I sometimes feel that I, and the rest of our society, are sitting atop a giant inverted parabola. For millennia we have tried to elevate ourselves individually and as a culture with the exhortation and hope that we are not simply animals. We felt we were something set apart and duty bound to try and live lives that were better than the lowly animals. We may never have hoped to be gods but we always hoped to be closer to our God.
After eons of aspiring upwards away from our animal base we now seem to look downwards. We see ourselves as simply a smarter animal driven by the base animal desires we share with our less evolved kin. We no longer look upwards to the skies with soaring urges to exalt our difference, we look down into the depths and express our animal passions as freely and vigorously as we can.
It has never been proven that the path of humankind will always be one that is onwards and upwards, extinct species before us testify to that, our parabola may have both an apex and a nadir. It is a little like sitting atop a giant rollercoaster peering down filled with fear and dread but without having the certainty that this will all work out allright. Our present day large societies may feel that that they can ditch religion and operate on simply secular lines but, as revealed in a recent article in Nature, religion played an important point in our development. If we ditch our religions and faith we shouldn’t be surprised if some of the effects we see are equally major and potentially damaging.
It seems only a short time ago that we had warm sunny days, dry days, pleasant days, in fact, ideal days for lambs to start their lives. However, our ewes eschewed starting lambing during this period ; “too easy” they said. They have waited until just after the hail and sleet of yesterday and the start of Storm Gareth today and decided that this is the perfect time to start lambing. The pervesity of ewes knows no bounds.
We have our fingers firmly crossed and our lambing box at the ready and I’ve made this short post just to explain that there will be little activity on this site for the next few weeks.
It is often the case that someone’s rubbish is someone else’s treasure. This sharing of rubbish is well organised in our valley. The woman above us keep horses she need to get rid of large amounts of horse manure, we shift it and convert it into a valuable feed for the vegetable garden. The joiner who lives to the north creates lots of wood chipping and sawdust which he needs to move. We take it to augment our animal bedding. There are few things which don’t have a use to someone.
This week our neighbour down the valley was felling a large old oak to make a lintel for their new hearth. Prior to felling the tree they needed to clear the decades of ivy which had grown on it and, as a consequence of the prevailing winds, was unbalancing the tree which would have made a simple felling awkward. They had trailer-fulls of ivy which they were considering taking to the dump. Fortunately, they discussed it with us first and we happily informed them that goats and sheep are extremely partial to ivy. At this time of the year there is little else green for the goats, as they are not keen on grass, and both they and the sheep find it an excellent supplement to their diet.
The pleasure of finding a new use for something discarded has even extended to junk mail. I am not a very good consumer and don’t get very much of this unsolicited bumpf, but my wife daily receives leaflets and brochures urging and luring her to buy the new fashions. I am not sure that the sheep and poultry will find the new styles in the Johnny Boden catalogue to their taste and, to be fair, my wife rarely does more than browse these booklets. But there brochures have their uses. After shredding they help bulk out the poultry bedding. Once they have been well soaked in bird poo they compost down well for further recycling. They can also be made into briquettes, if they are made into paper mache blocks, which are a good replacement for firelighters in starting a fire. For both of these purposes it would be better if they had less glossy pages, indeed newsprint would be better, and I will need to write to them to suggest they use less expensive paper and fewer inks (It could save them a few bob and me a bit of work; a win-win situation).
However, the best thing about this junk mail is simply its delivery. When it appears on the mat it dilutes the other mail and reduces the obviousness of bills which is to be welcomed. It also ensures that nearly every day we have some mail rather than none. It also lets us know that the postman has been even on days when nobody in the real world had wanted to communicate with us. However, this is a double edged sword – is it better to know that the postman has been and nobody in the world wanted to talk with us ? Or is it better to look at the empty mat and think, he’s not been yet, perhaps that important missive will arrive later on?
We still have a long way to go but we are making some progress in dealing with the poor representation of some groups in government. Although the number of women and those of minority ethnic groups has increased they are still not properly represented in our governing class. Thankfully we are aware of this and are starting to address this. However, there is an area where we are making no progress and, if anything, seem to be going backwards. It is an important area, as it is possibly part of the reason that underpins much of the disengagement and distrust people have with our political class.
The last two generations have witnessed the growth of a professional political class. Our politicians may be a closer mix, in terms of gender and race, to ourselves, but are further away in terms of class and wealth. Over the years our representatives have become less and less like us, when one considers their background, and much more like each other. We may have seen some inadequate improvement in gender and race diversity, we have seen a worsening in terms of social class.
When the Labour Government took power in 1945 and started major works which set up the modern British welfare state half of the member of the cabinet had previously held blue collar jobs. In our most recent cabinets not one member has held such a job. All the parliamentarians have been white collar workers and, more than this, previously worked in law, politics, education or journalism. They are drawn from a very small and apparently select pool of the population.
It is not just in the UK that this trend has occurred. At the time of John F Kennedy 71% of senators held university degrees, by the time of Barack Obama took office the figure was 99%. In France and Germany it is a similar tale. Not only are our ‘rulers. far away from us in terms of their occupations but increasingly also in terms of incomes and wealth. In 2014 all those elected to Congress were in the top 1% of America’s income distribution. It is sobering to think that the median net worth of a senator in 2018 is $3,200,000.
The concerns of the top 1% of the income group and those working in the realms of law, politics, or journalism are not likely to be reflective of those working in blue collar manual jobs, or the poor without jobs at all. I think this is the reason that our politicians are seen as distant and non-representative; because they are distant and non-representative. They do not live in our communities, nor come from them, they do not share the lives and experience of the majority of us. If this trend continues, and there is little evidence to suggest it won’t, then increasingly populist politicians will be able to tap into this gulf. A rift is developing between the public and those who rule them. This rift could prove a powerful fault line for those who wished to gather and use the growing alienation and anger which exists. Allowing politics to become a specialist pursuit of the wealthy, educated elite could prove to be a very dangerous mistake. We need to push for more involvement of the demos, the crowd, the common people, in our democracy if we are to ensure it stays safe and healthy.
British Politics has become increasingly tribal. Both of the main parties now have been dragged by their extreme wings away from the centre-ground and towards increasingly exaggerated positions. Both seem to have drifted away from their core purpose and now appear to pander to powerful sects as their leaders try and remain in control. The Conservative leader, Theresa May, is constantly harried by the European Reform Group whilst the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is kept in position by the Momentum group. Neither leader commands the respect of the majority of their party and only survive by compromising vision and honesty for pragmatic coalitions which allow them to remain in power.
We were in a similar position in the 1980’s when Labour had its troubles with the hard left Militant Tendency and the Conservatives were being dragged further rightwards by the strength of the Monday Club. There was considerable unhappiness and it looked as if the large parties might split asunder into different parties. In 1981, four senior labour MP’s (David Owen, Bill Rogers, Shirley Winters, and Roy Jenkins ; the Gang of Four) did break away and set up the Council for Social Democracy by issuing the Limehouse Declaration. This subsequently established the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the UK which had considerable initial success. 28 Labour and 1 Conservative MP joined the party and over the first few years it had growing electoral success. In 1983 it took 25% of the national vote. However, this was not sustained and by 1987 the party merged with the Liberal Party to become the Liberal Democrats in 1987.
I have some personal experience of these events as I was one of the Labour Party election organisers who helped in the 1987 general election. I worked with the team to make sure that Roy Jenkins lost his Glasgow, Hillhead seat to the Labour Candidate George Galloway. In those days I saw the SDP as turncoats and traitors who were splitting the left vote and was quite convinced that my mission was to get a true socialist goverment into power. How life has changed ! But why am I thinking about the SDP in 2019 ?
It seems the SDP never went away. I was listening to a podcast, by the Anglican priest Giles Fraser, and learnt that the SDP continued and recently issued a renewed declaration. In his podcast he wondered if the SDP would provide a home for many people who, like him, find themselves politically homeless. I read the declaration and had to agree with him; there was nothing objectionable and much with which to agree.
They recognise the failures of our current two major parties :-
The Conservative party has conserved very little and instead, has put everything up for sale. Labour has abandoned the nation’s working men and women.
and recognise that if we are to preserve democracy it is important to keep it local :-
We consider the nation-state to be the upper limit of democracy. Along with the family, we regard it as indispensable to the solidarity of our society and concern for our fellow citizens. We regard supranationalism as a neoliberal ideology aimed at neutering domestic politics and placing the most important issues beyond the reach of ordinary voters.
Socially and personally they avoid the excesses of libertarianism whilst keeping true to socially liberal beliefs. They are aware that there has been increasing intolerance in our society and a tendency to fragment our communities by the pernicious use of identity politics. They stress the importance of mutuality, rather than law, to bind communities together and this is an important aspect of politics which is rarely discussed by the main parties :-
We believe ‘fraternity vs division’ to be a key watershed question in all Western societies. Fraternity must prevail.
We regard kindness and mutuality as a political rather than a legal achievement which relies on free consent rather than legal obligation. Excessive individualism – of both the social and economic variety – has regrettably led some citizens to believe they don’t share a common fate with their neighbours. They do.
On the economic front they recognise the dangers of rampant neoliberalism, and the adverse effects of globalisation, but appear also to recognise that there needs to be boundaries to the state’s intervention in a social market economy. They see the public and private sectors as complimentary and see a natural boundary between them :-
The correct frontier between the public and private sector is determinable. Natural monopolies – the utilities requiring universal delivery to citizens – should be returned to public ownership and operation or be subjected to significantly more effective regulation.
There are interesting and positive bits on the family, the welfare state, culture and mutuality. On reading it I felt that there was really little to which any reasonable person could take objection. So is this the start of a change ? Or will this be like the 1980’s again ? Can a party which tries to push for a middle-road out of our present chaos ever gain enough traction to get moving ? I would like to think so and will watch their progress closely, although I am aware that in these acrimonious times they are going to have an uphill battle to make any headway. If they do, I will find myself, 30 years later, in the unusual position of being on the exact other side of a political divide. Perhaps my team will win again.
An interesting blog and I wonder if, as they say these days, this idea has legs
British politics appears to have reached a new nadir and an insurmountable impasse. Recent votes in Westminster have firstly successfully opposed the government’s plans and secondly failed to oppose the government. We are left with the situation that the government remains in power but its plans have been rejected.
Much of this arises from the problems of two-party tribal politics which rather than address a problem itself but instead promotes a party’s programme. This is compounded by the present leaders of the two parties. Both leaders have parties seriously split on the issue of Brexit. The Tories have a leader, who is at heart a remainer, trying to manage a programme of leave to please the staunch ‘leavers’ in her party. Labour has a leader, who at heart is a leaver, trying to offer a programme that will please the remainers who largely control his party. The Liberals, the only party who have a party, programme and leader backing remain, are so inconsequential in British politics at present that the only debate in town is between the two major parties with their discordant leaders.
No-one has a plan to get out of this impasse. There is nothing which can suit all the needs of the two political parties. Neither party is single-minded in its desire to either support the decision of the referendum to leave the European Union or to propose something else. The only thing uniting them is that both of them are terrified of a ‘no deal’ scenario. This despite Theresa May recognising (one of the few things she grasped correctly) that “no deal is better than a bad deal“. All our parliamentarians, of any hue, are unable to countenance ‘no deal’ scenario, even though it may be unavoidable and may also be preferred.
A deal, or a ‘managed’ withdrawal, may well be the best way to proceed. However, sometimes it is not. Think of a “managed economy”, these never function as efficiently as free market economies. In complex situations allowing individual actors to work out the best way to proceed, and chop and change as necessary, is better than an agreed centrally-‘managed’ plan. Centrally managed agriculture lead to famines. Centrally managed healthcare in Europe provides poorer healthcare than the mixed market healthcare alternatives. Situations can be managed when all the data is known but in complex situations there are many things which can not be known in advance. Rather than a committee of bureaucrats trying to plan fishing, healthcare, automotive industries, IT services, financial services, mining, agriculture, food processing, forestry, electrical engineering standards, inter-university cooperation, medical devices, medication and aircraft standard, and so on and so on. It would be better to allow all the agents involved to work this out for themselves. It will probably prove quicker and will, almost certainly, find better solutions. Even is there is a managed deal, we will still need to see individuals and organisations modifying and adapting it to make it work, as the likelihood of a centrally decided plan fitting all eventualities is negligible.
But, even if you want a managed separation and a deal, then there is still a need to consider a “no deal” scenario. In every negotiation the two agents have their bottom lines, the point at which they think the available deals are not worth having, and the points at which they need to walk away from the negotiations. Imagine the scenario of going into a car showroom and announcing “Right I want a car. I am going to buy it here and I want it today. I don’t care how difficult it is but I warn you now that I am not leaving here without having bought a car. I will not consider the idea of you not selling at least one car to me. Right what have you got ?” How likely is it that you will obtain a great deal ? You will be relying on the benevolence of car salesmen, not a wise move. Every negotiator has a line in the sand, the line at which they decide to go for the no deal option, not to consider this is extremely foolhardy.
No deal will be followed by disruption and change, but so will any deal. At present the EU, and UK leaders, wish to minimise the disruption to global capital and large corporations and to cause as little disruption to governing organisations which manage many governmental agencies. Unfortunately they are forgetting that the reason people voted for Brexit, and the reason many European people are also upset, was because of the power of global capital, large corporations and remote undemocratic government. They wanted to weaken the powers of corporations and force them to pay national taxes and listen to local governments. They wanted to stop changes in culture which central governments held valuable for the needs of capital. They opposed the ability of capital to bus in cheap labour to undercut local workers; something bad both for the local workers and the home economies of the migrant workers.
Companies may complain that without a deal they fear their profits will be hurt. Populations may reply “That is tough but that is precisely why we voted as we did. We are fed up with your greed“. Governmental bodies may worry that without a deal their authority may be diminished, but that was the point. No deal allows a blank slate and the opportunity of all to create the future arrangements they want. I recall every election, when I was a youth, the warnings of dire economic calamity if the nation even considered voting for labour. It is no different now to then, those in power and those with the wealth, will try everything to keep it including trying to scare us into accepting a good deal for them and a bad deal for us.
There are many problems with capitalism at present. Crony capitalism is now gathering the increased wealth, that only a market economy can create, into increasingly few pockets. Institutions like the EU are the mechanisms to promote this and they, and the crony capitalists, need to be weakened. This will not be without pain. But if it is done well then hopefully most of the pain will be felt by the rich and powerful who can best deal with it, and may even be thought to deserve it. An unmanaged Brexit may well be the best way to do this.
It is sometimes odd how we stumble into knowledge of matters. I was listening to a podcast which was discussing President Trumps’ potential legacy when the contributors began to make reference to “The Wizard of Oz”. They argued that many of the aspect of populist politics in today’s America echoed those of a hundred years ago and the satire about the Wizard of Oz could equally be applied to Donald Trump. I had not been aware of the political analysis of L. Frank Baum’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz“ and it was fascinating to hear these.
When the book was written American politics and economy were in turmoil. There had been major changes in monetary standards and the Fourth Coinage Act had devalued silver. There were major financial difficulties and one of the movements aiming to address these was a move for bimetallism – money backed by both gold and silver. This was taken up in 1896 by the William Jennings Bryan , leader of the Democratic Party, as well as some populist groups and Republicans from silver mining areas (“Silver Republicans“). Bryan won the leadership by his ‘Cross of Gold‘ convention speech where he stated “The gold standard has slain tens of thousands.” and urged the convention “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” It was felt that gold helped the rich get richer while ‘free silver’ would create cheaper money with a wider base and provide help for the poorer sectors of society.
It was against this backdrop that “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written. It may be no coincidence that gold and silver are measured in ounces which are abbreviated to “Oz.” Similarly a “yellow brick road” to the “emerald city” might well signify the power of the gold standard (yellow) to lead wealth to the wealthy (green signifying fraudulent greenback money). In the book, but not the film, the way to sort problems, and get out of trouble and back home, is by the “silver slippers” – the film used the more photogenic ruby red instead. It is quite easy to imagine Dorothy as the common man assisted by a ‘cowardly lion’ (William Jennings Bryan) on their way to find solutions for the Scarecrow (farmers and agricultural workers) and the Tin-man (Steel and other industry workers). Certainly when Baum wrote a stage version of the book in 1902 he made many political references, mainly as jokes against the current luminaries.
At the end of their trek they meet the wizard who is revealed to be a pompous humbug who uses all sorts of tricks to hide his nature from the people. He actually has no ideas and no power and admits to Dorothy that “I am a very bad wizard“. And, thinking of Trump, this seems to be where we came in.
I don’t often feel sorry for politicians but today I have had a smidgen of sympathy for Theresa May. We have found ourselves, in Britain, in the midst of political chaos and Theresa May is at the centre of this political storm. She inherited the task of organizing Brexit even though, at heart, she was not keen on this course of action. Although a ‘remainer’ she felt that, as a politician, she is a public servant and should try and enact the wishes of the electorate who voted for a course she did not agree with. Perhaps she should have realized from the start that she would not be able to meet this challenge as all her instincts on the matter would be wrong.
However, she battled on and created an agreement of sorts with the E.U.. This agreement is exactly what one would expect if a conservative remainer had been given the task of organizing Brexit; it barely takes Britain out of the E.U., keeps it in the customs union, protects the interests of business and commerce, and manages to offer even less democratic involvement than we previously enjoyed. This is unlikely to be acceptable to those who wanted Brexit and also unlikely to be picked up by those who want to remain.
So I feel sorry for her. I think she did try diligently to do what she thought was the best for Britain and I think she genuinely feels she has found a middle ground which will give breathing space for an organized transition. Unfortunately all she has done is split her own party in two, made her own position untenable, and left her with the impossible ask of getting a deal through parliament that neither side of the debate accept. It would have been better if she had rejected the challenge, and said that her heart was not in it, but through a sense of duty she tried and we are now in the middle of chaos.
The Labour Party is not in a great deal better position. Jeremy Corbyn, who at heart was a Brexiteer, has found himself fighting for the remain campaign (or at least to remain in a customs union or, better still, the single market) because it allowed him to attack the Conservatives and benefit from their disarray. His party will now oppose this deal because it benefits the party political battle between them and the Tories even though much of the deal would, in fact, be acceptable to the Labour Party. I don’t feel sorry for Jeremy Corbyn, however, as his difficult position did not arise from doing the right thing but through his duplicity.
There are solutions to the crisis which Britain faces now. One path would be to leave the E.U. without any formal deal. This would lead to turbulent times and there may be some, hopefully short-term, economic damage. Eventually new arrangements would be forged and we could create our future.
Another route would be to call another referendum on this deal (or remaining), the so called Peoples’ Vote. This would lead to turbulent times and there may be there may be some, hopefully short-term, economic damage. But this method would not create any new arrangements. If the vote was to “leave” then we are back at start again. If it were to “remain” then how long would it be for calls of “best out of three” and the debate resurfaces.
The other route, which might forge a more lasting solution, could be another General Election. If the parties line themselves in accord with their actual sympathies, which may mean a split in both Labour and Conservative parties, then we can vote on whether and how we wish to leave. Whoever wins would know the mandate they have and would actually want to implement this. Whether it is to stay, stay or leave with modifications, or leave the intention would be clear and the negotiators would be those sharing the aspirations of the voters. What we have now is sheep pretending to be wolves as they organize the next hunting expedition. This does not work.