Geoff Norcott

The rise of the super pessimist

The rise of the super pessimist
Cartoon: Guy Venables
Text settings

Covid isn’t the only thing to have developed a dangerous strain in the UK; pessimism has also mutated and is on the rise. BBC news recently reported in horrified tones that the economy had contracted 2.6 per cent in November, barely mentioning the fact that this was largely down to the nation being in lockdown. I don’t know what our national broadcaster has up its sleeve next but I’m expecting a dambing connection between home schooling and black market valium. That kind of contraction during lockdown is actually something to be proud of. The resilience of British consumerism during this last year has been this generation’s Dunkirk. Instead of hopping in tiny boats we’re resolutely buying tiny dresses for parties we’ll never attend. 

However, buried further down the story were some genuinely encouraging signs. In November, house-building, infrastructure and car manufacturing were all above their pre-pandemic levels. So I shared the not so bad news on Twitter. 

A few blokes (you know the type, angry middle-aged men permanently looking to be temporarily validated) spent several days trying to prove why my silver lining was in fact just more cloud.

Then I opined on our positive start in the vaccination roll-out. This too got a surprising degree of push-back. If we can’t unite behind a vaccine drive I’m not sure there’s anything left that could bring the country together. Britain could fire a warhead at a giant asteroid heading for earth and I suspect there’d still be a few numpties arguing whether the weapon technology was developed in Cambridge or Cologne. 

I had a look at the timelines of some of the blokes pesimising on my parade. Many were strongly pro Europe and regularly rebutting anything that hadn’t gone horribly wrong since the transition period ended. For clarity, I’m not talking about ‘Remainers’, this felt more like FBPE had spawned a Victor Meldrew militant wing. General public pessimism is understandable. Given the steady stream of government mess-ups over Covid many have gradually had the hope beaten out of them. 

There’s only so many times the average person can be marched up the hill of optimism before pessimism starts to look kinder on the knees. I’m not immune myself. Despite this good start, I still fear our vaccination roll-out might be like my performance at school cross-country: surprise good start, almost gave up the middle, finished third last. 

While writing this article a blue tick journalist ‘corrected’ a map which showed Britain had done well in early vaccination roll-out compared to most of Europe. His logic was to discount the head-start Britain had made, like Matt Hancock discounting that car crash with Piers Morgan because no-one had reminded him to think.

If you want legitimate bad news there’s plenty going around. Britain currently has the worst Covid death rate in the world. You don’t need to get the felt tips out for that graph.  

Tribalism has done weird things to us. I personally have pulled on the Brexit blinkers more times than I’d care to admit. However, it is weird when officials in Holland confiscating a sandwich is held up as a litmus test for the next fifty years of trade. And it was still a long way from the worst thing I’ve heard of to be confiscated at the Dutch border. Maybe Brexit will be disaster in the long run, but I’ll go out on a limb and say it might be a bit early to tell. 

The hurry on either side to claim wins can seem hasty. From the Brexiteer side, understandable pride at how Britain has done so far on vaccinations can easily slip into petty schadenfreude (however, I’d wager that if Britain had been lagging behind Europe Andrew Adonis would’ve had the graph tattooed on his forehead). Optimism is seductive, but can bite you on the backside. Almost a year ago I appeared on Question Time and proudly declared that the economy was going to ‘really motor’ and that England would win Euro 2020. The economy suffered a record contraction and Euro 2020 didn’t happen. 

However, I’m a comedian, and the main reason we’re on that show is to talk confidently on things we know little about. So I’m going to do it again. England are still going to win Euro 2020 (like the Bond film they’re keeping the same name but releasing it later) and pent up demand will see the economy motoring from April onwards. I can’t claim any expertise to back this up, just a gut feeling. I’ll probably be wrong, but my strike rate is likely to be the same as the extreme pessimists. Most importantly I’ll get to spend some time feeling optimistic rather than sitting in a bunker waiting for the much vaunted super gonnorrhea.