we do.
“If the North is to become a powerhouse, it has to be better connected,” says Adonis, who could have made that happen years ago.
And here comes his old boss, Tony Blair, with advice about “our destiny” in Europe. The man who took us into a disastrous war in Iraq before floating off into some kind of weird personal fantasy about being president of the world. No thanks Tony, we know where your strategies lead. We don’t really want to bomb Berlin.
Go back to one of your many mansions, in your £27m property portfolio. When a Labour prime minister goes on to become one of the super-rich, there is surely something to get angry about.
No wonder the Labour Party is still in shock at being seduced by this man.
But it’s time to get over that, learn the lessons of what was good about him and chuck out the bad, ditch the guilt and get a grip, surely? Otherwise the party will keep imploding, keep losing.
I’m angry that there is no serious opposition left right now, when we need it more than ever, with the Greens a shambles and the Lib Dems all but vanished. The strong voice of the SNP is weakened when it plays hypocritical games such as meddling in the vote over English Sunday trading laws.
Some people will say all this is sanctimonious. Tough. It also happens to be true.
You will have your own reasons to be angry, I’m sure. I’m angry that successive governments have allowed a situation to develop where a whole generation cannot afford to buy and barely to rent.
Angry that in the lifetime of the IoS we went from supporting the brightest kids from poor backgrounds through college to saddling them with debt.
I’m proud that The Independent on Sunday was the first to oppose that misguided war and that at least a million of us marched. But I’m angry that the war happened anyway, and that it did what the intelligence services warned it would, turning Iraq into a crucible of terrorism.
My first piece for the Sindy back in 1993 was an interview with Baroness Nicholson about Amar, the Iraqi Kurdish boy she had adopted to save him from war. They are still being bombed, those children, only now by Turkey. The world has changed a great deal since those days. It feels even more dangerous. Please God don’t let the US choose a racist thug as its next president.
Let’s be honest, though. All this anger is draining. And it’s not enough. We have to turn away and look for something more positive, in order to go on.
There has been so much to celebrate in our years together. Peace in Northern Ireland, for example, which we almost take for granted now. Great advances in our understanding of the universe around us – gravitational waves, the Higgs boson – and many lives saved by medical science.
My second piece for The IoS was an interview with the singer Holly Johnson, who came out as having Aids in 1994, when everybody thought it was a death sentence. He has a new song on the Eddie the Eagle soundtrack. I’ve just heard him on the radio and it made me smile.
The Olympics were a brief but glorious taste of the kind of happy, inclusive, confident place Britain could be. The Happy, Pink and Rainbow Lists in the IoS have celebrated some of the best of us – the kindest, most generous, most determined, bravest.
I have met and interviewed so many inspiring people here over time. One of my favourites is Ted Jackson, a middle-aged schoolmaster from Surrey who ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents last year, from the Antarctic to the African desert and on to Australia.
Ted is not a natural runner. He’s short and stocky and doesn’t like to train much. But he does want people to know about Overcoming MS, the charity that has helped his wife, Sophie. So he does superhuman things, by strength of will alone. Now he and his son are about to attempt a desert marathon and a transatlantic row together for the same cause. Extraordinary.
We all have to find ways to keep going, like Ted. Ways of turning our anger at what is happening into a positive energy. Ways to keep believing in and working for fairness and equality.
Keep demanding more of our representatives and refusing to take no for an answer. Keep speaking truth to power. Keep telling the world about the people and things that make us happy.
That’s what we have tried to do on these pages, with your support. And that’s what I want to say, really, as our conversation here comes to an end: let’s keep getting angry, keep fighting, keep celebrating. What else can we do?
Thank you. It has been a privilege to write for you here. Let’s hope we meet again somewhere. Until then, keep on keeping on. Goodbye.