Back in February, my younger sister gave birth to her first child. Lucy is the fifth grandchild for my parents, but the first girl, and I suspect she is getting extra special treatment as a result.
Already, at the age of ten months, she is full of insatiable curiosity about the world around her. We visited the Palm House in Sefton Park a few weeks ago, and she was captivated by the colours and smells of the exotic plants, looking around the Victorian structure with wide-eyed wonder.
She has known only love and affection since the moment she took her first breath, and she repays that love to everyone she meets. She is an absolute joy to be around – full of happy noises and laughter, rarely crying unless she is sick or tired, always greeting people with a smile when they walk into the room.
Of course, we are all looking forward to sharing in her first Christmas, as she experiences the magic of the festive season for the first time.
And yet, as I gaze at that innocent face, I feel a tinge of sadness, knowing that the future she is facing is far from rosy.
We are 100 days away from Brexit, which will – according to those much-maligned experts – damage our country’s economy and leave us all worse off, not just for a couple of years, but probably for a decade or more. We are told there will be adequate food, but when you have a 10-month-old in the family, reports that baby formula might run out in March 2019 are not some abstract problem.
Our awful Prime Minister is trumpeting her awful policy of ending free movement between the UK and Europe. Our freedom to live and work and love in 27 countries across Europe, cruelly snatched away from us to placate a crypto-fascist insurgency within the Tory party. Cultural and political cooperation with our nearest neighbours chucked on the bonfire to please pub-bore bigots.
Would Lucy have taken advantage of that freedom of movement? Who knows? But isn’t it sad that she won’t have the option?
Online and in the streets, far-right activists are massing. What was once a fringe group is now growing in influence, indulged by the BBC, newspapers and other “traditional” media. Their activity threatens to destabilise the world and usher in a new era of authoritarianism. The next generation – Lucy’s generation – will have to deal with the consequences.
Away from Brexit, austerity threatens to blight Lucy’s childhood. Cuts imposed all over the place by a callous Government that knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing. Will Lucy go to a decent school that isn’t falling down? Will there still be an NHS to take care of her if she gets sick? Police to help her when she’s in trouble?
Meanwhile, the world is burning up. Climate change is real and the effects are being felt now. Scientists are warning that disaster is imminent unless drastic action is taken immediately. And the Government focuses on gimmicks rather than real long-term change. They ban plastic straws but allow fracking to continue under Blackpool. Cancel railway electrification, but build more roads.
Lucy will never know any different – the harsher, crueller world she grows up in will be what she is used to. One day, when she is old enough to learn about such things, will she look me in the eye and ask me why things are the way they are? Did I do anything to stop the decline? What answer will I give her?
I keep trying to tell myself that it will all work out in the end. But I can’t shake the feeling that my niece’s life chances will be more limited, her dreams less achievable, and her future less certain, all because of deliberate choices by the people in charge. And that breaks my heart.