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We’ve Never Had It so Good

Climate change, joblessness, cultural dross. Are we going to hell in a handcart? Or do scientific advances and more liberal attitudes make this the best time ever to be alive?

“We’re going to hell in a handcart.” That’s the cry of the deteriorationists who believe everything has got worse: the planet is overheating, population numbers are exploding, communities are being lost; liberal democracy is creaking on its foundations, and for twentysomethings prospects are looking seriously grim: they’re leaving university with substantial debts, little hope of finding a job and next to no chance of getting on the property ladder. Meanwhile, children no longer romp outside and explore the world but fester indoors with their iPads posting selfies and surfing internet porn. As for culture, both classical and pop music pale in comparison to the heights reached in the past. Art has become a corporate fetish, and the figure our times now exalt is no longer the artist or the scientist but the celebrity.

But which age, argue the optimists, would these people prefer to live in? The age when they burnt witches? When women were chattels? When disease and agony could not be addressed by antibiotics and anaesthetics? Anyone who isn’t a killjoy should recognise that now is the golden age: we are freer, richer, warmer, healthier, and more tolerant of differences than we’ve ever been in history. The internet has brought the world to our finger tips, cheap travel has allowed us to roam the earth and almost everything – good food, entertainment, music –  that was once limited to the very rich is available to most of us in infinite variety.


Speakers

For the motion

Rachel Johnson

Journalist, novelist and author


Journalist, novelist and broadcaster. She was the first female graduate trainee at the Financial Times. She has written for numerous newspapers and magazines and was the editor of The Lady for three years. She has written three novels and is a frequent panellist on television shows such as Sky News's The Pledge, Have I Got News For You and Question Time. She has lost out twice to Ann Widdecombe, once on Celebrity Big Brother and once in the 2019 European Parliament elections.

Jesse Norman

Politician and author


Jesse Norman is Conservative MP for Hereford. He is the author of numerous books, most recently a biography of Edmund Burke, and has written for The Times, Sunday Times, Financial Times, Guardian and Spectator. His book Compassionate Conservatism has been called the “intellectual guidebook to Cameronism” by the Sunday Times, while the follow-up Compassionate Economics was described as “the most intelligent political tract of 2009, and the best analysis of the credit crunch”. He has been described in the Sunday Telegraph as “As talented as any Tory backbencher is ever likely to be.”
Against the motion

Will Self

Novelist, broadcaster and literary critic


Widely acclaimed novelist, broadcaster, political commentator and literary critic, known for his acerbic wit. He has been described in the Guardian as the most daring and delightful novelist of his generation. His most recent novels are Umbrella, Shark and Phone, a trilogy which the New Statesman predicted will become ‘one of the most significant literary works of our century, books that reflect and refract the hideousness of our times'. His memoir, Will, was released in November 2019.

Rod Liddle

Journalist


Rod Liddle is a British print, radio, and television journalist. He is an associate editor of The Spectator, and former editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Liddle is the author of Too Beautiful for You and Love Will Destroy Everything, and co-author of The Best of Liddle Britain. He has presented several television programmes, including The New Fundamentalists, The Trouble with Atheism, and Immigration Is a Time Bomb. He now writes a regular column for the Sunday Times.
Chair

Jonathan Freedland

Guardian columnist, broadcaster and author


Guardian columnist, broadcaster and author.