ONE hundred years ago, George V made a heartfelt entry in his private diary. “Please God, this dear old country will soon settle down and march in unity.”
The King expressed his fervent hope following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which brought a formal end to the Great War more than seven months after fighting had ceased, but his words have a strange resonance a century on as 2019 draws to its close.
There will be many who harbour exactly the same wish, that this dear old country of ours can finally move on from the unsettled, bewildered and even angry state that has beset it for years and once again find some sense of unity.
Britain has for so long felt uncertain and jumpy, unsure of who to trust and what to believe, that this divisive and damaging mood has come to seem like the status quo instead of the corrosive abnormality it really is.
The fractures in society are apparent everywhere – between north and south, rich and poor, old and young, within workplaces, amongst friends and even between family members, most of them attributable to the bitterness over Brexit and the inability of politicians to find a way forward.
But as a new year – and decade – beckon, they hold out the prospect that a start can be made on healing the divisions which have done such harm.
For good or ill, the question of Brexit is settled and Britain’s focus on making it work for everybody.
That can only happen, though, if a new bond of trust is forged between the Government and the North. The constituencies that turned their back on traditional allegiance to Labour and voted Boris Johnson into office expect a new start in exchange for the faith they put in him.
Mr Johnson has long billed himself as a One Nation Tory, and now he must prove it.
In Dewsbury or Don Valley, Wakefield or Keighley, and all the rest of the seats where the Conservatives ejected Labour, divisions will only be healed if their residents feel the Prime Minister is listening.
There remains a simmering sense of injustice and frustration in places like these at being neglected by successive governments. The vote for Mr Johnson was propelled by the same concerns that made so many traditional working class and industrial communities back Brexit.
Historically short-changed over public funds, worried that global competition is robbing them of their livelihoods and concerned about the impact of seemingly uncontrolled immigration, their verdict that Britain would be better off out of the EU was a bellow of rage at being ignored and even patronised by those who govern.
The degree of neglect felt by these communities was epitomised by those flooded out of their homes in the Don Valley only weeks ago. The Government’s response was sluggish until shamed into action, a state of affairs impossible to imagine if the floods had instead wrecked lives in the commuter towns of the Home Counties.
Mr Johnson won office by convincing voters he understands the injustices inflicted on Northern constituencies, and has both the determination and means to address their concerns.
He’s talked a very good game so far. Pledges of new money for rail and a rebalancing of the economy to close the North-South divide, allied to an inclusive message on his triumphant entry into Downing Street are the right things to do.
But the Prime Minister should go further. Yorkshire must be freed from the shackles of central control that have hobbled the county for so long, and given devolved powers so that it can determine its own future.
All these improvements must be delivered if we are to enter 2020 with a sense of optimism instead of the dread and angst that have characterised the past three-and-a-half years.
Trust in politicians has taken a ferocious battering over that period. Elements of every major party have come to be seen as enemies of the people instead of champions, frustrating their wishes instead of delivering them.
The politicians have only themselves to blame for this, with all sides guilty of dirty tricks, peddling lies, disseminating fake news and exploiting social media to engage in dishonest and disreputable behaviour which has only aggravated public mistrust.
That means the trust placed in Mr Johnson by the North is very fragile. Public relief at having a Government with a workable majority and a clear sense of direction that can actually get things done will only carry him so far.
In addition to being unsettled, the public is wary and alert to betrayal or chicanery, especially with Labour in such disarray it is incapable of holding the Government to account.
If there is any backtracking by the Prime Minister on action to improve the lot of everybody, especially here, the reaction will not only be furious but risks sending trust in our politics plummeting to new depths.
Politics in 2020 is going to have to remake itself. Honesty and graciousness need to be restored to debate now that the issue of Brexit has finally been decided by the electorate. Politicians have to demonstrate once more that they are on the side of the people.
For the sake of Britain – as well as for his own fortunes and record – Mr Johnson must be as good as his word. It is in his power to make this coming year one in which divisions are healed, and our dear old country settles down to move forward with as much unity as it can muster.
Andrew Vine writes in The Yorkshire Post every Tuesday.