Orwell – A Celebration: Coming Up for Air, Unemployment and Uncertainty

  • Andy Beckett (Guardian journalist, longlisted for the Orwell Prize for Books 2010)
  • Lisa Harker (co-director of ippr)
  • Paul Mason (BBC Newsnight economics editor, shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Blogs 2009, cited in Newsnight’s Special Prize 2007 win)
  • Chaired by Jean Seaton (director of the Orwell Prize)

The first of four panel discussions celebrating the 60th anniversary of 1984 and 70th anniversary of Coming Up for Air in conjunction with Orwell: A Celebration.

Does anyone who isn’t dead from the neck up doubt that there’s a bad time coming? We don’t even know what it’ll be, and yet we know it’s coming. Perhaps a war, perhaps a slump—no knowing, except that it’ll be something bad. Wherever we’re going, we’re going downwards. Into the grave, into the cesspool—no knowing.

Orwell’s underrated novel Coming Up for Air, published 70 years ago in 1939, was written at a time of great uncertainty: war was looming, industrialisation and capitalism were changing the face of the country, and Britain was still recovering from the Great Depression. With Britain today facing the effects of the global economic crisis, and with unemployment over 2 million and rising, we explore the effect of unemployment and how to tackle it, and the lessons of the past.

Video