AS A keen listener to the Spectator’s ‘Coffee House Shots’ podcasts, I always sigh when I hear James Forsyth intone that the ‘narrative is shifting’. Whether ‘the narrative’ is moving from ‘protecting the NHS’ to ‘levelling up’, I don’t want to hear it.
‘Narrative’ is defined as ‘a story, or description of a series of events’. It is therefore impossible to ‘shape the narrative’ or indeed ‘create a narrative’, unless of course you are in the business of writing fiction.
I am a 43-year-old woman who reads to our youngest son every night, and would rather curl up with a good book than do anything else in the world. Beowulf, Clan of the Cave Bear, Persuasion – I love a good story. But I do not want to hear any from politicians.
Remember those strange days of March 2020 when, Jackanory-like, the Prime Minister read us a scary story about flattening the curve and defeating the enemy virus? Remember how the population listened in dread and the media cried out to ‘make it scarier, Daddy’? Then ‘the narrative shifted’ and stories were told about ‘freedom day’. Later other tales were retold about wild parties and suitcases full of wine.
The news is filled with story-tellers peddling narrative fiction: Liz Truss has found a dusty volume about Russia trying to recreate the USSR. David Attenborough and the Royal Family are telling stories about how humans can stop the end of the world by recycling. A woman in the southern hemisphere is shaping a narrative whereby five million people ‘working as a team’ can extinguish a virus that has taken over the rest of the globe. Will someone not stop her and say: shall we examine this? Where’s the truth here? Is this necessary? They won’t, because it gets in the way of the never-ending story of good princess defeating evil virus.
More often than not, ‘following the narrative’ ends up with a tragic ending. Have you heard the one about Germany following the green narrative, closing nuclear power stations and creating soaring energy prices? What about the UK government’s following the narrative set out in the children’s book ‘Build Back Better’ and creating only high taxes, inflation and cycle lanes?
This is my story: stop the fanciful tales. I would like a politician to analyse a situation and present a solution. I don’t want slogans or narratives, I want the truth. So, rather than ‘protecting the NHS’, I would like a snap analysis of who needs treatment and how this is going to be achieved. Then I would like it to happen. I would like to know whether the climate change models are as useless as the Covid ones. I would like to know how the 100,000 children who have disappeared from schools during lockdown are going to be helped back into education. I would like a snap assessment of our energy capacity and an immediate plan to make energy affordable. And so on.
Stories should not be told around these issues. We don’t need politicians to cushion us with fairy tales– that’s why we’ve got Netflix.