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.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Toward a Truly Free Market

Guest contribution by Nick Xylas, WR Council member

The following is a review of Toward a Truly Free Market: A Distributist Perspective on the Role of Government, Taxes, Health Care, Deficits, and More, by John C. Médaille, published in 2011 by ISI Books of Wilmington, Delaware, USA.

When in my wife’s home town of Weirton, West Virginia, it is almost impossible not to notice the words “WEIRTON STEEL – AN ESOP COMPANY” written in giant lettering on the roof of the steel mill that dominates the town.  Weirton Steel was, for a long time, West Virginia’s biggest employer.  But these days, the mill is operating at less than a third of its total capacity and that mantle has been passed to Wal-Mart, a company, owned by the obscenely wealthy Walton family, which pays its employees so little that new entrants are given guides on how to claim welfare benefits in order to supplement their wages.  It brutally illustrates a theme running throughout this important book from John Médaille, namely that capitalism, far from being socialism’s polar opposite, inevitably leads to it when left unchecked.

Médaille is one of the leading advocates in America today of distributism, a political philosophy rooted in Catholic social teaching.  Whilst he can in no way be accused of running away from his Catholicism, Toward a Truly Free Market is written for a general audience, so the smell of incense is not as overpowering as it can be with some distributist works.

The first section of the book provides a general overview of economics.  Médaille prefers the term 'political economy', the name by which it was usually known until some time in the last century, when it changed as a result of economists’ desire to paint their discipline as a natural science like physics, rather than the result of conscious choices by governments and societies.  Speaking as someone for whom the business pages of the newspaper may as well be written in Estonian, it is testament to Médaille’s skills as a teacher that I was able to understand most of it.

There then follows a series of chapters on specific topics relating to the problems caused by morality-free capitalist economics and how to fix them.  The key doctrine, on which all the rest hinge, is that of the just wage.  Médaille avoids giving a specific figure for this wage, as that will be different in different times and places.  Rather, he bases it on general principles: that it should be enough to support a family’s basic needs on a single full-time income; that it should be enough to also allow that family to save money instead of living pay cheque to pay cheque; and that it should give them security against enforced periods of unemployment (sickness, layoffs etc) with minimal recourse to welfare benefits.

Finally, the book considers in detail two examples of distributism in practice: the region of Emilia-Romagna, on which more shortly; and the Mondragon co-operative.  The latter is a network of workers’ co-operatives in Spain with over 100,000 members and €33 billion in assets.  The survey of its activities provides the launch pad for a more general overview of the co-operative movement and of ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Program) companies, which give workers a stake in their ownership.  Médaille warns that there exist fake ESOPs such as Enron, created primarily as a tax dodge, but commends the real thing (I’m afraid I don’t know which category Weirton Steel falls into).  He also sees strong unions as vital for worker participation in the economy, though as he is writing within an American milieu, the restoration of the guilds doesn’t play as large a part in his thoughts as it traditionally did for English distributists such as G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.

There isn’t space in a review to do justice to the full range of Médaille’s arguments, but two things particularly commend it to Wessex Regionalists for me.  The first is the chapter on the role of government.  Médaille vigorously defends the ability of government to provide for the common good, as against the current political orthodoxy, which sees it as an impediment to the ultimate goal of capitalism without democracy (hence the current round of secret trade negotiations seeking to give corporations the right to sue governments for any regulations they deem too onerous).  His philosophy of government revolves around what he terms a horizontal and a vertical axis, represented by the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity respectively.  Solidarity means the creation of networks between different sectors of society, and different governments.  It particularly means the ‘preferential option for the poor’, examining all policies in the light of how they affect the most vulnerable in society.  Subsidiarity means that no decision should be taken at a higher level of government that could be implemented at a lower one.  It means both local control and local funding, since funding dispensed from central government to local communities can appear to be 'free' money, leading to irresponsibility in the decision-making process.  These principles have always been at the heart of Wessex Regionalist thinking, and it is a pleasure to see them so eloquently expressed.

The section on Emilia-Romagna, the Italian region centred on Bologna, will also be of interest to readers of this blog.  35% of the GDP of the region is supplied by co-operatives, but unlike Mondragon, where the co-operatives operate like divisions of a single company, the Emilian co-operatives are independent firms, of varying sizes, all supported by a regional development agency (ERVET) and the National Confederation of Artisans (CNA).  Unfortunately, the questions that Wessex Regionalists will naturally be asking themselves at this point are not ones that the book really concerns itself with.  How did co-operatives become such a large part of the economy?  How big a part did Italy’s decentralised system of government, with strong regions, play in allowing them to flourish in this way?  Which parties and political groupings supported the development and which opposed it (Médaille does mention that the Fascists suppressed the co-operatives in the 1930s)?  Nonetheless, I commend this book as a starting point that will hopefully lead Wessex Regionalists towards further investigation of Emilia-Romagna as a potential model for our region’s economy, rather than Wessex becoming one more plantation in the global slave state.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Only the Desperate

Today in 1320 the Scottish nobility issued the Declaration of Arbroath, with its ringing line about fighting not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

And the contemporary response is Frenchgate.  Nicola Sturgeon says she didn’t say it.  The French Ambassador says she didn’t hear it.  The French Consul-General says he didn’t report it.  And the irony is that if Sturgeon had said that Ed Miliband isn’t prime ministerial material, no-one, except possibly Miliband himself, would have any reason to disagree.

Miliband – the same goes for Cameron, his equal in competence – is one of the last generation of old-style Westminster politicians, unable to understand why the political world no longer revolves around them.  They push the buttons and pull the levers that used to deliver power, only to find that the wires have been cut.

The Big Two keep trying to convince us that this election is about which of them we’d prefer as PM.  It isn’t.  It’s not about them at all.  You can’t tell the difference, so it really doesn’t matter.  Either of them would be equally good or equally bad at heading up the next administration.  The important question is what kind of administration they will lead.  If you want the Blue Tories, vote Cameron.  If you want the Red Tories, vote Miliband.  If you want something else, vote for something else and see it in coalition, applying pressure where it hurts.  Never before have the smaller parties had logic so firmly on their side.  It’s so frighteningly true that a grand coalition of the Blues and the Reds still looks a definite possibility as the way to head off irreversible change for the better.  Proportional representation.  Real localism.  And real regionalism.

Sturgeon said that last week’s televised debate between seven of the party leaders illustrated that "two-party politics at Westminster is over".  A ripple of surprise ran through the commentariat that interesting things are being said outside the rigidly controlled London circle.  England wants to vote SNP/Plaid in its millions, and it can’t.  It’s so frustrating, isn’t it?  And all because the media have been so obsessed with Farage and his twilight band of empire-loyalists that they failed to spot where the future really lies, in a Europe not looking back to the 19th century but forward to the 21st.  Plaid Cymru have put out a splendid little poster bearing the slogan ‘Don’t vote Labour for your fathers’ sake; vote Plaid for your children’s’.

We would have liked to be there in Salford.  Our invitation was presumably lost in the post.  (So too was Mebyon Kernow’s; they haven’t even been invited to the BBC South West regional debate in Plymouth, despite fighting every seat in Cornwall.)  The Twittersphere may have been too busy swooning over Leanne Wood’s Welsh accent to notice her policies but Wessex has a lovely accent too, and lovely policies to match.  Next time, will the regionalists will be joining the nationalists on stage?  That depends on how fast the decentralist trend now accelerates.

Last week saw the launch of the Northern Party, a pan-Northumbrian movement that has grown out of the relaunched Campaign for the North.  Its claimed territory overlaps with those of Yorkshire First and the North East Party.  Is that good or bad?  Lack of agreement on areas and boundaries is surely bad if it slows down the debate, but not if it brings it to the fore.  If regionalists up north can afford the luxury of disagreement then they must be making very good progress indeed.  And, for this election at least, there will be no clashing candidacies.

The Northern Party’s top team includes Harold Elletson, former Conservative MP for Blackpool North.  Its registered Leader is Michael Dawson, nephew of Hilton Dawson, the former Labour MP for Lancaster & Wyre who leads the North East Party.  Yorkshire First is led by Richard Carter, ex-Labour, and its candidates at this election include a former FibDem MEP.  Across the political spectrum then, devolutionary aspirations are being unlocked.  Those who have devoted their political lives to the unresponsive London parties are emerging, blinking, into the light.  We watch, fascinated and vindicated, as northerners cast off time-wasting pressure groups buzzing around the London leaderships and make a bid for actual, unfettered control of what goes on in their areas.  If that’s a universal trend, we can look forward to a few defections in Wessex too.

What the desperate London parties simply cannot grasp is the extent to which their rule is increasingly hated as London takes more and more and gives less and less.  What we loathe above all is the way we’re expected to feel grateful that London thrives on our taxes, yet treats us as ignorant peasants who need to be told what to think, even about ourselves.  There are some real shocks to the system coming up.  The 7th of May marks the day they start, not end.