The stories of nations are written at times like these.
For it goes without saying that there is much jeopardy in today’s script.
There is a daily dose of disaster, whose effect is a form of neurosis in our relationship with news. Forget what’s beneficial or useful information for the living of life – this is about box office sensationalism. It’s Project Fear 2: it’s back, it’s personal, and this time it’s on steroids.
Whichever way you look, the storm clouds appear to be gathering. From the high table of politics to the boards of business, the narrative runs that we are a nation that has lost control of its destiny.
And even if it turns out better than expected (remember, stock markets have already called nine out of the last five recessions, to borrow the quip from the economist Paul Samuelson), don’t let that stand in the way of a good story.
Last week, we were reliably informed that a drove of cabinet ministers would be queueing at the door of Number 10 to resign. In its place we got a cabinet pizza party, a non-event that was somehow still presented as yet further evidence of a government in crisis.
At the same time, much is made of potential volatility in the markets. Forget the fact that some of the world’s stock markets are sitting at all-time highs – the prevailing narrative from a great many is not the progress we have made, but instead how we must prepare for the inevitable crash.
The sense that something ominous awaits us over the horizon is nothing new. Throughout history, civilisations have feared that barbarians were rattling at the gate, ready and waiting to ruin everything held dear.
If the past can teach us one thing, it is that sometimes they were right. However, more often than not, the much-heralded end of days turns out to be the mere passing of headlines.
This is not to belittle the challenges we face nor the hurdles we must jump. But the point is that belief matters – it is the gel that binds the confidence in our ability to prosper over time. Insecurity is its enemy. And even when the facts don’t fit, we can all be prone to be undone by fear of the unknown.
An entrepreneur once made the point to me that every new business is a bet based on a hypothesis. In other words, an audacious goal is a powerful motivator, and it can drive people on to achieve great things. Meanwhile, the lack of one can make life moribund.
How you see the hypothesis of Britain at the moment will very much colour the sort of news you want to consume about it. This is a tale of two nations.
One story of it is that of complete disaster – pack your bags and turn the lights out when you leave.
The other, a more softly spoken narrative, is that things are a great deal better than many of the experts would have us believe. An economy proven resilient under pressure, a nation that despite its political choices remains the number one destination for foreign direct investment into Europe, and one where unemployment has fallen to hitherto unimaginable levels.
Your reaction to the above will depend on your take on the national drama. We live in a world where the best story wins. At the moment, that’s one of apocalypse.
And yet – despite the protestations that the robots are about to kill every job going, that national prosperity will be economically bombed back to the Stone Age, and that our political class has lost the plot – life goes on.
Perhaps the belief that things will work out might just be stronger than the alarmists profess. It’s a lifeline, ready to connect us with the future we are capable of building.
Consumer confidence, business confidence, political confidence – it’s all about mindset, and we’ve got to maintain a positive one.
For many, this is much easier to achieve on a personal level.
The script goes something like this: macro pessimism about the national position but micro optimism about your own state of affairs. Someone wise once said: “on particularly rough days, when I am sure I can’t possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100 per cent and that’s pretty good”.
If only we could translate that positivity to the national agenda.
No doubt about it – these are, in the words of the song, mysterious times. But we all have a stake here. If you’ve built a business or have aspirations for your own future, then it’s time for a rewrite. It’s time to back Britain.