Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Experimental Subjects

The local press today quote one of the Occupy Bristol folk as saying they abandoned their College Green camp after discovering they’d all been part of a sinister ‘social experiment’. The mind boggles.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Embracing All

A frequent objection to decentralisation is that small-scale jurisdictions are prone to takeover by well-organised, highly motivated bands of fanatics. History furnishes examples, from Savonarola in Florence to the Anabaptists in M√ľnster and the Calvinists in Geneva.

The threat is real but centralisation does not remove it. All that it does is magnify its consequences. There are two reasons why the threat is not what it seems.

The first is that small-scale dictatorships are more easily contained by their neighbours and so, unable to expand, they must ultimately implode due to lack of resources to sustain themselves in the face of a hostile world. Professor Leopold Kohr, in his 1957 classic, The Breakdown of Nations, compared the career of Adolf Hitler with that of Huey Long, Governor of Louisiana. Both were demagogues, harnessing popular discontent to accumulate personal power, but the boundaries of Louisiana set a natural limit to Long’s. Hitler as dictator of Bavaria would have been a comic, Chaplinesque figure. Long as U.S. President would not.

The second reason is that liberals wrongly assume that a large-scale jurisdiction will necessarily pursue the policies with which they agree. There is no reason why this should be so, and plenty of examples, especially from the Communist bloc, that prove the point. The larger the state territory, the more difficult it is for dissidents to flee successfully. The smaller it is, and therefore the more numerous its neighbours, the more numerous the options available for those fleeing and the more likely it is that one or more of those neighbours will be receptive to refugees. Decentralists oppose world government not because there are no problems that would benefit from discussion at the global scale but because, short of interstellar flight, there is no means of escape from repressive rulings.

As a matter of fact, small-scale jurisdictions do tend to be less liberal. Some Swiss cantons have quite a reputation for it. Put another way though, they recognise that actions – like those giving rise to social security payments – do have consequences. In a small community, these are clear for all to see but in a larger one are blurred by being shared between many more folk, who individually have little influence over what the policy and the payments should be. In a small jurisdiction the link between population and resources is self-evident and the pressure therefore exists to keep them in balance. Naturally, this requires a limit to the size of economic units as well as political ones: tentacular corporations are incompatible with effective local accountability.

If small communities are more ‘conservative’, should radicals seek to empower them? It’s a question that’s been asked ever since the French Revolution, when Parisians opposed regional autonomy because they saw it as creating bastions of reaction.

If we wish to be consistent and avoid the charge of hypocrisy, then we must answer affirmatively. Radical politics worthy of the name has to move beyond substituting enlightened despotism for the unenlightened kind. We are not living in the 1790s, when a reactionary countryside might starve a revolutionary capital into submission. In 2012, all our communities should be free to make their own decisions, whether we approve of them or not.

And how should they make them? That too is their decision. Just as no country welcomes interference in its constitutional affairs, neither should city, town or village. Nevertheless, we as a party active in such affairs advocate the rebuilding of community on the basis of a living local democracy. This is not, contrary to Westminster thinking, something that can be created by legislation, doled out to the trusted few who meet the prescribed criteria. It does not arise from legal decisions but from ethical ones. It is the result of a shared commitment to inclusive participation in civic life. We have to be careful to distinguish traditions that bond a community together from privileges that drive it apart. We want knowledge of our history to inspire us, but not to the extent that it becomes a dictatorship of the dead.

The principles at work here are not limited to the constitutional. A living local democracy, truly empowered, would start to question many things we have always taken for granted. Why do so many Wessex acres belong to doubtless decent chaps who have them only because an ancestor was a crook and flatterer at the court of King Henry VIII? Why do so many other acres belong to financial institutions with no long-term stake in Wessex society? Why are so many of our homes and farms owned by those who made their money in activities of dubious legality in the City of London? To take back the ancient land of Wessex for the folk of Wessex today is the kind of rallying call we need. At the heart of our party’s vision is the idea of ‘the community of Wessex’, resident in most cases upon ‘the territory of Wessex’, an inclusive community that exists for everyone, not just for those who currently make up the moneyed class. And we are growing it, bit by bit.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Everyone’s Fault But

More ‘creative thinking’ from the banksters and their buddies...

And note well the comment from one respondent here, especially towards the end. Draining the Labour Party of its strength remains THE key task for genuine radicals today, including in Wessex, where it has no conceivable future if not as a parasite clinging to more powerful forces long-based outside our region.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ill Repute

Eric Pickles was interviewed on Channel 4 today, defending the right of local councils to begin their meetings with Christian prayers. The Communities Secretary is often a half-hearted localist but half a heart is better than most politicians can muster. He is, of course, right that it should be for councils to make their own decisions about procedure.

In doing so, however, councils need also to consider their reputation. Bideford Town Council, in deciding to assert their rights in court rather than become an inclusive municipality, and then failing to win the case, have put their town on the map for all the wrong reasons. It’s now open season for cartoonists to question whether the town still has its stocks, and pillory, and ducking-stool. Maybe the occasional skimmity-ride. Can’t even rule out a witch-burning or two. ‘Bideford’ and ‘bigoted’ merge effortlessly in the headline-writer’s mind. And now that they’re fused, it’ll be no easy job to get them parted again.

Divide & Strengthen

Readers may recall that we drew attention to a long-standing attempt by the London regime to hamper the growth of Wessex consciousness. That is to say, the exclusion of regional flags from the list of those that may be flown without official permission. Fortunately, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has listened enough to issue a discussion paper on liberalising the controls on flag-flying. This proposes to allow the flag of any ‘current or historic UK traditional region’. If that includes the Wessex Wyvern, as it must, then well done that man. What a shame Labour’s control freaks couldn’t have brought themselves to do this years ago.

Perhaps the most interesting consequence of the draft wording is that the London regime has been forced to concede that traditional regions actually exist. The proof is that they have traditional flags. Which folk fly. And which are recognised by the Flag Institute, precisely because folk do fly them.

The existence of an area with a flag does not necessarily mean that it has democratic institutions to match. Some county flags exist, which represent the traditional county, including modern unitary authorities that stand apart from the county council. Cornwall has a flag but is divided between two unitary authorities, one for the mainland, the other for the Isles of Scilly, though both are constitutionally part of the Duchy of Cornwall. England has a flag, but no parliament exclusively its own. Wessex has a flag but…

Nevertheless, it’s a start if folk can as freely show their loyalty to Wessex as to, say, Wiltshire or England. It also demonstrates flexibility and pragmatism from the Coalition. No doubt there are those within its ranks that share both our distaste for the Prescott zones and our dismay that more traditional alternatives have been so thoroughly discouraged by officialdom.

Our hope is that the ‘new regionalism’ now emerging, based around traditional geographical blocks like Northumbria and Wessex, will also be more appealing to advocates of an English Parliament and to civic nationalists in England, as part of a general constitutional transformation.

The presentation of the Prescott zones, for example in the 2002 White Paper, was remarkable for the absence of any reference to common English interests distinct from those managed at UK level. We do not think they are numerous. Real regions could deal with most things by themselves, just as the Scots and the Welsh do. But the assumption was made that the UK would deal with such common English interests as did arise (and, given the limited devolution planned, these would have remained extensive). There was no suggestion that inter-regional co-operation might have any role in this, despite the tentative moves in this direction by the unelected regional assemblies and RDAs forming their own networks. Indeed, the White Paper was explicit that the UK Parliament – with its potential for West Lothian interventions – would continue to legislate for education and health policy. Allegations of unfairness over such arrangements were inevitable.

So the stage was set for an English nationalist backlash against regionalisation. That the regions drew most of their powers up from Town Halls and County Halls, not down from Whitehall, added the other millstone.

It needn’t have been like this. A better man than Blair or Brown might have approached matters in a more generous spirit, recognising that losing control over some areas to Labour’s opponents was an honest price to pay for safeguarding it in its heartlands. You cannot devolve, yet micro-manage at the same time, and still be seen to be fair. Labour sided with the mandarins against the people of England because it was in its UK-wide political interests to do so. It could not be seen to be abandoning its supporters in Tory-majority regions by urging them to discover their own path to regionalism, one more fitted to democratic regional character. Hence Brown’s obsession with Britishness, with himself as the means of holding it all together.

Labour’s stance allowed regio-sceptics to claim that England was being wiped off the map. It wasn’t true. England wasn’t on the map anyway. Few distinctively English institutions exist, by comparison with Scotland and Wales. Administratively, England is ‘whatever’s left over’ of the common State. That’s why it’s been so remarkably elastic over the centuries, variously taking in Cornwall, Wales and bits of France. It also wasn’t true that division equalled negation. England is divided into counties and still exists. Australia, Canada, the U.S.A., Germany and Switzerland all have federal constitutions yet still exist, despite a degree of autonomy at state level that we in Wessex can but dream of. Divided? Yes, but constructively so. Conquered? Certainly not. Strengthened? Undoubtedly. The creation of alternative conversations within England would lead to a much richer society, politically and culturally. For example, the regional media would be boosted by having new opportunities to cover debate in regional parliaments.

In fact, the fear of ‘losing England’ had little to do with the regions and much more to do with the London regime’s desire to hold on to its control over them within a UK framework. It could cope with regions, especially lots of little ones with hardly any powers. What it could not cope with was the idea of regions banding together to deal with all-England issues. It could not cope with the idea that it is not for the UK to micro-manage England, using Scottish Labour MPs to enforce its will. Our own future choice of allies may well depend on whether Wessex is to be a region within the UK or a region of an independent England. And that’s an outcome that’s largely driven by the Scots too.

Whatever happens around us, our focus remains Wessex. We have no time for those who would have us sacrifice Wessex to the greater glory of an ‘England’ that in practice is an unapologetic facade for London dominance. We keep our distance therefore from the type of English nationalist who sees in all things regional a plot to weaken England. The Anglo-Norman type of nationalist, who regards a ‘strong’, united English State as necessary in the face of threats coming thick and fast from all directions. It’s actually rather un-English and not the kind of analysis we support. It doesn’t make for a more co-operative, mutually respectful world to see enemies everywhere. But even if the analysis were true, defence and foreign affairs are never devolved matters in a federal constitution. And the more decentralised England becomes, the easier it is to apply moral pressure on others to decentralise too. Looking at the success of those who’ve already done so, it’s an abiding wonder that everyone doesn’t see the logic in empowering as many communities as possible. You fly that flag then – and don’t let the bullies say nay.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Realising Some Virtual Potential

A Cornish blog at the weekend called attention to the fact that the debate on the UK’s constitutional future is now on the move once more. Scotland may go it alone. The North wants recognition. Will Wessex be left behind?

It’s up to us. We do not, as a matter of principle, respond to blogs, websites or other media too closely associated with the despised London parties. Experience shows that they are influenced by the prospect of losing seats and by absolutely nothing else. Why should we be surprised about that? Best not to waste energy on these clunking dinosaurs, nor, worse still, give them the recognition their centralist egos crave. Other forums are open and receptive to us and should be used to build support for the Party. We are on Facebook and Twitter – @WessexRegion – and always on the look-out for new opportunities to spread the word, while acknowledging that we cannot be everywhere at once. Nor should we always try to be, where the content is clearly just a troll fight that puts off serious readers. But intelligent debate has to occur somewhere and print is, remember, a dying medium.

Luddites may quibble. The Internet is a huge user of electric power, clamouring for space in a sustainable future. Yet even its opponents will find themselves using it more and more to make their arguments. If you want to change the rules, you have to be in the game.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Jam Tomorrow: New Labour and the New Jerusalem

The defeat of New Labour’s assembly plan for the north-east corner of Northumbria, in 2004’s referendum is often claimed as proof that regionalism is finished. Advocates of a triumphalist English Parliament cite polls showing support for regional assemblies now trailing at 9%. They forget that polls used to show a thumping majority in favour, UNTIL it was revealed how little was actually likely to be devolved. That contrast suggests that what is needed is not a timid approach to region-building that starts with a committee here or a partnership there but a systematic dynamiting of the whole Whitehall machine in favour of full-blown regional parliaments, and no half measures.

A recent academic paper records, in excruciating detail, how useful idiots in the ‘North East’ zone were led on by New Labour to bring about the demise of a project the leadership never really wanted to succeed. The belief that voters would back not real devolution but a costly means to go on lobbying for real devolution backfired badly. Back to the drawing board then.

So when Peter Hain this week sought to re-open the regionalisation debate, his contribution deserved to be greeted with a healthy dose of scepticism. Labour in opposition always acts as if no-one has any memory of just what these ghastly crooks got up to while in power. Nice try, Peter, but it doesn’t fool us.

The truth is that as far as Wessex is concerned, Labour is not the opposition. It has never enjoyed a majority here and so cannot be expected to welcome a self-governing Wessex. If we want an opposition to what the Coalition, building seamlessly on Labour’s work, is now doing to us, then our only hope is to build our own.

Just Say No

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale includes a scene of community punishment. Not punishment IN the community but punishment BY the community. The oppressed Handmaids are goaded into participating in the execution of enemies of the regime, ‘particicution’ to use the precise term. For the fascist-fundamentalist state in the novel, the method of execution is a very deliberate means to neutralise opposition. Who did the killing? The elite who decreed the punishment, who took no physical part in it, or those common folk who did, each fearful of betraying any lack of enthusiasm?

One or two posts here have highlighted how the London regime has recruited military parades and remembrance events to its campaign of mawkish hypocrisy, in a bid to make everyone feel a part of the illegal, immoral wars waged in our name. We shouldn’t be taken in. We should continue to demand justice. We should continue to fight to reverse the current rule that only those who vote for mass murder may live at No. 10.

Last weekend, Channel 4 screened Roman Polanski’s film, The Ghost, in which a British ex-PM is on the run from justice. One of an ever-growing number of biting satires in which Tony Blair, or a character modelled on him, finally gets what the viewer expects to see. The fictional justice has to make up for the lack of the real thing. There’s laughter and relief, but sadness and frustration too that politics has failed, that war crimes suspects can walk freely in Britain and laugh at justice. Never forget: this happens because voters continue to return the war crimes suspects to Westminster as their honourable representatives. No-one else is to blame for this state of affairs but your neighbours and theirs, all denying their manifest responsibility for collective guilt.

Creating public complicity in war crimes has been a useful learning experience for spin doctors everywhere. They have learnt how to fine-tune fear into unquestioning support for intervention, and a smooth media-silencing of those deemed less than patriotic. In recent days, as the scandal over bankers’ bonuses – not, of course, the systemic issues surrounding them – continues to escalate, we have begun to glimpse ‘Phase II’.

There’s been plenty of bleating from the City and its friends about a ‘lynch mob’ mentality towards the bonus culture. The stock answer to public outrage has been disarmingly simple. That it is taxpayers’ money involuntarily invested in the failed banks and if taxpayers want their money back then they have to pay whatever is asked to those responsible for rescuing it.

It really isn’t that simple. If the banks can be turned around at all, it won’t be quick. Stricken businesses don’t make miraculous overnight recoveries. Remember Rolls-Royce. Remember British Leyland. A prudent investor might well ask how much more this is all going to cost. Might it not be cheaper to pull the plug? Switch off the life support?

Many jobs would be lost. In London. In Birmingham. In Halifax. In Edinburgh. Not so many in Wessex, and the money freed up could replace those with others that do more good. The Cheltenham & Gloucester business is in the process of being sold anyway. Lloyds and NatWest branches make nice wine bars and restaurants and no doubt there are other assets for which there’s still a market. It’s not as if these are firms we couldn’t live without. There is massive over-capacity in the banking sector and using taxpayers’ money to stave off the long-overdue reckoning isn’t pretty.

Often there is a cost to be paid to get clean of an addiction. You want to give up smoking? Well, do it now. Don’t wait until you’ve had the ‘benefit’ of smoking what you’ve already bought. Past governments haven’t shied away from writing-off colossal assets when it suits them. Margaret Thatcher happily sterilised hundreds of millions of tons of irreplaceable coal reserves in order to destroy her political opponents. Coal at least can be burnt. Most money can’t, because it only exists as entries in the banks’ accounts. Let’s get real, and concentrate on staying real in the dangerous years ahead.

It’s important for the regime that we collude in its financial as well as its military ventures. It’s important for us that we don’t. We need sounder priorities than those that most voters chose in May 2010. We pay our taxes so that public services can be provided in return. We don’t elect Governments to speculate with our money. Never mind Stephen Hester waiving his bonus: when are Alistair Darling and the rest of those involved going to turn out their pockets and pay us back for the bad bets they made in 2008?

But that needs to be just the start. We need to rediscover the power of politics to look ahead in defence of the common good. We might, say, repudiate the national debt to the extent that it was incurred to fund wars of aggression, in other words, illegal expenditure. Banks need to be reminded that all debts owing to them are null and void because they created the pretended ‘money’ out of nothing and so did not offer genuine consideration in return for allowing the loan to be secured against real-world assets. The heart of our economy is a scam, folks, and we let it continue at our peril.

Political transformation has to start from within. That’s why we need a one-word response to those who would entrap us within the spider’s web of deceit that passes for ‘the way the world is’.