Monday, 19 April 2010

Eyjafjallajokull, Nick Clegg and the Brighton Marathon

Question: what is the connection between a plume of volcanic ash from Iceland, last week’s leader’s debate on tv, and the Brighton Marathon? Answer: they are all dislocations, and they all show us glimpses of a different world. This dislocated world means we can answer the question, “what if z had happened instead of y?” Historians call this a “counterfactual,” a way of asking “what if.”

For example, what would Britain be like now if William the Conqueror had lost the Battle of Hastings. Or if Hitler had successfully invaded the UK? (the subject of Robert Harris’s book Fatherland). So last week has given us three glimpses of a different world: first, Iceland’s unintentional revenge on the world economy (they took our cash and gave us ash) has shown what things might be like if ubiquitous jet travel had not happened: the consequences not just for holidays and business travel, but also for global just-in-time supply chains, from exotic fruit and veg. in your supermarket to bone marrow for transplants.

Secondly, Nick Clegg’s tv appearance on the first UK leader’s debate may or may not turn out to be a general election game changer, but it showed that there is another set of possibilities outside the duopoly that has run British policy during our lifetimes, and which the Labour and Conservative politicians just don’t seem to get – they need to wise up to the fact that it’s not about Clegg’s ability to look straight down the barrel of the tv camera, it’s about having some policies that aren’t part of the same old same old. And the Brighton Marathon? IMG_2754 c res The closure of many roads in Brighton and Hove to accommodate 8,000 or so runners and the 80,000 spectators who turned out in the sunshine, showed that there can be another way of sharing out our city. Cars rule the roost most of the time, but the Brighton Marathon showed us the possibility of another future: a glimpse of a different world.

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