Cole Moreton: Whatever lies in store, never give up hope. Just ask Del Boy

TV's eternal optimist had the right idea. Things do get better. No, really
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The Independent Online

Where's Del Boy when you need him? He used to pop up every year on the Only Fools and Horses festive special with another mad scheme, looking his little brother in the eye and promising: "This time next year, bruv, we'll be millionaires." Oh Del, where art thou? Flogging desk diaries on the Old Kent Road probably, with the name Lehman Brothers scratched out. Or plotting a last-minute bid for Woolworths. The character played by David Jason had such indefatigable optimism that he wouldn't be scared of a recession.

Not like the rest of us. We're sane, rational people, who can see what's going on. We listen to Robert Peston's prophecies of a global financial apocalypse and verily, we are afraid. We are not helped by the sight of David Cameron grinning out of the pages of The Sun, as he did on Boxing Day, insisting on "nine reasons to be cheerful". Nine because it's 2009, do you see? Not because he couldn't think of 10. Not at all.

So, what are they? Inventiveness, first: Britain is good at thinking up new technology, says Mr Cameron, citing as an example the wind-up radio. (Has anyone actually got one of those?) Next is ecotech: the world needs our expertise in making green kit such as low-energy light bulbs (which sounds very like the first reason). Then come the creative industries: Coldplay, Harry Potter and The X Factor are mentioned by cheerful Dave, but there must be others that actually keep people awake. Free trade follows: more opportunities await on the global markets than ever before, apparently. That's like telling a man lost in the desert that he's in a great place to open a drinks stall.

What else is on the Cameron list? British sport: we can cheer on Lewis Hamilton. The internet: the more of us who are online, says Mr Cameron, the more chance we have of becoming "the winners of the future". Beginning to sound a bit desperate, isn't it? We're only up to number six. The remaining three are the Royal Family, the universities and the English language. "Take the Eurovision Song Contest," says the Conservative leader. (No really, please do.) "This year more than half the entries were sung in English." (Never mind that much of the world speaks our language better than we do.) Oh dear. It doesn't work, does it? Light bulbs and Simon Cowell do not stir the heart to hope. That is what we need now, more than ever, in this curious limbo between the end of the old year and the start of the new. Luckily, most of us have hope, whether we recognise it or not. It is part of our make-up and keeps us alive. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, as Alexander Pope said. The question is, what kind?

Stupid hope can be a total disaster. This is the hope that ignores all the evidence, like a father hoping his snarling Dobermann will turn out to be just the right pet for a baby. Or a president who "plans" to invade Iraq in the expectation that its people will rise up against their leader and welcome the troops with flowers. This kind of hope is heard from the lips of experts who tell us that spending is the way out of the recession. Stupid hope says the sales are on, so pile more pressure on the credit cards.

Something will turn up to get us out of this mess. That's what blind hope says. More than a few companies have taken this approach, holding off making big decisions until the new year, in case a solution presents itself. Well, the time is nearly here. The Treasury appears to have shot its bolt with tax relief, bank rescues and interest rate cuts. It's hard to see where a miracle might come from.

That's why this New Year's Eve will be the strangest for a long time. For more than a decade now, most of us have sung "Auld Lang Syne" in the expectation that the economy will go on growing and we will become more prosperous. Not this time. If the predictions are right, things can only get worse. But hang on: they were not right last time, were they? Nobody saw the global crisis coming. Analysts look back on the shocks of 2008 and say there are more to come; we just don't know where from. But hope says the opposite. If we can't see what's coming, couldn't this be a great year? If gloomy prophecies turned out to be self-fulfilling, why can't bright ones? Let's have some, then: nothing ridiculous, but things that actually could happen. I predict that in 2009 England will win the Ashes. Andy Murray will win Wimbledon. Bruce Forsyth will get the knighthood he deserves and retire with dignity. The troops will leave Iraq (possibly for the Congo). America will be transformed.

The man who could make that happen is shouldering more hopes than anyone else. Good thing, then, that president-elect Barack Obama is so well acquainted with the word "hope". The Audacity of Hope was the title of a book in which he laid out his vision for America, and the most ringing phrase in the speech that made his election campaign possible – his intervention at the Democratic convention in 2004. "I'm not talking about blind optimism here," he said. "The almost wilful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or the healthcare crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores."

Only an American politician, and perhaps only Obama, could get away with sermonising in that way, but it had force, coming from him. He was talking about the kind of primal hope that drives our instinct for survival. We saw it here last week in Ben Parkinson, the soldier crippled and rendered speechless by a landmine, who has willed himself to learn to stand unaided and to speak through an electronic voice box, and who was granted his dearest wish of remaining in the Army. Barack Obama's speech included a reference to his own story: "The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope."

Audacious hope is not stupid or blind. It weighs up the situation and looks for a way forward rather than complaining. Even now, it is making many people think about how they can turn this downturn to their advantage. If society is changing, where will success lie? Is it in new ways of working? Is it in a startling new idea? Is it in a simpler life? Some people have found out over the past couple of weeks that buying less stuff, going out less often and staying in with people they love suits them. Yesterday, the bass player from the Icelandic band Sigur Ros told a radio programme how people in his country have reacted to financial meltdown. They have started talking to each other in the street again. They have begun protesting, calling for better government. "It has brought us together."

Maybe that's too idealistic, or not audacious enough. Let's go for broke, then, with a final prediction: next year the UK will win the Eurovision Song Contest again at last, with the number Andrew Lloyd Webber is composing. So powerful will be its effect that old enmities will fade away in a frenzy of communal singing. "Love changes everything," as another of the good lord's songs says. A wave of good feeling will spread out from the Eurovision final in Moscow to the rest of the planet, lifting the mood and the money markets alike.

Absurd? Yes. Extraordinary? Definitely. But no more so than what actually happened in 2008. If it can go so bad, it can go so right. The economy can recover. The shake-up of society can lead to better ways of living. You've got to have hope, haven't you? We'll be OK. More than OK. What would Del Boy say? This time next year...