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New year, old wisdom

In Chris Morris’s 1990s news satire, The Day Today, viewers are told at one point that all normal programmes have been suspended to make way for a film to be played at moments of crisis—what follows are images of fluttering Union flags, British bobbies and villages with names like Wabznasm, set against the stirring backdrop of Holst’s Jupiter, as a voice booms “it’s all alright, it’s all OK.”

To say anything other than “this is a national crisis” just now is to risk sounding like that booming voice. The country is divided, the bedrock of its foreign and commercial policy for the last half-century having been shattered by a referendum whose meaning is bitterly contested, as constitutional fractures between parliament and government open up. Worse, as Fintan O’Toole (p28) mercilessly exposes from an Irish perspective, there are signs that the English are falling prey to dangerous and self-pitying nationalist myths that could—if they become entrenched—undermine our ability to chart a pragmatic way through the rocky waters ahead. The current cohort of hopefuls competing to get their hands on the tiller don’t inspire much confidence. Compare them with politicians past, and too many would rate as small-minded, even frivolous, in this grave hour.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s January/February double issue: A host of writers and personalities explain what they think will be the most important thing we need to learn in the new year. From Justin Welby arguing for new emphasis on learning to forgive and Lord Neuberger on the importance of a free judiciary to Hannah Fry on AI and Cathy Newman on what happens next for #MeToo—Prospect has it all. Elsewhere in the issue: Fintan O’Toole looks at Brexit from an Irish perspective, Wendell Steavenson dishes the dirt on what really happens to the waste you want to recycle, Frank Close questions why—half a century after our last visit—we’ve not been back to the Moon. Also, Michael Blastland argues that we’re ignoring the upsides of having an alcoholic drink and Clive James explores the life of Philip Larkin.