Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Wealth of Possibilities

Last week, BBC1 aired a programme called Millionaire Basement Wars.  It described how, over the past decade, some 2,000 new basements have been excavated beneath high-value properties in central London, most notably in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.  The buildings are often listed, so there’s little scope to extend up or out.  That only leaves down.

Some basements are merely one-storey.  Some are two-storey.  Some, known as ‘icebergs’, are bigger than the house above them.  They provide room for all those essentials that wouldn’t otherwise fit.  The cinema.  The gym.  The sauna.  The swimming pool.  The hairdressing, manicure and pedicure suite.  The garage for five classic cars.  In one case, the developer provided an indoor, underground waterfall, 30 feet high.  Why?  Rich people get bored easily, he explained, so they need something to talk about.

That’s the problem with extreme wealth.  It’s so boring.  There’s a point beyond which increased wealth doesn’t make you any happier.  All it does is deprive others of the happiness that that wealth, better distributed, could have given them.  Economic efficiency without social efficiency doesn’t deliver the greatest good of the greatest number.  ‘Trickle-down economics’ just distorts priorities, increasing the production of, say, caviar rather than hospitals.

Saying this isn’t ‘envy’ at all.  Envy is wanting a better life for yourself and expecting somebody else to do something about it.  Wanting a better life for everyone isn’t envy.  It’s justice.  The Scandinavians have a phrase for their supportive social welfare system that explains why they also have a culture of enterprise: ‘secure enough to dare’.

Of course, the same is true of power.  When you think what could be done, locally and regionally, with just a fraction of the taxes we send up to London every year to subsidise the infrastructure of imaginary money-making, it’s enough to leave you feeling genuinely sick.

We’ve allowed ourselves to become the easy victims of a narrative of aspiration.  One in which the minor folk turn on each other and not on those whose industrial-scale grasping is what makes us minor.  ‘Hard-working families’ has become the must-have soundbite for all politicians with ambition.  You can almost hear the anxious twitching of curtains and the rumbustious rustling of today’s Daily Mail.  There are two things wrong with it.  One, naturally. is the idea that only families count.  That those working too hard to have time to form a family contribute nothing to society.  The other is that ‘hard work’ is easily recognisable.  It isn’t.

In the commercial sector, hard work will get you nowhere if what you’re working hard on isn’t profitable.  It’s the quality – that's to say, the relevance – of what you’re doing that matters, not its quantity.  Working smarter, not harder, is the key to productivity and profitability.  All economy, as Karl Marx noted, is economy of labour time.  In 1932 Bertrand Russell wrote a very perceptive essay entitled In Praise of Idleness, in which he pointed out that ultimately the purpose of work is to create the ability to stop doing it.  That in turn poses other questions.  How much of the work we currently do is necessary work?  How much of it would we miss if it wasn’t there? 

Arguably, a lot, perhaps most, of the work we do is highly damaging, psychologically, socially and environmentally, in which case our quality of life would be greatly improved not by economic growth but by economic shrinkage.  High net immigration is a sign of an unhealthy economy, one that is taking more than its fair share of the world’s resources and so dragging in the inhabitants of other countries who have come here to follow their wealth.  Internal migration, with London as the magnet, is another aspect of the same phenomenon, driven in that case by the power that London has to tax the provinces for its benefit.  The only solutions that the London parties can imagine – like HS2 – do not enable those provinces to serve themselves but only reinforce metropolitan dominance.  Underpinning them all is the silly idea that we can have more growth in total, let alone that we need it or want it.

We can see the outlines of a better solution forming but before we examine it further, let’s remind ourselves how irrelevant the London parties are to it.

The Blue Tories have been so busy lately promising give-aways it’s a wonder they’ve not been arrested for corrupt electoral practices.  Right-to-Buy is always a vote-winner because who’s going to vote against free money?  Since the super-rich don’t pay tax, it’s the squeezed middle who’ll foot the bill and they always vote for the Blue Tories anyway.  Plus, they can be pacified by exempting up-to-one-million-pound properties from Inheritance Tax.  Those whose homes have accelerated in value while they sat back and did nothing will enrich their children and consider it all their own really ‘hard work’.  As we’ve shown, half of all Inheritance Tax receipts come from London and the south-eastern corner of England.  It’s the taxes of every other corner that have created the boom economy there and it’s the taxes of every other corner too that will make up the shortfall in UK Government revenue if no tax is paid on homes up to £1 million.

Do we have the right to be angry?  Wait and see.

The Yellow Tories’ pitch to the public is that they’re the party to rein-in the extremes.  Without their moderating presence we could see radical change.  Cameron-Farage.  Or even Miliband-Sturgeon.  Time was when the Liberals viewed themselves as radicals.  Middle-of-the-road radicals maybe, but at least nominally radical.  There’s a strong possibility though that they’ve misread the times in which they now operate.  There’s a thirst for change, with Scotland leading the charge.  And that thirst for change operates in the wider context of a European revolt against Wall Street corporate colonialism and its dismantling of democracy.  The way money is being shovelled into the Purple Tories shows how far even the old guard have lost trust in the established parties and want things shaken up, just a little.

The Greens are promising to build 500,000 homes, against the 200,000 promised by both Blues and Reds.  (The Yellows want 300,000, including at least ten new garden cities.)  In the areas under pressure, there isn’t enough derelict land to provide anywhere near those sort of figures.  So if you’re not comfortable with seeing the Wessex countryside transformed into New West London, that’s yet another option to cross off the list.  What’s “green” about turning (mostly) greenfield sites into half a million houses?

The Red Tories look every bit as irrelevant as the rest.  When Miliband tries to position them as the voice of working people throughout the UK, it’s a muffled echo from the 70s that won’t do any more.  Who are really the selfish nationalists?  The SNP, who speak for Scotland and ignore the other home nations (while practising a genuine internationalism)?  Or Labour, who speak for the UK and ignore the rest of Europe (while boldly going wherever the White House directs)?  Labour are trying to tap into a sense of British-based solidarity that died with the industries Thatcher slaughtered.  For three decades they’ve been trying to get it back.  They can’t admit they’ve failed.  And that’s why they’re being superseded.

We look forward to the continuing wipe-out of the Unionist parties in Scotland.  In Wales, it will take longer.  Despite Leanne Wood’s master stroke in describing the London parties as four shades of grey, the fact is that the Welsh seem to like their bondage too much to break free of it right now.  It is, however, only a matter of time.  Renewed interest in regionalism and federalism within England points to a generalised demand for self-government that will not stop at Celtic borders.  And will not be content with any cobbled-together nonsense of metro mayors or combined authorities either.

What we’re seeing is a convergence of several themes.  Perhaps the most pivotal is the rise to real power of the first generation who lived through Thatcherism as young adults, who watched the kindlier world of their childhood being shattered by brash London loadsamoneys, backed up by a semi-fascist State with no respect for local democracy.  (A State that aped Labour instead of really challenging it.)  No wonder there’s a thirst for change: vengeance has been long awaited.

Such change requires a framework for action, one which the idea of a Europe of small nations and historic regions readily provides.  The scale of change throughout Europe over the next decade, as one country copies another, could well match that which followed the fall of the Berlin Wall.  This time it will be the turn of the old imperial states of western Europe and the smug elites they defend.  The only role here for dinosaurs like France, Spain or the UK is to keep getting in the way until patience can be contained no longer.

At the regional level, and that of small nations of equivalent scale, there’s a lot of work to be done, in creating new institutions, breathing life into long-suppressed identities, and in taking back our stolen wealth and power from London and its co-conspirators.  At the European level, there’s even more to be done.  To break the economic and political stranglehold of the USA and awake to our common interest as Europeans.  To take the banking system apart and bring to justice the thieves who run it.  To create the climate of thought that will allow our vital industries and services to be taken back into common ownership with little or no compensation payable to those who have sucked them dry.  To end private landed estates not through the minor irritant of taxation but through a radical re-evaluation of title.

Those who wait for the Labour Party to even consider such a programme will wait for ever.  The programme is one that needs to be more radical than anything on Attlee’s agenda in 1945.  Even to do as much as Attlee did is impossible in today’s Britain.  It won’t be done at the British level, because the British level is now irrelevant.  It’s a job for the Europe of a Hundred Flags.  Change will come about through the growth of nationalist and regionalist parties that are not afraid to define London as their adversary.  Not the London of ordinary Londoners but the London of assumptions, assumptions of innate superiority in politics, economics and culture.

Labour cannot deliver that.  Labour have their sights on way too many marginals in London and the surrounding shires to ever be credible as an authentic voice for marginalised Britain.  Labour have no plans to cut off London’s drip-feed of our tax money.  Labour have no plans to abolish entire Whitehall departments in favour of genuine localism.  They have no plans to get even with the parasitical City of London.  They have no plans to shut down huge swaths of London's cultural funding and disperse it across the UK.  That is why the nationalist and regionalist parties must do all of this for them.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Live and Let Live?

Welcome publicity was received this week from the National Secular Society, the result of a survey of the views of minor parties on secularism and religion.

The NSS focused-in on our policy of phasing-out religious involvement in publicly-funded education.  Ironic, given King Alfred’s victory for Christianity over paganism?  Well, that was the accusation in one tweet that followed.  The fact is of course that we’re the party for the Wessex of today and tomorrow, not the Wessex of 878.  We’ve described before how our ruralist outlook, coupled with a radical distrust of privilege, cannot reconcile the London parties’ rhetoric about choice in education with the reality in many villages.  That is to say, the long shadow cast by Victorian aristocratic patronage of the Anglican cause.  In some counties, well over half the primary schools are Anglican-run.  Some choice.

Our schools policy sits alongside other policies – such as disestablishment of the Church of England within Wessex – that stem from a belief that in a successfully pluralist society the State must always strive to be impartial.  Defenders of the status quo routinely condemn any move to strip away religious privilege in the UK as ‘persecution’.  No, it isn’t.  Persecution is what Christians are suffering in the Middle East.  That persecution – and the corresponding privileging of a brutally intolerant brand of Mahometanism – is more easily countered if our own conscience is clear.  Are we truly different from, say, Iran?  Not while the UK is the only other country in the world to have clerics sitting in its legislature as of right.

Among the leading London parties, the cross-party consensus is now well established: public services are not to be provided by public bodies.  Instead, public money is to be given to private interests, with few if any conditions, to enable them to stoke the fires of sectarianism.  Faith schools today, faith hospitals tomorrow?  With faith welfare to follow, complete with tests of proper religious observance for the poor and needy?

If Ed Miliband can see no problem in deepening the consensus then his long-distance vision may need correcting.  A favourite scenario on the far Right is an England that has descended into civil war as immigrants battle it out with the English.  Bradford and Birmingham become Baghdad and Beirut.  As scenarios go, it may not attract a high degree of probability.  High enough though to ask whether policy-makers know what they’re doing when they hand millions from our taxes to those with a vested interest in the cultivation of mutual suspicion.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Denial of Service

Today we were contacted by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal.  

Yes, that Wall Street Journal.  Would we like to talk to them about our aims and aspirations?

Here are three reasons why the answer might not be a resounding ‘Yes’:

One.  Two.  Three.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cameron’s Cocoon

Guest contribution by Colin Bex, Wessex Regionalist candidate for Witney

It was a cynical charade of a hustings on Friday, organised by Churches Together against democracy, from which not only a majority of candidates was excluded, so too I learn were the local and national press, all of whom informed me they were not best pleased, and took numerous shots of all of us demonstrators outside the church.

The final straw came when I and the press were waiting to lobby Cameron as he exited from a secluded side-door of the church, when MI5, MI6 – and for all I know the FBI – surrounded the entourage and hustled them down a yet more remote path and on into one unmarked vehicle of a number of armoured Chelsea tractors in which they were whisked away into the Witney darkness to destinations unknown.

There should be a case against this with the Electoral Commission – any one up for it?  I'm rather tied up just now...

A letter in today's Oxford Mail by local Brigitte Hickman sums up the proceedings well, while a report in yesterday's edition includes a reference to Wessex Regionalists amongst those demonstrating outside for having been banned from participating.

I am keeping an eye out for hustings in the constituency and will post details.  That's all for now – back to the campaign trail.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Familiar Territory

In his first report from the campaign trail, Colin Bex has highlighted some familiar territory for us, and for smaller parties generally, and that’s the refusal of those in authority to allow our case to be heard.

Witney Churches Together have again arranged a hustings from which Colin – along with candidates from all the other less established parties – has been barred.  Not just from participating but even from attending.  The reason WCT – motto ‘The Churches of Witney are here to serve God and the community’ – reportedly gave for barring Colin was that ‘I don’t know you so I can’t trust you’.  It seems they’d rather vote for the devil they do know than give a platform to a candidate determined to open up our politics to a breath of fresh air.

Colin intends to mount a protest outside, before and after the meeting.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Witney Reloaded

Bex is back.  Our President is taking on David Cameron, who this time is defending his Witney seat not as Leader of the Opposition but as Prime Minister, having presided over a government notable for its indifference to the suffering of ordinary folk, in Wessex and elsewhere across our Disunited Kingdom.

A vote for Cameron is a vote for more austerity.  A vote for the other leading London parties is little different, austerity-lite, but austerity all the same.  A vote for Bex is a vote to take back our stolen power and wealth and to shape our lives and communities for ourselves.

Anyone with help to offer should contact Colin at his campaign email address, regionalist@wessexbureau.net

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Value of Difference

We recently reiterated that regionalisation doesn’t stop just because the ruling parties at Westminster have an ideological blindspot about it.

Budgetary pressures are forcing all the emergency services to think about sharing work to spread the burden.  The ambulance service is now fully regionalised, apart from the Isle of Wight.  Fire brigade mergers are all the rage and five Wessex counties already share a control room network, four being in the ‘South West’ and one in the ‘South East’.  The areas used for policing have transcended county boundaries for well over a generation now – only four Wessex counties still have their own force – and work-sharing is becoming more commonplace.

Last month the Devon & Cornwall and Dorset constabularies announced link-up plans.  In Cornwall, where the 1967 merger with a couple of English forces still rankles, the announcement was met with dismay, even though fears that a formal merger is planned seem, so far, to be exaggerated.  What they have done is prompt urgent discussion about what a Cornish-centred alternative would look like.  Could the three emergency services, four if the coastguard is included, work together as a unit under a National Assembly of Cornwall?

Well, why not?  Cornwall is geographically isolated, giving it coastal issues that are far more acute than elsewhere, and if it wants to do things its own way, nobody else will suffer.  Mergers for mergers’ sake make about as much sense as managing Shetland’s water supply from the Scottish mainland (and yes, that’s been the case since 1996).  If the Isle of Wight can have its autonomy in ambulance and fire cover, why not Cornwall, with four times its population?  And could that hold for policing too?

The emergency services working together sounds like common sense and it’s not an idea unique to Cornwall.  In Somerset, the three services are exploring the possibility of developing joint blue light response facilities, sharing workshops, offices and crew welfare provision.  At the same time, integration within each of the three services in different areas seems likely to continue alongside integration between them in the same area.  The balance to be struck will vary according to the terrain.  In an area like Wessex, where county boundaries can appear quite theoretical on the ground, closer links across them may be the way to make savings.  In more geographically distinct areas this may make much less sense than pooling resources locally.

That, of course, is the beauty of a regionalist and localist approach to problem-solving.  It’s not about one-size-fits-all.  It is all about capitalising on the value of difference.  But with the three services all now developing different local alliances, and therefore different operational boundaries, who, short of the-powers-that-be in London, will provide a strategic overview?  Time for devolution to get its act together.