24.03.09 | Gavin Freeguard
Does anyone who isn't dead from the neck up doubt that there's a bad time coming? We don't even know what it'll be, and yet we know it's coming. Perhaps a war, perhaps a slump —no knowing, except that it'll be something bad. Wherever we're going, we're going downwards. Into the grave, into the cesspool—no knowing.
So, whose words? Someone from the office? The beer-swilling oracle down your local? A blogger, perhaps? It could easily be any of those, given the soaring of stocks in doom and gloom (and the boom in writers desperately trying to publicise their products and events on the back of the credit crunch—you won't find any of that here, obviously).
In fact, it's George Orwell, in his 1939 novel, Coming Up for Air. Or rather, the character George Bowling, neatly summarising the sense of fear as the Second World War drew near. Clearly, then, in these "troubled times" in "broken Britain", where "credit crunch", "economic crisis" and even "quantitative easing" roll off the tongue as easily as soap plots and football scores, we do not have a monopoly on foreboding, powerlessness and misery. As Bowling's friend, the placid Old Porteous puts it, "There is nothing new under the sun."
Something else our current economic emergency shares with 1939—indeed, with any social or political crisis—is that one of its major causes was a lack of understanding. The deficits were as much of knowledge as of credit, with bankers being a far-away people of whom we knew nothing. The workings of the banks, the City, and the global financial system were hardly known, let alone understood, by the public, by politicians and even by ‘experts', and the Masters of the Universe now threaten to drag us into a black hole.
The Orwell Prize aims to change that. Rewarding the books and journalism (and this year, the blogs) which fulfil Orwell's ambition ‘to make political writing into an art', we want to enthuse the public about good political thinking, draw their attention to good political writing and encourage political debate. In short, promote understanding and promote politics as the solution to the world's problems.
We'll be announcing this year's shortlists at a debate on Wednesday 25th March. Nick Cohen, David Davis MP, Frank Field MP and Douglas Murray will be answering the question, ‘Are political parties bankrupt?'
Hopefully, the answer will be a little more constructive than the young Bowling's experience:
The people chased the Conservative candidate half a mile and threw him into a pond full of duckweed. People took politics seriously in those days. They used to begin storing up rotten eggs weeks before an election.