HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’...”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by some of what we see and hear. Recently, two particular matters have featured frequently in print and across the airwaves; the threat from Islamic terrorism and the effects of winter weather.
Both are capable of producing devastation and despair – it is right that we treat them with the greatest seriousness and plan accordingly.
Important too, to learn from the past and so calibrate our perspective on what we face now. As we embark upon the New Year, it’s instructive to think comparatively about the times in which we live and times past.
One hundred years ago Europe was scarred and terrorised by a different kind of conflict – the First World War. 1916 was one of the bloodiest years of the Great War, the Battle of the Somme taking an estimated 1.2 million lives on both sides.
The Somme is regarded by many as the epitome of the senselessness of war, with 60,000 British casualties on the opening day alone. But as extraordinarily horrible as the death toll was, other historians argue that the battle played a key strategic role in the Allies’ victory two years later. It is certain that the Great War was an essential struggle against German imperialism.
The sheer scale of the deaths at that battle in what must have felt like an endless war, offer us some points of reference to our generational battle against Islamic terrorism, and the Syrian Civil War which raged for so long. There are no easy answers and no quick solutions in the clash of values at the core of our struggle with ISIL Daesh and their ilk.
One hundred years before the First World War – in the era of the great romantic poets, Keats, Byron et al, during the reign of King George III – Prime Minister Lord Liverpool oversaw the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. The year 1816 was famously known as the ‘Year without a summer’ as fierce changes in the climate created enormous upheaval; temperatures globally, dropped, probably as a result of an enormous volcanic eruption in what is now Indonesia. Colder weather and severe floods, caused by extremely heavy rainfall, resulted in failed harvests across Britain. Famine took root in many countries across Europe, North America and Asia. The climate change of that year, as sudden in effect as that which the people of Cumbria and Yorkshire are enduring now, serves as a reminder of the power of nature and our need to be adaptable and resilient.
Today’s problems often feel unsettling because they seem unprecedented, but consideration of the challenges of the past surely encourages us to share the confidence and optimism of Tennyson’s poem. We live in troubled times, but, as our Lincolnshire poet knew, because fortitude and endurance are at the heart of human virtue, There will be happier days to come.