Both the left and right are obsessed by a lost golden age. A confident Britain would look to the future
The belief that the past was better than the present, and the only way forward is back, can be found in the corners of any society at any time. But when nostalgia grows to dominate Britain and much of the west it is as sure a symptom of decay as the stink of dry rot.
Every step of Britain’s decline has been accompanied by the sound of sighs for a lost country. To confine myself only to the past few weeks, we had Boris Johnson ordering a new royal yacht “to display the UK’s burgeoning status as a great, independent maritime trading nation”, a £200m attempt to feign 19th-century splendour that covers up the impoverishing consequences of Brexit on the UK’s real trade. After that, we had ministers promoting a well-meant but equally deceitful patriotic song that declared: “We are Britain/ And we have one dream/ To unite all people/ In one great team.” The yearning for a united country would be less pitiable if the same ministers had not partitioned the United Kingdom by putting a trade border down the Irish Sea and were not now driving Scots into the arms of separatists, who are no slouches when it comes to myth-making themselves.