It’s downhill all the way at the moment

I can’t even get my poetry quotations right.

I am not over-fond of this time of year. Summer’s lease hath all too short a stay. Date, I mean. Why do I always get that wrong? Anyway, it’s now autumn. The windows that have been left open are now shut to stop the draughts, the summer plumage – linen, basically, and those cheapo desert boots you buy from shoe shops on the Uxbridge Road for £20 – is replaced by the winter version, and the Proms come to an end. This is particularly sad this year, as it is the first time since 1999 that Roger Wright, head of Radio 3 andthe Proms, hasn’t invited me along to his box to eat his smoked salmon sarnies and drink his wine.

Maybe he has wearied of me. I thought he used to be amused by my having to climb over him for a pee during the long, long wall of sound that is Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, or making feeble passes at Jenny Agutter, or gawping at Simon Heffer’s profile. How does anyone get jowls like that? He’s only three years older than I am. Heffer, not Wright. Wright is older than either of us but has the ageless good looks of a Donatello putto. I sat and waited for his call all summer long but it never came, and when I heard “Jerusalem” bouncing off the walls all the way from Hyde Park, I had a tear in my eye. So that’s it, then, I thought.

I know I’m not important any longer – I used to be radio critic for the Independent on Sunday until they decided I was surplus to requirements about six years ago – but what about auld lang syne? They sang that, too, as if to wash their mouths out after “Jerusalem” and “Rule, Britannia!”, and that nearly floored me. (Incidentally, I gather the Independent on Sunday has now decided that all its critics are surplus to requirements and has given the entire arts desk the heaveho. You will write and tell them they’re being silly arseholes, won’t you? They had some fine writers on those pages.) Oh well; nothing lasts for ever and at least this year we had a summer to speak of, unlike last year’s washout.

I used to like September, though. I was never particularly fond of school but at least you got to learn some stuff and there was always a good chance that I’d have some new masters who had yet to nurse any grudges against me. The start of the university year was even better: leaving the family home meant the thrilling prospect of going where there were locks on the lavatory doors.

But that was when life was still a process leading to sunny uplands. Each year was going to be better than the last one: you’d know a bit more, be earning a bit more and certainly be having more sex. After all, I would ask myself in my late teens, how could I be having any less? That’s not something I’m worried about now, thank goodness, but as for the rest . . . Well, anyone out there feeling happier, richer and more confident about the future than they were last year?

I thought that at the very least this government had reached the maximum point of stupidity and malice a supposedly enlightened western democracy was capable of, but now I read that the DWP is to start calling people in if it thinks they’re not earning enough money and will tell them to work more. Am I missing something or is this the most brutal move against the poor yet? Other solutions – say, raising the minimum wage – seem not to have occurred to them.

Not only is one’s own life going downhill at an increasingly uncomfortable rate but the whole country is, too. The nights draw in, the clouds roll over. It’s all very well battening down the hatches but what if one has no battens with which to batten them? The eldest child is going off to university and by the end of her course will almost certainly be in debt to the tune of £27,000, which worries me even more than the fact that at least one member of the philosophy faculty not only thinks Descartes was a medieval philosopher, but pronounces his name “day car” to boot. The last time I mentioned that, I got accused of the most outrageous snobbery; I’m bracing myself for that again.

But it turns out that I cannot even take solace from such fragments of learning as I retain. I take my melancholy and do what everyone does with it these days: air it on Facebook. “Summer’s lease hath all too short a stay,” I write laconically, hoping to impress everyone with the lightness of my learning, the deftness of my command of allusion to fit the mood of the time.

“Date,” everyone writes back. “It’s ‘date’, you idiot.”

Summer is almost over. Image: Getty

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: The deadly stalemate

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.