W H Auden published a poem in October 1939 called 1 September 1939 - the date Germany invaded Poland and the world plunged into the horror of the Second World War. Here is the last verse.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
Those of us born after the Second World War in the UK have never been “beleaguered by the same negation and despair” that people must have felt as war broke out just 21 years after the slaughter of the previous war and this time against an enemy that was the embodiment of evil.
2016 was the closest we have yet come. By the end of that miserable year it was clear that there were real threats to our democracy, our rights and what was left of our “decent society”.
This was the background to a group of us - author and campaigner Melissa Benn, NHS nurse Tom Lennard and I, with others - deciding that rather than succumbing to despair we would try and do something positive.
We all believe that politics is not a spectator sport. It’s not about “them”, it is about “us”.
“Better 2017” means we hope that 2017 and subsequent years will be better than 2016. “Kensal and Kilburn” is important to us because this is where we live. There is a community here and we cherish that.
We are organising a series of events about issues which matter. Our first event, “So, who is going to look after us when we get old?” had excellent panel members and everyone who attended was able to contribute to a good discussion. People told us they really liked it.
We are planning four more events this year.
On 19 April, “Our media and our democracy. How well are we being served by our mainstream media?”
On 4 July, “Can we avoid another financial crisis? What is the “new economics” and what does it offer us?”
In September, “How can we get better schools and higher education?”
In November, “How can we do better on housing for younger people in London?”
All being well, we’ll hold more events next year.
Of course, we have an agenda. We are members of the Labour Party, the Green Party and no political party. We think there are fundamental problems with our society.
We are not seeking to have “balanced panels”. On the whole, the people we invite to speak will be critical of the status quo. Every day the powerful who run the status quo get to put their worldview unchallenged. We will challenge prevailing assumptions.
Of course, people may strongly disagree with what they hear. Great. Let’s discuss. We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to have their say. We believe it is possible to have polite, reasoned discussions on controversial issues.
We hope you will come to our events. They can all be found by searching Kensal and Kilburn Better 2017 on Eventbrite.
We want to be ambitious, optimistic and realistic. In the words of Bernie Sanders: - “Despair is not an option”.
We hope that Kensal and Kilburn Better 2017 will, in Auden’s words, “show an affirming flame” and provide some “points of light”.