Saturday, March 28, 2015

Review of 2014

Every year when we submit our accounts to the Electoral Commission we are also required to provide a ‘Review of Political Activities’ covering the year just gone.

The 2014 Review has recently been forwarded to the Commission and here is what it says:

Coming between elections – Eastleigh in 2013 and the General Election in 2015 – it might be thought that 2014 would be a quiet year.  Far from it.

Scotland’s referendum on independence provided the pivot.  Our President, Colin Bex, spent a few days in Edinburgh before, during and after the poll and made many new media and political contacts there.  The Party participated as fully as we were allowed in the media reaction to the result and the subsequent debate on an English dimension to devolution.  This included multiple television and radio interviews for the President and the Secretary-General.  The debate has since been narrowed down and moved on.  The London parties would rather discuss English-votes-for-English-laws (devolution from the centre to the centre) and city-regions and metro-mayors (shuffling the local pack of powers, not the constitutional dynamiting of Whitehall that is actually required).  We continue to be active in promoting the real alternative.

Popular and media interest has continued to grow, as charted by support on Facebook and Twitter and visits to our website and blog.  Throughout the year, the President and Secretary-General made use of online petition sites such as Avaaz, 38 Degrees and Change.org to lobby for Wessex and in supporting related causes to publicise the Wessex dimension.

In addition, Colin has joined marches and has participated in demonstrations on a number of high profile issues local, European and global, including against the TTIP and climate change.  He also continues to contribute to the debate about the real nature of economics and money, and the need for radical reform, as the establishment worldwide entrenches austerity in shameless collusion with those responsible for the chaos that produced it.

Upon invitation of the CAMRA and the Leader of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, Wessex son Alan 'Howling Laud' Hope, Colin has been special guest at several promotions of a number of new 'CoALEition' Ales produced in microbreweries across the region.  One brew, Hope and Glory (motto ‘Insanity prevents austerity’) has been served in the House of Commons bar.  These events resulted in coverage for us in 11 different newspaper and magazine articles in Somerset, Hampshire and Surrey, and we were featured in 6 of the photos used by these publications.

In November, Colin attended the Annual Conference of Mebyon Kernow – The Party for Cornwall at Truro once again, and links with other regionalists have been cultivated, in England and across a turbulent Europe.

In broader terms than just party politics, 2014 was a great year for Wessex.  Following the removal in 2012 of legal constraints on flying the Wessex Wyvern, the region’s cultural association, Wessex Society, persuaded a third of the county and unitary councils in Wessex to fly the flag for St Ealdhelm’s Day (25th May).  It was also unfurled by our Secretary-General, David Robins, for BBC West during their discussion programme on devolution that aired on 5th November.  Our appeal to the mainstream was boosted when historian Tom Holland coined the term ‘progressive heptarchism’.  This describes the imaginative approach we take to regional names and areas, in contrast to the bureaucratic compass-points still favoured by the London parties.”

The Party’s Annual General Assembly is being held today in Weston-super-Mare.  Key decisions are expected to be taken on our participation in the General Election, which could see unprecedented interest in parties such as ours offering a radical decentralist alternative to the self-obsessed Westminster charade.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cider House Rules II

We don’t often get to discuss the politics of cider.  Politicians are usually smart enough to leave cider alone.  But it did make the headlines this week, with news of changes in EU rules that could have a devastating effect on small producers.

This, of course, is the opposite of what should be happening, even under the EU if EU thinking on re-localised production were to lead to matching actions.  The EU is a combination of the wrong things done badly and the right things not done at all.  That’s partly down to how it’s designed, as an economic union that does political things, like regulation, when it needs to be a political union that does economic things, like asserting European self-sufficiency and solidarity on the global stage.  While leaving internal regulation to the regions.

The vision just isn’t there, which is why so many are turning off and turning away.  They’re not helped by misinformation that goes unchallenged, pumped out by a media whose handle often seems cranked by bitter old men dreaming of a new 1950s.  The facts about Europe, when you can get them, are often surprising.  And one is that it’s wrong to blame the EU over the craft cider rules.  It’s London again, that has so far failed to make the case for an exemption.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Useful Idiots?

This week saw a rally at Westminster in support of housebuilding.  There’s no denying the heartache if you’re not adequately housed, but many demanding a cull of our countryside are being duped by those who stand to benefit financially from a yet-more-bricks-and-mortar solution.

There’s no sound case for adding to our housing stock if we can’t properly manage the stock we already have.  Leading politicians who bang the drum over a shortage of affordable homes have done nothing to end Right-to-Buy, which continues to bleed the social rented stock much faster than it can be replenished.  That includes replenished on the basis that housebuilders get to build two market homes for every affordable one, market homes in places they might otherwise not get to build at all.

Do we have sensible lettings policies for the stock we do still have?  No.  Often the townies get priority.  In parts of Cornwall, the landlords, or their nominating authorities, are councils from Birmingham, London and Manchester.  The locals aren’t eligible.  How widespread is that?  Are Wessex retirement zones similarly blighted?  And this is before we start on second homes and holiday lets, long-term empty properties, derelict buildings and under-used floorspace.

Above all, let’s not forget the elephant in the south-east corner, whose wealth distorts everyone’s housing market.  We know all the jibes about nimbyism.  We know we’re meant to feel ashamed that we fight so hard for the Wessex countryside that feeds, powers and waters London, amuses it at the weekend and buries its unending stream of waste.  We know we supposedly lack a sense of ‘social responsibility’ if we refuse to take London’s overspill.  But d'you know what?  We’re not the irresponsible ones.  They’re those who suck the world’s wealth into London and then expect others to solve problems we didn’t create.

In Northumbria there are whole streets, even whole villages, of sound housing that has no takers.  The so-called ‘bedroom tax’ makes the older two-bed terraces unviable for those on benefits.  (Not that Labour cares.)  Will they be abandoned to ‘market forces’, as the population re-locates south?  To join the international migrants who also congregate in the south because that’s where the work is.  Let’s remember that UKIP, as yet another party of free market ideologues, are essentially unconcerned about inter-regional migration.  And what are those international migrants if not a regional problem on a bigger scale?  The Poles would still be in Poland if their economy hadn’t been stuck behind the Iron Curtain for 45 years.

Is it all inevitable, this surrender to the ineffable will of the market?  Wrong question, because this is NOT solely about the market.  It’s also about the corporate capture of the British State and the renunciation of its power to influence events in a win-win direction.  Not just in terms of policy but hard cash too.  The UK is a big enough spender to shape the market.  UK public spending this year is £731 billion.  Is it all spent well?  So that those who want development can get it and those who don’t can breathe a sigh of relief?  No, it isn’t.  And the result is an economic catastrophe for the one and an environmental catastrophe for the other.

We don’t need more housing.  We need more fairness.  We won’t get it from London.  Which is why Wessex so urgently needs to take its sovereignty back.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wanted: an NHS

“The power which causes the several portions of the plant to help each other, we call life… intensity of life is also intensity of helpfulness — completeness of depending of each part on all the rest.  The ceasing of this help is what we call corruption.”
John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Volume 5 (1860)

Cornish academic Bernard Deacon tweeted this week that if you think Labour can be trusted on the NHS you should remember what they did to it last time they were in power.  It was a year at the weekend since the death of one-time Bristol MP Tony Benn, who predicted a revolution should anyone abolish the NHS.  Well, there’s been a huge amount of tampering and so far we’re still waiting for the reaction to start.  That’s partly because of the cross-party consensus that the NHS is to be dismantled by stealth and partly due to an unwillingness to consider less familiar parties to support in defence of it.

Simon Jenkins, writing this week in The Guardian (a London newspaper), suggested that what’s needed is a more integrated service.  Why aren’t pharmacies based in doctors’ surgeries?  A very good question.  In recent years the NHS has spent a lot of money relocating surgeries to better premises, sometimes a long way from their old ones, but the pharmacies haven’t necessarily moved with them.  Why is it not thought through from the patient’s point of view? 

If we had a real NHS, with all prescriptions free, there’s no reason why pharmacists, like doctors and nurses, should not be an integral part of it, even if they remained as private businesses under contract.  The NHS could, for example, save the cost of printing paper prescriptions, the order simply passing from the doctor’s screen to the pharmacist’s to be made ready for collection before the patient leaves the surgery.

For a generation now the idea has been that we need to break up and privatise the last of the ‘socialist monopolies’.  A UKIP spokesman even described the NHS as the ‘Reichstag bunker of socialism’.  (Next time the cheeky chap’s in Berlin he might like to check the geography: the Reich Chancellery bunker, if that’s what he meant, was nowhere near the Reichstag.)  They’re all barking up the wrong tree, quite possibly the money tree of private profit.  What the NHS needs is not less socialism but more, with full integration of all caring services in each locality and region, and full democratic accountability for all non-clinical decisions.  Plus, of course, the flushing-out of PFI and all other forms of vampire finance.  If the State has to go crawling to bankers for the cash to do good then the cash is plainly in the wrong hands to begin with.

The NHS thus re-imagined would be a prime example of the community-benefit State in action.  That is to say, a State that organises essential services, whether publicly or privately delivered, for the benefit of the community, not that of funders or providers (whose interests are NOT the same as the community’s).  A State therefore in which elected representatives ask searching questions about why things are done as they are.  It’s about getting more out of less, rather than hoping for increased resources that in the longer term will not be there.  The community, as the beneficiary of what works, must also be the judge of what works.  It should be unthinkable to bypass the community in favour of bureaucratic assessments over which the community does not have the final, or indeed any, say.

Health and well-being at an individual level are also the product of the health and well-being of the environment and the society that we inhabit.  Preserving, rehabilitating and enriching our land and our culture are part of creating a sense of home in a world where roots are increasingly being torn up.  The defence of Wessex must be about meeting all our irreducible needs, without encroaching on the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  That was where the classic definition of ‘sustainable development’ was leading us but, since posterity doesn’t have the vote, the current generation is taking much more than its fair (or healthy) share.

Regionalism is neither necessarily of the Left nor necessarily of the Right and so is open to allegations of inconsistency from both.  The fact is that it’s strictly empirical, guided by what sustains our communities in reasonable liberty, reasonable security and reasonable comfort.  It cannot create health any more than it can create happiness.  But it can remove the barriers that remote and undemocratic centralism and its matching market obsessions have erected against both.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Building: the Resistance

The resistance to building is building.  There’s now a national alliance, Community Voice on Planning.  Here’s what’s currently centre-screen on their home page:

“Please don’t forget our DAY OF ACTION on 12 APRIL.  The theme is ‘Listen to the People’s Voice on Planning’

This is a sample of some of the Events that we know of so far:

·        Rural Oxfordshire Action Rally (ROAR) is calling all action groups, parish councils and residents to join them as they present a united front opposed to the senseless concreting over of green fields surrounding our towns, villages and hamlets in the name of economic progress.  They held a rally in Witney on Saturday 24 January.  Their next rally will be in Wantage and is hosted by the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group.  It will take place on our day of Action 12 April.  So if you are in the neighbourhood please join them at 11am.

·        Save the Countryside has moved its annual walk from May to the shared date of 12th April.  They are organising a 2 hour walk with refreshments around the perimeter of the green belt land area proposed for an estate of 4800 houses on the NW of Cheltenham.

·        East Devon Alliance are holding a double funeral for Death of Democracy and Death of the Countryside with 2 coffins, speeches on national (NPPF) issues, District Council and Litany of contentious developments across the district, to be held in park outside District Council Offices at 3pm on Sunday 12 April.  Groups with placards from across the district, petition etc.”

How revealing that all three examples are in Wessex, truly the front line in saving England from the octopus.  A look through the list of CoVoP’s member organisations reveals many more gatherings of besieged and desperate local folk who can’t understand why localism doesn’t mean that locals get to decide.

Pressure groups are better than nothing, of course.  But who are they lobbying?  And why do they expect to be listened to?  Are they corporate donors to party funds?  Are they on the Minister’s Christmas card list?

Is it not all a waste of time, without a willingness to unseat the politicians responsible for the problem?  Nothing will change in Wessex until all of the London parties are destroyed at the polls.  We wish our countryside campaigners the very best of luck; we’re also ready to welcome them as members when, as sure as bricks follow corn, they lose the battle.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Aye’ds of March

Et tu, Nicola?  It’s one thing to have Plaid Cymru singing the praises of an anti-Welsh Green Party but today we had the SNP join the chorus.  Nicola Sturgeon has urged folk in England to vote either for the Greens or for a Labour candidate that would challenge Ed Miliband from the left.

We would like to think that Plaid and the SNP are serious in their commitment to a Europe of small nations and historic regions.  (And if they have any influence in the next parliament that they might like to promote the idea, alongside a genuine brand of localism.)  They are both, after all, members of the European Free Alliance.  That’s not how it looks from here.  Or perhaps from Cornwall, where fellow EFA members Mebyon Kernow are similarly beneath recognition.  It doesn’t take much: all you have to say is, in Cornwall or in England, vote for your local party of self-government and if it’s not standing then, and only then, might you like to consider the second-rate option of voting Green.  Because in Scotland and Wales, the Greens are part of the opposition.  Why should it be any different anywhere else?

Nicola Sturgeon’s final suggestion, a vote for ‘progressive’ Labour candidates as part of keeping David Cameron and his (cross-party) ideology out of power, is similarly off-target.  There’s no ‘progressive’ Labour Party in Scotland: that’s the SNP’s winning card.  Why should it be any different anywhere else?  A vote for Labour is a vote for Jack Straw to imagine a ban on the SNP as a separatist menace.  Over-enthusiastic SNP evangelism on behalf of Labour risks a Labour majority government that could set about doing great damage to the nationalist cause.  Telling English voters that the Tories are worse than Labour is, sadly, an own goal.  The truth is we know they’re as bad as each other.  The more that leaders of the alternative act as if the terrible twins are an ineradicable fact of our politics, the more they help to keep things that way.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Castles in the Air?

In our previous post we described the across-the-board hypocrisy of Wessex MPs who still claim to be able to deliver unlimited growth while simultaneously protecting all of the environment that locals cherish.

Wednesday’s Western Daily Press furnishes a classic example.  Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy was reported as initiating a debate at Westminster on the protection of high-grade farmland.  She castigated the Government for the way in which this key issue falls through the gap between two departments, is not a priority for either, and yet is of vital importance to “food security, food sovereignty and the UK’s declining self-sufficiency in food”.  She went on to say that in 2011 DEFRA reported a huge loss of the best land to development over recent years, “although we do not really know the extent, as such data are not collected systematically”.

News this is not.  We’ve been saying it all for years.  And years.  And years.  But it's an issue rarely on the political radar.  When it does appear, it's often hiding behind more fashionable ideas like 'urban food growing', the subject of the debate in which Ms McCarthy spoke.  Yes, allotments and gardens matter, but being hobby peasants won't keep us all fed: we need serious farming too.  The fact that MPs are debating the protection of allotments but are continuing to sidestep the bigger picture is an indication of how little they understand or care what goes on outside the big cities.

Kerry McCarthy’s party is Labour.  Her party did not in government, and does not in opposition, have any policy to curb population growth.  It’s even keener than the Conservatives – if that’s possible – to concrete over southern England in pursuit of astronomically high housing targets.  If you want homes for ever more millions Kerry, and you rightly won’t sacrifice our farmland to do it, please tell us, where will you put them?