Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of the Beginning

When the London Stock Exchange closed yesterday, it became possible to compare the year-end positions for 2010 and 2011. The FTSE 100 was down 5.6% over the year. Banks fell more sharply. Oil and gas shares rose. The High Street remains in dire straits, partly due to the impact of online shopping, partly due to you know what. This is also the time of year when rents have to be paid, the straw that breaks the Christmas camel’s back.

A year’s data is no better guide to economic trends than to climate change (though 2011 was the second warmest year recorded in the UK, second only to 2006). But the economic data is not other than we might expect. Growth is over, banks are dead in the water, and as the price of fossil fuels rises, so the profits accruing to those who still have them to hand will increase. What consumption survives is much more hard-headed and conscious of costs in the round.

And politics? Well, the choice is no different to usual. Either one of the London parties, all now steaming towards a corporatist merger with big business to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. Or the regionalist alternative, putting communities first, within the context of a world that is fast changing for ever.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Horrific Outbreak of Democracy in Paris

The French Parliament appears to be on the brink of allowing mistakes in regional boundaries to be corrected by a vote in the départements directly concerned. The new law would remove the right of voters in the wider region to veto change – a right that, in effect, keeps folk locked in an administrative marriage to which they never consented.

It may come as a surprise to our readers that any right of referendum already exists in French regional law. We certainly don’t have it in England. As far as the London regime is concerned, we’re thick yokels who couldn’t punch our way out of a wet paper bag. Folk who wouldn’t know a credit default swap from a collateralised debt obligation, let alone be capable of defining our own identity.

So there’s no vote in prospect for Hampshire on whether it’s right for the historic capital city of Wessex to be in a different region from the majority of our shires. Nor in Cornwall on whether it’s right for a Celtic nation to be in an English region at all.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Peace & Goodwill?

This September, those who died in terrorist attacks on U.S. cities were commemorated, ten years on. Although the death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan combined is over 300 times the death toll of 9/11, few words were spared for the victims of those U.S.-led crusades for oil, unleashed under the pretext of fighting terror, with terror. Those who care at all will not care enough to withhold their votes from the politicians responsible and cast them in a more sensible direction. Although about 71% of Britons think the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, according to a ComRes poll for ITV, most tolerate the lies, the lies about ‘our boys’, devoting themselves to ‘keeping us safe’, that we may ‘sleep at night’. Well, wake up!

In October, the conflict in Afghanistan involving western troops entered its second decade. It has cost the UK taxpayer £18 billion and rising. Deaths among the British armed forces have reached 392, among Afghan civilians over 8,800.

Today, we ought to reflect on how little it has all achieved.

Saddam Hussein was tried and executed, for unrelated crimes, while Osama Bin Laden was not tried at all but executed anyway. In contrast, our own conspirators are still very much at large. Some of those, like David Cameron, who voted for war in 2003 enjoy all the trappings of high office, courtesy of the British electorate. So should we now accept Tony Blair’s advice, to ‘draw a line and move on’? It’s true that such issues may seem a long way removed from devolution but they do demonstrate the pressing need for change in our constitutional arrangements. If ‘our leaders’ can be excused justice for reasons of state then there is NO justice, no equality under the law. And the longer they’re allowed to get away with it, the more they’ll feel capable of doing the same again.

Meanwhile, 3% of Wessex continues to be occupied as training grounds by those preparing for the next pre-emptive strike to keep the peace. A less cynical, less Orwellian world used to call them wars.

Almost nightly, our screens are filled with the uniformed portraits of the latest casualties in Afghanistan. Newsreaders don’t normally tell us the names of everyone who has died in a preventable accident at work. Or in collisions on our overcrowded roads. Is it because morale is so low that those ‘heroes’ foolish enough to take the Queen’s shilling are paraded before us? So that, surely, we ought to nod helplessly and approve of them wasting their lives in a pointless cause? British soldiers are NOT ‘heroes’. For two reasons. One is that heroes save lives, not take them. The other is that there is nothing heroic about this shabby little war.

What most appals those who lived through the Second World War is that rampant militarism now goes unchallenged. The priority of disarmament has given way to the priority of ‘intervention’, as if ‘our’ government had some right to act not just as world’s policeman but also as world’s political surgeon. As the dust settles in Libya and talk turns to the contracts for reconstruction, we can see the real agenda all too plainly. As ‘statesmen’ look around for something to restart the engine of ecocide, plenty of advice will suggest that trade follows the flag, that the markets demand greater and greater offerings of human hearts. There’s even a name for it: weaponised Keynesianism. Globalisation – aggressive trade liberalisation coupled with contempt for sovereignty, identity and democracy – is a crime against humanity, a desperate bid to win control of the world’s resources before they run out. Daft, but true.

‘Royal’ Wootton Bassett now has the same initials as Red, White & Blue. It began to enter the national consciousness by spontaneously honouring the war dead passing through. It ended up receiving an honour of its own, for which it never asked, an honour some find manipulative and tawdry. The Mayor told journalists that he expects locals will carry on calling the place simply ‘Bassett’. The establishment could not spare the Queen to present her Letters Patent in person this year but deputed the Princess Royal to convey to the townsfolk the thanks of “the whole country”. Thanks for what? Thanks for “responding with dignity and respect to the losses that this country’s operational responsibilities have forced upon us”. Forced? And when exactly did a war of choice become violence under duress? Perhaps the Queen, as ultimate commander-in-chief, would like to answer that question at The Hague?

We are all Cameron’s conscripts, despite the best efforts of the Peace Tax campaign. It has become unacceptable in most circles to voice any criticism of the remilitarisation of our society. Laws are being twisted to punish those who do, trampling on fundamental rights of free expression in a chilling evocation of the flag desecration laws found in totalitarian states. True patriotism cannot arise from coercion and it would be a despicable thing if it could. The burning of Remembrance Day poppies as a protest against the continuing fact of war does appear to be on the increase, an ugly sign of ugly times. Does it show less respect than allowing the warmongers to lay their wreaths of hypocrisy? Who then are the real criminals?

We are all instructed, even by the young Lefties of the BBC, what to think and feel about RWB and Carterton, and much else surrounding the British murder machine. It’s time the truth was able to be told and fingers to be pointed in accusation. Because regime change begins at home.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nuking Weymouth

According to financial analyst David Malone today, “2012 is going to be the year of unrest and repression.”

A London establishment that has spent the last decade, and more, treading heavily on the world has now invited the world round for a spot of sport. And is getting worried. It might be a very good idea not to be in southern Dorset next summer, in view of some of the scenarios now being modelled.

Of course, nothing at all may happen. But a lot of useful experience in crowd control and the like will have been gained...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Missing the Obvious

There’s a water crisis looming. The Coalition wants us all to be more careful. Hippy conservationists seem to agree that water meters, dual-flush toilets and garden water butts will take the pressure off. Maybe sharing showers or bathwater would help. All of which is nonsense. It’s nonsense because we would actually have more than enough water if we’d limit ourselves to a sustainable population. Climate change, if it proves to be anything more than a corporatist hoax, may make the shortage worse but the real cause is letting folk live where the water ain’t.

Over the past 90 years we have seen a long-term drift of England’s population from north to south. The northern cities, supplied from reservoirs in the Pennines, the Lake District and Wales, are not short of water, just inhabitants to use it. The southern cities, growing unsustainably, depend on squeezing water out of exhausted aquifers and planning new reservoirs on good farmland. Bristol has a clutch of reservoirs supplied by rain off the Mendips yet still has to import half its drinking water from Wales via the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. The Thames valley has a significant water deficit, which re-opening of the Thames & Severn Canal may partly relieve. Swindon remains a growth area, despite drawing its water from the Thames and the groundwater source that feeds the Kennet, one of the most heavily abstracted rivers in the country. There’s talk of building a national water grid to redress the imbalance between supply and demand but there are limits to how much the gathering-grounds of upland Britain can realistically deliver, not least because water is heavy and pumping it uphill uses scarce energy.

Obsessed with markets, Ministers seem more keen to allow users to switch suppliers and investors to extract profits than to focus on managing resources sustainably, let alone democratically. (We should never forget that municipal water departments were STOLEN from local folk by the London regime in a series of moves between 1973 and 1989. No compensation has ever been paid: the proceeds from privatisation funded tax cuts for the rich.)

The fact is that we’re all being taken for idiots. The forthcoming shortages are self-inflicted. Pulling together, Blitz-style, to do our bit for water conservation is the kind of script that well-meaning Guardian readers love. Like the mythical slow-boiled frog, they cannot see that the problem can ONLY get worse so long as development in Wessex continues. No doubt they’ll be among the first to offer up their garden shed to ease the housing shortage too.

Freedom cannot thrive in high-density environments. Throughout the history of human settlement, urban areas have always been more tightly regulated than rural ones, because the pressures on resource management are greater. The point is the same whether the subject matter be fire regulations, waste disposal, clean air or congestion charges. Professor Leopold Kohr, in The Breakdown of Nations, warned that density also has direct social consequences: “the police force of communities, to cope with the ever present danger of sudden social fusion, must increase at a more than proportionate rate as the population increases, not because larger cities harbour proportionately more bad men than smaller ones, but because, after a certain point, social size becomes itself the chief criminal.”

The obvious is being missed: that it is always better to have the foresight to prevent problems arising than to panic over what is ultimately the inability to devise any lasting solution compatible with liberty.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Occupied by London

Witney’s witless MP, David William Donald Cameron, was in Brussels this week to bargain over a new European treaty. He didn’t get what he wanted in return, a hands-off approach to regulation of the ‘socially useless’ activities of the City of London. That’s no surprise. He could hardly have chosen a less popular cause to die in the Channel for.

The City IS the national interest? The Coalition promised to rebalance the British economy, away from casino chips towards real stuff instead, to at least acknowledge the 90% of GDP that doesn’t come from financial services. But like a dog returning to its vomit, they just can’t let go. There’s been much talk of ‘moral hazard’ in propping up dead banks but the greatest moral hazard is that the UK Treasury is so addicted to skimming off a tiny part of the City’s wealth in tax that it will do anything to save it from a well-deserved collapse.

The strategy is now taking shape. The UK is to be simply an offshore tax haven. Wessex and East Anglia are to be commuter, weekender and retirement zones, with excellent road and rail links to London (and nowhere else). Political correctness laws are to be deployed to suppress our dialect and customs. Local decision-making is to be restructured to entrench the friends of London in power and open up the countryside for development to accommodate their wage-slaves. Human rights laws are to be used to enforce the right to live anywhere and demand the house-building to make it possible. Public money, raised from local folk but taken to London to count, is to be doled out to communities on the basis of whether or not it will be spent to advance London’s agenda.

Shrill voices will be on hand to denounce any criticism of the masters of the universe, whose skills with numbers, battered as they are, are all that stands between us and disaster (for them). We can expect ‘financial terrorism’ laws to be introduced to ban the spreading of information on how we can bring down bad banks by co-ordinated switching of deposits. Free markets have had their day – the beneficiaries have new rules to write now.

Our President, Colin Bex, was in the City of London this autumn, helping out with the ‘Occupy’ protests. It’s about time that Wessex occupied London because they’ve occupied us for centuries. The Normans started it, then in the 14th century the Duchy of Cornwall was endowed with lands across Wessex, to support the Prince of Wales and his family in a lavish lifestyle at court. And on campaign, in places like Afghanistan. No, France, actually, but nothing’s changed. Our railways overwhelmingly point east-west because they were built to supply fresh meat and milk to the capital. From farms owned by absentee landlords living it up in London. And still it goes on. Large parts of Wessex are military training grounds, where the occupation of our depopulated villages is literal. We even have to pay a special tax to be allowed to fly our own flag.

Wessex Regionalism is about ending the occupation. It’s about breaking the chains that shackle us to London, yoked by a political class that serves the interests of a financial class that treats us with contempt. Wessex Regionalism is about reclaiming the right to proudly be ourselves in our own land. Indebted to no-one.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Crooks In Command

The Western Daily Press leads today with a story about an open letter from wildlife groups in Wessex and Cornwall “incredulous” about the Coalition’s “stunning disregard” for the natural environment, citing the Chancellor’s recent description of it as a “ridiculous” barrier to economic growth.

Tony Richardson of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) responded robustly that “We are keenly aware that more than any other region we trade on the quality of this environment. Far from being a barrier, it is difficult to see how economic recovery can be achieved here without safeguarding the very thing that makes the region attractive to visitors and a good place to do business.” Then he spoilt it all, by continuing, “We are not anti-development but we have to proceed with wisdom – with careful planning, under the requirements of the regulations, development can work for both wildlife and the economy.”

What’s wrong with that? Where do we begin!

First of all, we have NO sympathy for green groups that treat Westminster politicians with any respect whatsoever. We appeal to them to join the Party and work for the eradication of the whole top-down Westminster system that allows Osborne and his kind any say in the first place. Stop the fawning, and start the resistance!

Secondly, why, oh why, do seemingly intelligent folk insist on making their continuing ritual obeisance to Mammon? ‘Of course, we’re not against growth, as such, just…’ No? Well, we certainly are. Living within environmental limits is either meaningless waffle while our planet burns or it implies a cap on development. Now.

A third point is illustrated by another story from the WDP today: a vision from a group of “influential business leaders” calling themselves The Initiative. (Or is it The Matrix? Something like that.) Their blueprint for Bristol in 2050 calls for a population increase of 500,000 and vast urban sprawl that would swallow up Bath and much of the Green Belt. The RSPB simply have no idea of what they’re up against. Folk like The Initiative care about nothing but the destruction of the environment to advance their own private wealth. There are a lot of them about and they aren’t the least bit interested in what the RSPB think.

From the same WDP page comes news that new powers could be devolved to cities like Bristol – but only if they vote for an elected mayor first. Bribery used to be the word for that and we used to have laws against it. We live in an increasingly closed, post-democratic world where “business leaders” are treated like gods, where local democracy is restructured to give them exclusive control of the common wealth and where national democracy, such as it is, lives or dies at the whim of rating agencies whose own competence is pitiful.

One of the silliest questions that can be asked about our policies is, ‘Are you pro-business, or not?’ The answer all depends on what sort of business it is. It’s very important to distinguish between good businesses and the rest. There are businesses playing their part in the transition to a sustainable society, businesses finding new ways to reduce resource use in a world where all that has sustained us in the past will be shrinking. The best businesses are those seeking to make themselves smaller, by doing more with less and expanding leisure time. You could call it economic anti-growth. But ranged against them there’s also the dark side: the businesses who don’t realise that ‘business as usual’ is over. Until they learn that it is, they’ll go on making millions miserable by their contempt for the environment and our quality of life. They may not be criminals as the law stands. But those who make morally crooked choices do not deserve to be excused justice in an appropriate form. We’ll be fighting every inch of the way to ensure they get it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Where Does All The QE Go?

Not difficult to guess!

The Campaign for Real Constituencies

Followers of this blog will know that we have consistently opposed the Coalition’s efforts to force all Parliamentary constituencies to be the same size, along with all of the nonsense this will mean on the spot. County boundaries respected since the first ‘knights of the shire’ attended the first Parliaments over 700 years ago are no longer sacrosanct. A large part of Devon will share an MP with a large part of Cornwall. The same thing will happen to Dorset and Wiltshire. Gloucester Cathedral will no longer be in the Gloucester constituency but in the Forest of Dean. (It’s not possible under the new rules for the Gloucester seat to be left alone: it has 315 voters too many!)

The Boundary Commission’s consultation on its initial proposals closes on Monday and we have today sent in our response, which is reproduced below.

The Wessex Regionalist Party offers the following comments on the review.

1. We believe that the legislation governing the review is fundamentally flawed in its devaluing of community identity. We also believe that MPs failed to understand that limiting variation in the size of the electorate to no more than 5% would mean that shire and other local loyalties could no longer automatically be respected. We believe that the Commission has a responsibility not only to carry out its task within the remit of the legislation but to convey to those responsible the degree of public disquiet at what may be unintended consequences of that legislation.

2. We welcome the Commission’s proposals where they succeed in respecting the traditional boundaries of Wessex shires. We remain concerned that important local boundaries within shires, notably those of the City of Gloucester, have been treated insensitively.

3. Without prejudice to our primary position that constituencies in Wessex should not cross the traditional shire boundaries, we suggest that the proposed ‘Warminster & Shaftesbury’ constituency could be named ‘Heart of Wessex’. There is a precedent for this in the former European Parliamentary constituency of Wessex (1979-84).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Traditional Choice

One member of the public commented on the website of The Guardian (a London newspaper) yesterday that:

“I feel our sense of tradition and our warmth towards our old institutions needs to change, we need to stop thinking they are there to take care of us. If they are to continue to exist, they need to do so within a mandate of our choosing, rather than us existing within one of theirs.”

That truly is about the sum of it. And it’s also worth adding that there is in many cases a choice to be made between one set of traditions and another, between those of a folk culture from within and a ‘high’ culture from without. Often it is the outside view looking in that is privileged and the inside view looking out that is condemned to silence. The media will always seek out the local who agrees with their metropolitan outlook and dismiss the rest as quaint.

The Crown, the Church, the City, and, of course, Parliament, are traditions we are supposed to value. Our own traditions – our shires, our boroughs, our whole culture, especially our dialect – are not valued but are pulled and kicked about for advantage and amusement. Which is why central to any programme for constitutional reform must be a true empowerment of the regions, not as agents of whatever party happens to command a Commons majority but as something much, much more valuable than anything national can be. A living heritage with roots deep in the land of Wessex. THAT is a transformation to take us far beyond mere politics.

We Are WR

From time to time we are advised, usually by non-members, that we ought to drop the word ‘Wessex’ from our name. Or drop ‘Regionalist’. Sometimes to drop the status of ‘Party’. Needless to say, we do not welcome advice from anyone who hasn’t paid a subscription. Saving Wessex is not a spectator sport. We are the Wessex Regionalist Party, always have been and in all likelihood always will be. Our founder got the name right – by thinking it through.

The last suggestion of the three is the easiest dealt with. We are a registered political party because there is still no better way to alter things than to seek to unseat those who are getting things so badly wrong. For us to abandon that ambition would be to consign Wessex to continuing rule by the London parties, each of which offers simply a slightly different version of the same anti-Wessex agenda.

We are proud to be The Party for Wessex. We are NOT “regionalists” in the sense of subscribing to some all-England or wider creed with which Wessex has to comply. We have no reason to be patient with those who believe in building regionalism but not in building regions. Yet. (If not now, then when? Or do we go forever round in circles while the metropolitan chattering classes either fail to make their minds up or back the wrong horse, as they did so spectacularly in the case of the Prescott zones?) We are not interested in settling for less autonomy than we need, out of sentimental respect for a “national unity” that in practice means we get outvoted and suffer the imposition of irrelevant policies. But we ARE regionalists in the sense that we are not separatists who would deny the interconnectedness of the world, or despise voluntary co-operation to address the pressing issues that confront humanity. Those are debates to which we hope to contribute the distinctive Wessex perspective, informed by a cultural heritage that we safeguard for all. That is why we are WESSEX Regionalists.

We have a vision for Wessex and it is not a nationalist one: it is a regionalist one and our name makes that clear. For us, the region is but one link in a chain of subsidiarity stretching from the parish to the planet. It is, however, of pivotal importance and its total absence from the political structure of England is a hole we strive first and foremost to fill. We emphasise the region because it is what allows the other components of the structure to function properly, neither struggling with matters beyond their capacity nor bloated with detail, remote from the citizen. The region is big enough to cope, small enough to care. That is why we are Wessex REGIONALISTS.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Western Spring

WR President Colin Bex speaks truth to power on the streets of London.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Noz vat, keneil

Good night, friend. In Breton.

Tuesday saw the funeral of Yann Fouéré, who died on 20th October at the age of 101. A life-long advocate of Breton and other minority rights, founder of the Movement for the Organisation of Brittany and other political and cultural movements in Brittany, co-founder of the Celtic League and the European Free Alliance, Fouéré’s most iconic contribution to political thought was the idea of ‘the Europe of a Hundred Flags’. The phrase is a translation of the original title of his 1968 book, L’Europe aux Cents Drapeaux, published in English in 1980 as Towards a Federal Europe: Nations or States?

The phrase is much more inspiring than the book, which now appears very dated. All regionalists who have not yet achieved the degree of autonomy they desire will be disappointed with the pace of change, the resurgent intransigence and tactical slyness of the nation-states and the lack of genuine interest from those now busy building a bankers’ and bureaucrats’ Europe on the ruins of idealism.

Nevertheless, we are pleased to have counted Fouéré among our allies, just as he was to give ‘Le Wessex’ an honourable mention in his magazine, L’Avenir de la Bretagne. His book was too early for us to receive a mention there. What the book does say is that the future English region-states are “foreshadowed in the eight economic regions into which England has already been divided” but that “some adjustments may be required as far as the limits of these regions are concerned”. Commenting on the situation in the late 1970s, it goes on to say that “France and Spain are lagging behind England”. Not any more!

Despite his flexibly federalist leanings, Fouéré posed a warning: “Could Zone No. 6 or the West-North-West Region kindle in the hearts of their citizens some kind of local patriotism, which is the condition of a vigorous local life? On pain of being purely artificial and devoid of every human warmth, the region-states should be inspired by a spirit of resistance to absorption and assimilation. If not, they would be like dead cells, and dead cells cannot make up a living body. They would soon be swallowed up by a unitary European state, using its centralized and despotic power to destroy the freedom of men and regions.”

John Prescott tried to give us precisely the kind of map that Fouéré condemned. We begged to differ and fought top-down regionalisation every inch of the way. We were right, and are right, in believing that when regional government finally triumphs it will not be under the logo flag of some ‘South West’ or ‘South East’ assembly but when the fiery standard of Wessex comes to be unfurled over the first gathering of our region’s Witan in near a thousand years.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tackling the Taboos

“There are those who say the system is broke. It’s not. That’s how it was built. It is there to make rich people richer.”  Bilbo Goransson

In parts of Wessex, second homes are an epidemic. In the coastal communities of south Devon, including towns such as Salcombe, second homes and holiday lets now account for over 50% of the housing stock. For those who don’t live in south Devon – and it could equally be parts of Somerset or Dorset – try imagining the scene. Every other home, empty all winter. The locals? Who?

South Hams District Council has done what it can. It has recognised the harm to communities that results when family members are ripped from their roots by lack of affordable housing. Schools, shops and facilities suffer.

Before 2000, the council’s priority was to protect the environment. Since 2000, it has been to get affordable housing built. Not a popular policy with everyone. Council officials have faced death threats. Folk feel that their environment is under attack, as well they might.

The sad fact is that conflict is an inevitable consequence of the law as it stands. Because the Londoners won’t forgo their cosy cottages, local authorities face an unpalatable dilemma. Build – and destroy farmland, landscape, tranquillity, road safety and the rest to accommodate ever greater numbers, eroding the very attributes of rural living that attracted the newcomers in the first place. Or don’t build – and see the community die. A not-so-holy alliance between planning departments (seeking fees) and building firms (seeking profits) means that bricks-and-mortar is the stock answer to any social problem, always preferred to truly constructive thinking.

There is another way. The way that keeps the housing stock stable but gives priority to locals when vacancies arise. It works well in the Channel Islands. It would work well in Wessex, were it allowed to. Empty and second homes could be taxed out of existence. Change of use to a second home could require planning permission. If all else fails, the public sector could step in and buy those homes whenever they come on to the market and rent them to local homeless folk. You remember. Council housing? The very opposite of current policy, where Right to Buy discounts are to be increased, allowing more and more tenants to effectively steal public assets, and where ‘affordable rents’ are now to be redefined as 80% of market rent, regardless of whether local incomes are anywhere near that figure. The Wessex Clearances are underway then. As Robin Stanes put it in his history of Devon, “If it has lost much of its native idiom and rural style and if the Devonshire dialect is now seldom heard – and mocked when it is – that probably does not bother the new Devonians, the incomers who probably now make up the majority.”

When Labour ruled the roost, it labelled second homes a localised problem requiring localised solutions, but always denied us the powers and resources to do anything but moan. Solutions do exist but to reach them will mean putting people and place above property and privilege. Lack of money is the worst possible excuse for not doing something. Money is infinite, just an accounting convention, a symbol for the finite real resources that society either squanders or puts to good use. It is society’s job, through its democratic institutions, to allocate and re-allocate resources, through defining and re-defining the scope of the property rights it will recognise, to achieve just outcomes. It’s time it got on with it. Until then, we shall continue to ask the question: can we, environmentally and socially, continue to afford a part-time populace? Or must the price of their fun in the sun be a lifetime of squalor for the ordinary folk of Wessex?

Happy King Alfred’s Day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Wrong Type of Railway

Transport developments continue to make the headlines this month. Figures for rail use so far in 2011 suggest that this will be a boom year, with the number of passenger journeys at its highest since the mid-1940s, and the highest in peacetime since the 1920s. The Independent (a London newspaper) commented in its editorial on 17th October that: “Soaring petrol prices is one of the principal factors powering the growth in train travel, and as a return to the days of cheap petrol appears inconceivable, it would be wise to bank on the need for continued rail expansion. Yet there is not much sign that the Government has taken this on board.”

Enough of that rolling on the floor laughing. Of course, petrol prices are still ridiculously low but at least there are some who realise, however imperfectly, that the only way is up, just as there are those who realise that growth really is dead, even if they have yet to see the body. There will be huge investment in the railways in the years to come. The London regime has embarked on one of the biggest rail development programmes since Victorian times – 2,700 new carriages, £900 million for electrification, and the Crossrail and Thameslink projects. Not to mention High Speed 2 ruffling Tory feathers in the Chilterns.

The question we should all be asking is whether this is money well spent. Will it help decentralise the UK and facilitate the re-formation of substantially self-sufficient regional economies? Or will it re-inforce provincial subservience to dictates from the London branch office of the global banking scam, and so disastrously delay our transition to a sustainable way of living?

Left to the market, the answer might well be the former. The highest growth this year has been in journeys taken in London and the south-east rather than in the long-distance travel that politicians like to talk up into a series of glamorous grands projets. Another growth area has been in use of small rural branch lines – precisely the kind of lines that used to be considered the network’s biggest liability. No doubt that pattern would have been even more marked if so many services outside the south-east had not been rendered inaccessible through branch line closures. “The argument deserves to continue, therefore,” opines the Indy, “over whether future investment should be targeted towards further improvements to high-speed, cross-country routes, or plugging the woeful gaps in our often neglected commuter and branch line services.”

No prizes for guessing our choice. Or that the London regime has the opposite view, knowing full well that the £30 billion cost of HS2 would drain the rail sector of the resources, financial and human, needed to do anything really useful at this time. (Besides creating a climate of confrontation and fear that could turn a lot of decent folk against rail development as such.)

North Warwickshire MP Dan Byles told his colleagues recently that HS2 is “such an important national project that, regardless of whether you as an MP are for or against it, you need to know the issues at stake. Every family in the land will end up paying for this.” The Institute of Economic Affairs has said that there is no business case for HS2. The Economist magazine wrote that: “the effect of such projects in other countries has often been to strengthen the competitive advantage of an already dominant city.” Paris has gained the most from the creation of a high-speed network with itself as the central node and London now seeks to repeat the feat. The HS2 Action Alliance has concluded that what is needed to benefit the north and midlands are “transport improvements that improve the efficiency of their labour markets, not ones that expose them to greater competition from London” (‘competition’ subsidised, of course, by all us poor provincials). Dismantling the fake regional structures of the Prescott era without replacing them with a genuine regional alternative will make that turn-around harder to achieve. According to Ed Cox, director of the think-tank IPPR North, handing powers to Scotland’s devolved government and London’s mayor while ignoring everything in between has allowed those areas to advance economically while others suffer.

We’ve been saying all of this for 30 years now: that what’s needed is a Wessex-oriented transport system to link our principal towns and cities to each other, not to London. And the same goes for every other region in our position. The great centralist lie is that Whitehall rule is fair rule, that the national interest is the sum of regional interests and not something that in fact is structurally biased in favour of the south-east corner of these islands.

Sneering at regional solutions, as the Coalition does, and insisting that cities and their hinterlands – ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships’ – are the expected basis for sub-national collaboration is economically illiterate. Like it or not, rural areas do exist and do have a contribution, increasingly important, to make to our sustainable future. As a strategic rail link, the Wessex Main Line is not just Bristol’s commuters at one end and Southampton’s at the other, with an empty bit in the middle and the main focus of attention catching connections for Paddington and Waterloo. It is the backbone of a region, which is why the London regime likes to run it down and turns a blind eye to the overcrowding. And will go on doing so until we retrieve the power to set our own priorities.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bright Sparks

Ten years ago yesterday there began a brief spell when our region had its own train company, Wessex Trains, which basically ran the former Western Region local services, excluding the Thames valley and south Wales. The original plans for the franchise would have seen it eventually take over the remaining ex-Southern Region diesel-hauled services on the Exeter-Waterloo route. That idea – and the franchise itself – was killed off in 2006 on the irrational ground that London commuters, poor things, might suffer if more than one company shared access to Waterloo station. After that, the more nostalgic trainspotters could sleep easy too, knowing that the GWR/Southern divide would stagger on largely unblurred into the 21st century and that rail planning regionally would continue to be about getting folk up to London and not – perish the thought – about seamless travel around Wessex.

Thanks, or rather no thanks, to the London & South Western Railway and its successors, many of the lines in south-eastern Wessex were electrified using a live third rail, instead of the overhead wires more generally used. Not clever. In 1904, Professor Silvanus P. Thompson had warned that “the live rail is itself already an obsolete device. It is an engineering blunder. I would therefore ask whether the time is not right for public opinion in some effective form to step in and prevent the railway engineers of England from committing our railway system any further to the dangerous and unnecessary device.”

Clearly the time was not right. Bournemouth to Weymouth was electrified using third rail as recently as 1988, when British Rail’s Class 442 Wessex Electrics were introduced to operate the service. Eastleigh to Fareham was infilled in the 1990s. But last winter, realisation finally began to dawn that third rail just doesn’t like cold weather. Ice forming on the rail can break contact and so the train effectively breaks down. The answer is to run de-icing trains, but then what to do if their path is blocked by trains that have broken down already?

And so the thinking has started. In June this year, Peter Dearman of Network Rail suggested that the third rail network will need to be converted to overhead at some point. It has reached the limit of its capabilities, especially as train technology continues to advance, and it is not sustainable to continue with a system where 25% of the power is lost from heat. The capital costs of conversion work out cheaper than renewal of the existing equipment, needed within the next 10-20 years in any case – a once in 40 years opportunity that must not be lost. The disruption in the short term will deliver increasing benefits over time.

A Commons select committee looking into how well the transport system dealt with last winter’s conditions recommended a series of steps to improve matters. Ultimately, “the Secretary of State should commit the Government to the long-term aim of replacing the existing third rail network with a more resilient form of electrification.” The Department for Transport’s response confirmed that “the rail industry is assessing the case for replacing the third rail system over time with an overhead electrification system. Such a system would be more energy efficient as well as providing better resilience in severe winter weather… However, at this stage it would be premature to commit to the very substantial investment which such a change would involve.”

Since Wessex was the last victim of the third-rail blunder under British Rail, it will be interesting to see if it is also the first area to be converted. Unlike other areas to the east, constrained by sea, there are important connections with other local routes, at Weymouth, Southampton and Basingstoke. As conventional overhead electrification is also rolled-out on the former Western Region lines, so the technical excuse for not treating the whole of Wessex as a unit for local rail services will recede into history. Welcome back, Wessex Trains?

One-Way System

“Localism is about liberating the natural desire of local communities to become more prosperous. The notion that communities choose decline and reject prosperity is perverse, wrong-headed and not based on evidence.”

So says Eric Pickles. Two questions then for the obese obfuscator.

If he’s that sure that local communities, left to themselves, will destroy their environment, accepting growth over decline (because the middle way of conservation has been neatly airbrushed out of the argument), why does he need the safety net of the Planning Inspectorate to overturn their decisions if they go the ‘wrong’ way?

And why has he published a 65-page draft National Planning Policy Framework that tells them precisely what decisions to make?

The existence of the leash is the proof of the lie.

We have responded to Pickles’ current “consultation” in the degree of detail it deserves. With a single sentence: “We oppose the concept of a National Planning Policy Framework, imposed by central government, as fundamentally incompatible with local democracy.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Biggest Society

Communists and fascists agreed that an efficient society requires a strong element of focused terror – the fear of physical attack. We may think we have moved on but in fact, ever since the 70s, we have been moving back, back towards an older idea that an efficient society requires a strong element of unfocused terror – the fear of economic insecurity.

Nothing better illustrates this slippery slope than the Coalition’s plan for privatisation by stealth in the NHS, which having been waved through the Commons by the glove puppet party has recently begun its progress through the Lords. At our policy meeting last month we agreed a statement on health, namely that the Party:

· condemns the introduction of market forces into the NHS and the corresponding erosion of democratic accountability for the use of public funds;

· notes and condemns the fact that the drive for marketisation has been and continues to be supported by all the major London parties, denying any effective choice of direction;

· notes that in Scotland and Wales the NHS remains true to its founding principles and is organised through local health boards, co-ordinated by the respective devolved health ministers;

· notes that health policy for Wessex is made nationally by the London regime and is imposed on Wessex regardless of local or regional opinion;

· believes that health care should be provided by, or in close collaboration with, elected local bodies with unfettered powers to make decisions and to scrutinise and correct the decisions of others in this field, where not solely concerning the exercise of personal clinical responsibility;

· sees a role for regional action to support local choices, similar to the role of the health ministries in Scotland and Wales and the former regional health authorities in England, and demands that Wessex should form one such regional unit;

· recognises that a major cause of ill-health is the pressured nature of our society and calls for a fundamental reassessment of priorities so as to improve future health at source.

The Coalition parties claim as their aim the replacement of the Big State by the Big Society. Underlying this thinking is no great philosophical depth but simply a desire to rebrand more public assets for private benefit. Having found the State mired in debt, thanks to their banker chums, the only room for manoeuvre they perceive is to get the voluntary sector into debt too.

Less stupid folk will recognise straight away that the biggest society of all, the most comprehensive expression of the common good, IS the State. The real challenge is not to monetise and dismantle its institutions but to decentralise and democratise them, recreating opportunities for volunteers to exercise their skills and enthusiasm WITHIN the public sector, not through some amateurish substitute for it. The ongoing process of stripping out democracy, cutting the number of councils, cutting the number of councillors, giving them less to do, tying them up in rules that ruin their role, handing power to paid officers, executive members and elected mayors to do secret deals with the propertied and moneyed classes, is but the doing of a clueless flock of sheep, now well on their way to be butchered.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Rock and a Hard Place

For those who value our environment, and those who care about the future, there is a distinct lack of choice on offer from the London parties. The Tories and their glove puppet want to turn the planning system into a developers’ charter, telling us that localism doesn’t, after all, do what it says on the tin. With characteristic cynicism, they tell us instead that: “Only through empowering communities will we succeed in gaining their buy-in for development.” The intention is to maintain “a strong set of national policy principles to provide direction to local councils to ensure that sustainable development decisions are made.” Tory (and glove puppet) nanny knows best, just like Labour nanny did. And still does?

Surely not? There must be an opening here for Labour to confess and repent? Not according to Jack Dromey, Labour’s shadow communities minister (that’s ‘shadow minister for communities’, not ‘minister for shadow communities’, before you start to get spooked). The man told a fringe meeting at the party conference that Labour would reintroduce regional ‘imperatives’, including top-down housebuilding targets. Moron. We already have two to three times the number of homes that a sustainable population requires. And nowhere near the amount of farmland needed to support the one we actually have. He’ll start telling us next that we need ‘growth’ in order to save the planet.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

New New New Labour

Time was, long ago, when among the London parties a leader’s speech to conference was about how best to put the party’s purpose into action. Not now. Today the leader is there to explain what the party’s purpose is. Or is this week. Or until the polls suggest the nuance isn’t quite honed yet. What underlies the purpose isn’t principle but simply lust for the perks of office.

The truly fascinating thing is that the pundits can’t see anything wrong with this. The Labour Party ripped out its purpose – Clause 4 – in 1995 and threw it away. To be replaced with what Alex Salmond described at the time as ‘mush’. Labour’s concept of the common good was flawed by its French Revolutionary leanings – too distrusting of democracy, especially the endless variety that flourishes with local choice – but at least it existed. Labour believed in the common good, not ‘greed is good’. And now it doesn’t. So why does it still exist? Every one of those BBC and Guardian journalists who yearns for another ‘1997’ moment is missing the obvious. Labour was created to deliver a vision of a better society it has now rejected wholesale. What was a dynamic has become a ritual, designed to keep in being an organisation whose purpose has been hollowed out, leaving behind a shell party to be filled with any vacuous thought that passes through. Better by far it was put out of its misery.

At our policy meeting in May we considered how best to describe our Party’s own position on the political spectrum, concluding that we’re ‘radical decentralist’ rather than ‘Centre-Left’ or ‘progressive’. While there is sympathy with the latter positions, they are too vague to describe our own programme and are easily co-opted by hostile forces.

Radical decentralism is viewed as having three dimensions – a constitutional dimension (localism/regionalism), an economic dimension (co-operation/mutualism) and an environmental dimension (ecology). Unlike the Coalition parties, when we talk of localism we do really mean ‘power to the parishes’, power to decide whatever they like, without nanny setting limits. Unlike Labour, when we talk of a co-operative economy we want to see an end to corporate power, the introduction of a three-day working week and ultimately production, through voluntary association, for use and not for sale. Unlike any other party in Wessex, when we talk about protecting the environment we don’t qualify that goal by saying ‘but only so far as it doesn’t slow down economic or population growth’. For us, ‘decentralisation’ isn’t just a slogan to be betrayed. ‘Radical’ means what it says too. Someone has to say it because, increasingly, it needs to be said. And if no-one else will say it, we’re only too happy to oblige.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Peak Credulity

Must be conference season for the London parties, no?

Ringing the Changes

A couple of weeks ago – before computer problems kept us from posting to you – Bournemouth found itself in the national news. It’s to become the first part of the UK to require landline users to phone the whole number, including the area code, for local calls, even to next door neighbours.

Why? Not because there are too many folk needing to be connected but because the proliferation of phone companies has led to increased pressure on the supply of numbers.

Changes like these must lead one to question whether competition always makes things better for the customer. Remember when, under a monopoly supplier, directory enquiries were free, because giving out numbers meant more calls would inevitably follow?

How much simpler life would be with just the one phone company to consider. It could even be locally owned and controlled, as the Portsmouth Corporation Telephone Department was until 1913. Hull’s was until 1999 and is still independent of BT. Trunk lines are an unavoidable add-on but the GPO Telephones had a regional structure until privatisation. There was even a South-Western region that extended to Southampton. Wessex Telecom calling?

Knowing Our Place

Alex Salmond, setting out the Scottish Government’s programme at Holyrood earlier this month, poured scorn on Tories who had described plans to promote ‘Scottish Studies’ as ‘indoctrination’. “I cannot imagine any other nation,” he said, “where teaching your own history, arts and literature in an impartial way would be dismissed in such a negative fashion.”

Try south of the border, Alex. We’ve been arguing for decades that Wessex Studies needs to be offered as a university course and elements from it incorporated into day-to-day teaching in Wessex schools. Other regions are faring much better. Norwich has its Centre of East Anglian Studies. Newcastle has its Centre for Northern Studies. Leeds Metropolitan University also has its Institute of Northern Studies and offers a Master of Arts course in the subject. Even little Cornwall has its Institute of Cornish Studies at Penryn.

It’s nothing to do with lack of material. Wessex isn’t just Alfred the Great. It isn’t just Thomas Hardy. It’s Stonehenge and Avebury, ancient chalk figures, Roman baths and villas, Arthurian legend, abbots, barons and wool merchants, Queen Elizabeth’s sea dogs, Monmouth’s Rebellion, Swing rioters, Tolpuddle Martyrs, I.K. Brunel and Westland. It’s our dialect and our writers, from William Barnes to Pam Ayres. Our artists, from Stanley Spencer to Beryl Cook and David Inshaw. Our music, from the Wurzels to the Bristol Sound. Actresses like Liz Hurley, Kate Winslet and Emma Watson. Our cheese and cider, real ale, and good old recipes. And the land itself, its forests, moors, heaths and downs, its richness of wildlife and heritage. THIS is what our tourism and marketing folk should be selling, not some dead-end ‘South West’ that turns its back on anything and everything that’s not superficial and ephemeral. And if they need expert help, our universities should provide it. Let them prove they’re part of Wessex life and not simply living off Wessex.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cycling At The Edge

“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”
Kenneth Boulding (1910-1993), founder of evolutionary economics and co-founder of General Systems Theory

One of the philosopher Bertrand Russell’s best analogies was ‘the inductivist turkey’. A repeated experiment apparently gives the same answer every time. Has an eternal truth has been discovered? Never. It only takes one fresh, contrary observation to disprove the hypothesis. The turkey receives food every day. For 364 days. Without fail. Until the day it becomes food itself.

Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday included an unexpectedly erudite piece, penned by Bristolian William Rees-Mogg, who used to edit top London tabloid The Times but is much better known in Wessex as head of the landowning family with political ambitions from rural north-east Somerset.

Rees-Mogg’s theme was the business cycle, and more especially the long wave cycles into which individual business cycles fit. These are known as Kondratiev waves, after the Russian economist, shot by Stalin, who analysed them in the 1920s. Others had already grasped the idea of successive technological eras. Patrick Geddes at the beginning of the 20th century contrasted ‘palaeotechnic’ industries, led by coal, iron and textiles, with the emerging ‘neotechnic’ world of oil, electricity and chemicals. Kondratiev, and later Schumpeter, added much more detail. The historical economic data is just about sufficient to trace cycles of boom and bust all the way back to the South Sea Bubble in 1720.

The theory suggests that the boom is kick-started by capital investment to replace worn-out plant such as machinery, blast furnaces or vehicles. What synchronises this investment across competing economies is technological development. New products, or new ways of making old ones, give competitive advantage, so everyone is busy investing in plant in rapid succession to stay in the game. The bust comes when all that costly plant is starting to wear out and the market is too saturated for anyone to take the risk of replacing it. Especially, of course, when the financial sector has become top heavy in relation to the real economy.

According to Rees-Mogg, we’re now in one of the big dips in the Kondratiev long wave, a dip not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. History should warn us that wars are usually a sure way to perk up production. Rees-Mogg’s prognosis is not that bad. His educated guess is that the depression won’t end until 2020. It’s only a guess, as the dead turkey would testify, but is it a credible guess? In fact, it’s more than likely that 2020 comes and goes and still there’s no growth, but we can certainly agree that no spectacular upswing will happen before then.

Which should make us protest all the more forcefully against the antics of Osborne and Pickles in the press this weekend, both adamant that they will deregulate the planning system to, in their fevered imaginations, stimulate growth. OK, let’s take this slowly then boys. If there’s no underlying push for growth in the economy then deregulation will not stimulate it. Businesses without markets will not get loans and will not want to build. Housebuilders will not be moved by those who want to buy but cannot get mortgages. The quantity of development that takes place will be the same, regulation or no regulation. All that will happen is that the quality of development will plummet. Development will happen in the wrong locations, judged over the long term, cherry-picked according to the random nature of landownership. It will be cheaply built, to poor environmental standards. Developers will be let off making a contribution to funding the new schools, parks, etc. that their development makes necessary. Cash-strapped local folk, who may have fought the development tooth-and-nail, will pick up the bill instead. Wessex towns and Wessex countryside alike face ruin, for nothing. The Coalition’s planning reforms are a cowboys’ charter that promises an El Dorado it can never deliver. Growth is over. Fact. With Peak Oil looming, that’s even more certain than Christmas.

It’s also pretty certain that the cycles of economic change will continue. Just not in a context of growth. A world that at last realises that resources are finite will start to divert them from sunset industries into sunrise ones as quickly as possible. We will, for example, see a big shift towards resource efficiency and clean technology. Expect too a big revival in railway engineering as demand picks up for rails, signalling, power supply and rolling stock. Most items will be imported to start with, mainly from France, Germany or China, but there are advantages in being the last and therefore newest entrant to the market. Wessex will be starting out with some of the most modern engineering facilities in the world. Optimum sites for them need to be in the planning stages now. (Money to invest? You could do worse than buy former railway land at Bristol and Yeovil, two places with existing reputations for engineering excellence and poised to move from aerospace into rail.) All these sites need to be safeguarded against short-term fantasists who’d cover them with shopping malls and tiny little boxes for locals temporarily priced out of buying real homes by Londoners fleeing the mess they’ve made of their own world.

Wessex Regionalists have been articulating our vision of the future since 1974. Futurology is our specialist subject and it’s painful to watch the rest of Wessex take so long to catch up. Even seemingly good ideas like Transition Towns have been hijacked by hippies who think old railway lines are for country walks and not the backbone of our future regional transport system. Small is beautiful but thinking big has its place. Especially when dealing with ideas about the long term, a space and time almost defined by difference from the here and now. Along the way there are many things to learn, and re-learn. Skills. Attitudes. Values. Some things will be new. Others will certainly be coming round again. Wessex itself is a bit of both. The best overall metaphor for the future we’re preparing today is not a circle or a wave but a spiral, taking the best of the past onward to a new level.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Magic Roundabout

“Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.”
William Morris, A Dream of John Ball (1888)

We don’t mean the roundabout in Swindon. We mean the political one we’re trapped upon, watching riders from the other parties switching horses. Hey presto! Red Tories. Blue Labour. How do the yellow party beat that? Should they bother? At all?

Politics is a dynamic artform so consistency is a rare thing. Perhaps the extreme case is to be found in Hungary, where the Socialist Party now champions privatisation and means testing. In the words of one of its leaders, “The historic task of the Socialist government is to roll back the frontiers of the welfare state.” To understand how this came about, it is necessary to appreciate that Hungarian socialism was defined by its struggle against conservative nationalism (and ultimately fascism). What started off as a battle against capitalism by socialists has become a battle against nationalism by internationalists. So it is the Socialist Party that now wants more EU integration, sells off State assets to non-Hungarians, does the least to help Hungarian minorities in surrounding countries and generally welcomes the triumph of the global free market. Red flag anyone? No fair offer refused.

We have our own, less blatant experience of the same, from Thatcher’s wooing of the working class to Mandelson’s New Labour, "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich". When Revenue & Customs figures show that the bottom half of the population now own only 1% of the wealth, compared to 12% in 1976, a little yearning for simpler times is understandable.

Nietzsche wrote about the genealogy of morals but political ideas too have their roots, however tangled they are now becoming. Concepts of Left and Right that go back to the French Revolution may be reaching the end of their usefulness, along with the fossil fuel bonanza that enabled their sparring, but nothing has yet emerged to supplant them. In English politics, the two-tone divide stretches even further back, back to the Civil War.

Yet the largest pitched battle of that war to occur in Dorset was not fought between Cavaliers and Roundheads. It occurred in August 1645 when a force led by Oliver Cromwell, outnumbered at least 2 to 1, defeated the Clubmen on Hambledon Hill. The Clubmen, armed neutrals, were fed up with both sides. While others argued over who should run the country, they actually were the country, the ‘Country party’, as a contemporary source described them. Clubmen of all areas, royalist or parliamentarian, had much in common: a firm attachment to ancient rights and customs against a greedy, arbitrary and centralising State, a vague nostalgia for the good old days of Queen Elizabeth, and an enduring belief in the traditional social order, even if it did need some prodding to do its duty.

Unlike the Levellers, the Clubmen had no plans to plot a revolution. Their aims were more modest but also more down-to-earth. Above all they sought peace and prosperity, to preserve their local situation, regardless of political happenings elsewhere. Historians who dismiss the Clubmen because they had no ambitions for political change at national level are rather missing the point. They rose up, with no greater motive than the desire to protect their own hearths and homes, because national politics as a whole had failed them.

Clubmen were not unique to Wessex but Wessex is where they were concentrated and at their most sophisticated in the demands they formulated. We can rightly view them as Wessex heroes not because they had any notion of Home Rule but because they believed that national politics should serve them and not that they should serve national politics. Of all the parties for which they might have voted today, the Wessex Regionalists come closest to their ‘live and let live’ localism.

So what are the barriers to applying such a philosophy? Predominantly they are formed, still, by the national character of party politics, dented only by nationalist and unionist minorities on the fringes. That politics remains remarkably 17th century in outlook. The traditional Right is less liberal on social issues and more so on economic ones. It may have abandoned the Divine Right of Kings but its political inheritance is still a theological one: sin is to be suppressed, while wealth as proof of virtue is to be sought. The traditional Left has the opposite stance because it is more secular and scientific, more concerned with the material world than with the afterlife. Those attitudes are the ultimate fruits of an empiricism that began with the direct study of scripture in place of submission to hierarchy. Hence, the sins the Left condemns are those against equality of opportunity, not of personal behaviour. The quasi-religious language and imagery of Marxism have been exhaustively analysed. In so far as the Left are heirs to the Puritans, it should come as no surprise that their following in Wessex has never been great, except when the basics are mixed with a dash of visionary indignation that appeals across classes.

The main political traditions agree that there is only one answer. Their own. Neither is comfortable with the idea that answers can vary according to time, place and circumstance. That one side of a hedge a different policy can apply than applies on the other side. Changing that stubborn refusal to live and let live is what any regionalism worthy of the name needs to be about. If throwing off the yoke of uniformity is the negative side of the piece, then the positive may well be the vague general groundswell at present in favour of co-operation and mutuality. Whatever they may claim, these objectives are all alien to the core instincts and survival chances of the London parties. Which is why they’d much rather have us all going round in circles, getting nowhere fast.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Panic Over?

“The question remains whether, as the Berliners say, ‘the situation is desperate, but not hopeless,’ or ‘hopeless but not desperate,’ as the Viennese used to put it.”
Walter C. Dowling (US Ambassador to Korea), 1957

Consider three documents. The first is the State of the South West Report 2011, which informs us that human activity first exceeded the planet’s biocapacity some time in the 1980’s, that the situation continues to worsen (para. 7.18.1) and that if everyone consumed resources at the same rate as residents of the ‘South West’, we would need 2.64 planets (7.18.3). We are already living far beyond environmental limits, despite official pronouncements that we are – apparently – working hard to stay within them. The UK’s is one of the highest ecological footprints in the world, lower than those for the USA and Australia but considerably higher than those found in other developed nations with a high quality of life such as Italy and Japan. Worse still, the ‘South West’ zone has a greater eco-footprint than the UK as a whole, despite the perception of Wessex as a ‘green’ and ecologically-aware region.

Why are we so bad? Food (26%), transport (21%) and housing (21%) are the largest contributors to the ‘South West’ footprint. Transport should come as no surprise. We have a highly dispersed settlement pattern that is dependent on the private car, coupled with the long-term rundown of regional rail services compared to the London fringe. Overall, our largest towns and cities perform better than our rural areas and, broadly speaking, the further west the urban area lies, the better its results become. Commuting to London might be dragging down our figures but relative wealth seems a more likely explanation for this, with the greenhouse gas footprint in particular increasing eastwards as higher average household income fuels higher consumption.

The second document, Footprint Results for Local Authorities, draws comparisons between 2001 and 2004. (More recent data is not comparable: the two earlier snapshots allow us to examine trends.) Pages 11 and 12 show the ‘South West’ as the largest area in England to have deteriorated over that period in terms of eco-footprint, and the largest in Britain in terms of carbon footprint. Despite all that greenwash. Nothing can disguise the fact that development which is ‘less bad’ than it used to be is not the same as ‘good’, or that the footprints won’t reduce if we keep adding more feet.

So what of the third document? The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the Coalition’s thinking on planning – and the ‘limits to localism’ it seeks to impose. It decrees a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’. Alarm bells should begin ringing at once. You either have sustainability or you have development. To attempt both is to guarantee failure. You may as well stand on your feet and your head at the same time.

But worse is to come. According to the NPPF, ‘sustainable development’ means ‘sustainable economic growth’ because “without growth, a sustainable future cannot be achieved”. This is not just a misunderstanding. It is a wilful inversion of reality. As a rule, the higher the rate of economic growth, the higher the degree of environmental degradation that results. The only way an economy can appear to grow without harming the environment is if the transactions all involve buying and selling things that don’t actually exist. Think banking. Think toxic assets. A sustainable economy need not be a static economy – our recent policy review committed the Party to support economic change in place of economic growth – but unless the total amount of activity is kept within strict environmental limits there will be no economy.

So who’s listening? None of the London parties. Even the Greens talk about ‘green growth’, without reminding us what therefore needs to contract if the ecological books are to balance. As for the media, no chink of light is ever permitted to penetrate the articles and discussions that pore over economic orthodoxy as if it meant a thing. Orthodox economics has become for our day the Big Lie, which, if it’s big enough, most people will end up believing. So much for education. We seem to be edging towards a scenario like the last decades of the Soviet Union, when ever more desperate remedies are applied to ‘save’ the system. A system that those who can add two and two correctly know is bound to fail. For the rest, evidence is not just ignored: the true believer cannot see it at all. A Blairite conjuring trick will soon reconcile infinite growth with finite resources. Development is environmental protection.

Standing up to a lie is personally threatening. The gut reaction is to protect one’s security and stability, to not rock the boat. After all, how far does the remit of the security services actually extend? Passively, or worse, the deceived defend the lies and the lies go on getting bigger as London politicians push the boundaries just a little bit further.

Fortunately, faced with such nonsense, sane folk are duty-bound to ask the searching questions. Let’s take one example.

Is man-made climate change a hoax? If it is, then we need to ask what is it a cover for? There is good reason to think that it may form a gentle introduction to the much more intractable issue of Peak Oil, though along the way it gives a heck of a boost to demands for a world government with dictatorial powers. The so-called ‘debt crisis’ illustrates how easily global governance, even now, can be manipulated to ‘deliver on austerity’, transferring astronomical amounts of public wealth into private hands with barely a whimper of real protest. More locally, the imperative of ‘green growth’ can recruit hordes of dewy-eyed useful idiots, to campaign, for example, for heavily subsidised wind farms instead of the low impact community wind, hydro and bio power that a decentralised society might actually need.

If man-made climate change is NOT a hoax then the actions of politicians, advised by the best science available, are rationally inexplicable. They would by now have abandoned all this pretence about growing the economy to pay off the bankers. They would have slammed on the brakes and radically transformed the financial system to support a rapid transition to a steady-state economy. Instead they insist not only that growth must continue but that environmental protection must be switched off for as long as it takes to accommodate even more growth in population and consumption. All to re-pay debts that were created out of nothing. Imaginary debts, which could be paid off at once with imaginary money and no-one would be any worse off than when they started.

So if man-made climate change is not a hoax, we must conclude either that London politicians are stupid enough to ignore the warnings of the world’s top scientists, or else that they fully realise what they’re doing. That they genuinely love money more than they love their own children and grandchildren, whose future they’re throwing away for the sake of a silly numbers game. Either way, they have to go. Or it will be time to panic after all.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back to School

This month, young Eric was at it again. Pickles’ Communities & Local Government Department issued new planning rules for schools, ordering local councils to allow good schools to expand and threatening the cane if they exercise their own democratic judgment.

This is, to put it bluntly, an idiotic policy, created by idiots, for idiots to apply. A sensible person would ask why there are good schools and bad schools. As taxpayers, we fund both kinds so we have an interest in seeing the bad schools turned round as soon as possible. Children are trapped in those bad schools and someone ought to be speaking up for them. Now. Setting up a ‘free market’ in which schools compete to poach each others’ pupils is the kind of harebrained scheme we might expect after 30 years of the Thatcher experiment but it’s simply no way to get results quickly and fairly. Why not just find out what the good schools are doing right and get the bad schools to do the same? Before marketisation, when there was still a sense of the common good, best practice circulated rapidly. Now it’s commercially confidential, a secret you can’t have unless you pay for it. Childish. And it damages children’s prospects for the sake of someone’s big ego and their lucrative career.

It also causes chaos. Parental choice means one lot of children being ferried from A to B, passing another lot being ferried from B to A. Between a twelfth and a fifth of all traffic in the morning peak is accounted for by the school run. What do these folk imagine will happen when oil prices make this kind of nonsense impossible?

Earlier this year, our policy review meeting took a view on education, which is that we see it as part of building better communities, growing out of inclusive schools at their heart. Schools that cherish all and are cherished by all. Schools that won’t let their children down and which won’t be let down by the community that funds and manages them. Recognising the primacy of individual and communal autonomy, fully inclusive schools are a Party aim rather than a requirement, to be achieved where supported locally but not imposed where they aren’t wanted. Parishes should decide whether private schools are to be tolerated on their territory.

Current national policy, seeking to undermine community schools rather than enable them to achieve more, is State-sponsored looting by the most mouthy, selfish scum our society has yet spawned. The promoters of ‘free schools’ deserve to be in jail for diversion of public funds, sharing a cell with a freshly convicted rioter or two. And if there’s room, a few Labour advocates of ‘academies’ sponsored by the likes of creationist car dealers. The whole London party consensus on the education system is that it’s fair game for social vivisection. Do any of those involved want better schools in their area? No. They want a better school in their area, from which they can benefit through dismantling democratic accountability to the whole community.

Our view is that all public funding for private and faith schools should be withdrawn because of their potential to divide communities on class and religious/ethnic lines. Educational apartheid is a real possibility in larger cities but we shouldn’t forget the special problems of rural areas, which are the main concern of a party devoted to the needs of Wessex.

Many of our village primary schools are Church of England schools, largely as a result of our particular class history in the 19th century. In England as a whole, in January 2002, 32.8% of State schools were identifiably faith-based. (The local figures that follow are also from January 2002 but given the direction of Government policy since then they are very likely to have increased: the national figure for January 2008 was 33.2%.) In parts of Wessex the figures were very much higher than the national average: 60.9% in Wiltshire, 56.3% in Dorset, 51.4% in Oxfordshire, 49.6% in Somerset, 48.1% in Bath & North East Somerset. (Cornwall, with its Nonconformist heritage, comes in very much lower, at 17.4%, as do other traditional mining counties like Derbyshire and Durham.) Wiltshire’s 60.9% was exceeded only by Westminster and Wigan, both urban areas where parental choice has the possibility of meaning something. When your village school is run by the CofE and so is every alternative for over 10 miles, ‘choice’ may have rather a hollow ring to it. In fact, it reveals the whole idea of parental choice to be a fantasy dreamed up by folk in posh London suburbs who have no idea of the unavoidable reality in much of the countryside.

Many parents feel cheated. Many are very upset, because in 2003 the Archbishop of Canterbury issued instructions to his schools that they should see themselves as small churches, holding confirmation and communion services for their captive congregations.

It is arguable that Church dominance of much of the Wessex schools system is a badge of regional difference and as such something that ought to be cherished. Anglicanism has been as much a part of Wessex’s regional culture as Puritanism in East Anglia or Methodism in Cornwall. It should continue to be, if that’s what folk want. The question is, how much power do they really have to change it if it isn’t?

It must be right that local choice and local control should be meaningful and at present they are not. Non-communicants are second-class citizens. Before reform of the House of Lords in 1999 we had in effect an ‘established Party’ (the Tories) with a privileged role in government. The ‘Tory party at prayer’, our established Church, still has that privileged role in education. Its position is deeply embedded and protected by law, so that, for example, when village schools are closed and the sites sold the money goes into national coffers, to be mismanaged by the Church Commissioners. The Church nationally therefore actually benefits financially from the withdrawal of our village schools. Other concessions have been made over the years, such as the State taking on an ever greater share of the cost of maintaining these buildings, which it will never own and whose eventual sale will produce a massive windfall profit for others. Not forgetting, of course, the free transport to school. All that cross-bussing again.

If we were to design a schools system from scratch, to fit within the structure of government we advocate, community should come first. Parishes, or groups of parishes, should run primary schools. Hundreds, or groups of hundreds, should run secondary and further education. Counties should provide specialist services not viable at any narrower level. Everyone involved should work together to provide the best possible education for all, with no axes to grind. Schools funded by all should be for teaching and not for preaching. The availability of the facilities for dual use by the school and, out of hours, the wider community should be obligatory. Common sense? You might very well think that. We couldn’t possibly comment.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dancing To Our Own Tune

In yesterday’s Western Daily Press, Veronica Newman of the Campaign for an English Parliament wrote that “One of the arguments often raised against the establishment of an English parliament is that it would be playing into the hands of the European Union… dividing the UK into bite-sized chunks for the delectation of Brussels.”

It’s delightfully refreshing to see English centralists hoist by their own petard, after all these years of telling us that regionalism is a Brussels conspiracy to cut up England. The ‘Euro-plot’ gets waved about like a demonic scarecrow in a bid to deter any rational debate about much-needed constitutional reforms. Those who do so do not see the irony of their position. If to embrace regionalism is to be positively influenced by the continent, then to shun regionalism is to be negatively influenced just as much. Neither extreme allows an independent assessment of the case on its own merits. The fact is that the case for regionalism in England would hold together even if the continent did not exist. It has been talked about and written about in this country since at least Edwardian times. ‘Home Rule’ agitation generally goes back a further century.

That other European countries have decentralised suggests not a conspiracy but a wide measure of open agreement that taking decisions regionally makes sense. If Germany has 16 regional legislatures and Switzerland has 26, this does not appear to have weakened them. On the contrary, it may be one reason why they are more successful than most.

Wessex Regionalists are not fundamentally anti-EU, nor fundamentally pro-EU: we will not be drawn into a beauty contest between the frying pan and the fire. We are against unnecessary centralisation and committed to genuine subsidiarity. By ‘genuine’ we mean a system in which autonomy is always there to be claimed from ‘below’, as of right and without quibbling, not dispensed, grudgingly, from ‘above’.

Our position is one of principle, not expediency. We are happy to explain it but not to alter it. It is what sets us apart from the London parties, whose whole rationale is about deciding what can or cannot ‘safely’ be left to ordinary folk to decide.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Return of the Region

The leading article today in The Times (a London newspaper) is about the north-south divide. It reports a call – actually made back in March – from Paul Hackett of the Smith Institute for a ‘Council of the North’ to be established, “a body that would bring together politicians, business leaders and academics to speak for the region as a whole. Such a body last existed between 1484 and 1641. It was set up by Richard III to give more power to the north after centuries of depression. Mr Hackett pointed out that London had representation that was becoming increasingly strong, and Scotland and Wales were also able to argue their cause. He suggested that bringing together the North West, Yorkshire and Humber and the North East would strengthen the whole region’s voice.”

The history is broad-brush but the political point is well made. The figures reproduced are damning – especially that transport spending per head in London is three times higher than up north.

What does this have to do with Wessex? Plenty. The case for centralism is that it allows resources to be shared out fairly by an impartial elite seated in Whitehall. It is demonstrable nonsense. All it does is thwart regional initiative and favour those closest to the metropolitan power-base. In 1971, John Banks, later our Party’s President, wrote in his book, Federal Britain?: The Case for Regionalism, that centralisation “has meant the concentration in London of the best jobs in government and business, and the corresponding drain of talent from the provinces and smaller national areas. High incomes have been earned in the metropolitan region, which have then been taxed in order to subsidize the regions from which enterprise has been attracted to the high income area, in order to persuade some of it to go back again. It is ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ economics, from which nobody can ultimately gain.”

We advocate a regional solution that can begin to redress unfairness in a dynamic and lasting way. We are regionalists, not separatists, and work with those in the Celtic nations and in other areas of England – even with ordinary Londoners – to dismantle the structures of arrogance that suppress us all. There is no place in our Party for those who wish to whine about Scots or northerners getting their hands on money that could have been spent in Wessex. Much of the money that apparently needs to be spent in Wessex is only needed because of reckless population growth outstripping the capacity of our public services to cope. Centralism has delivered a ‘lose-lose’ scenario where the older industrial regions are gutted and abandoned while Wessex disappears under concrete. Regionalism can hardly do worse than that.

Our Party puts Wessex first, always. But we seek to do it in an intelligent way, one that builds successful alliances that will benefit us at least as much as they benefit others. We have always been the Wessex Regionalist Party: proud of the fact that we view Wessex as a region – a community of communities that joins with others to form still larger communities as the need arises, in every case upon the basis of enlightened self-interest, not empire-building, nor uniformity for its own sake. In this view, we stand shoulder to shoulder with so many good folk throughout the length and breadth of Europe. We follow their progress with interest, as we hope they follow ours. A rising tide lifts all boats and, as we pursue our goal of self-government for Wessex, we trust we shall never be so blind to the world that we miss the signs of the turn, nor so deaf that we cannot listen and learn from the struggles and successes of our friends and neighbours.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Urban Harvesting

Much has already been written about the unrest that has struck Banbury, Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford, Reading, Southampton and other places since the weekend. Over a long, hot summer, many more words will appear, whether or not the events themselves recur. After the political debate, the weighty inquiry will ponder and pontificate. Recommendations will be insubstantial and – where not ignored altogether – will be incompetently implemented. British government, doing what it does best.

At the end of the story, nothing will have altered. When the IRA blew up the Baltic Exchange in the City of London in 1992, and Bishopsgate the following year, that altered everything. The chaps with the cash told Major to get it sorted and attitudes to Irish affairs saw their greatest transformation in 800 years. Money talks. Emptying JD Sports and Foot Locker can’t compete with that.

If the changes likely are all cosmetic, what brands of make-up exactly are we discussing? Two, mainly. The debate that has been sparked will be dominated by the stale shibboleths of Left and Right, united by a fanatical desire to exclude anyone different from having a say.

The Right starts with the advantage of being in office, albeit not necessarily in power. Its short-term focus will be the exemplary punishment of wrongdoing, an exercise that will sadly disappoint its supporters. Offenders will not be roasted alive on spits. Few will even be sent to prison, unless other criminals are released early to make room and keep within budget. Sentences that go beyond the norm will be challenged by the defence as irrational. Looters will laugh, last, longest and loudest.

The long-term focus of the Right will remain exactly the same as now. On more looting of its own. The looters on the streets have learned their callous inhumanity from 30 years of loadsamoney liberalism. Free enterprise? The enterprise has been audacious, certainly, and the goods free, to be sure. That no money changed hands is a detail that will detain only those who fail to hail the dawn of a new business model, the next ratcheting-up of the Hayekian dialectic, more efficient, less altruistic, with 50% fewer parties to the transaction.

At the time of writing, the riots are confined to England. The Celtic nations, small enough to acknowledge the human scale, where a sense of community endures and the Right has been largely rejected, have escaped. So too has the continent, where the social democratic model survives in still better shape. There has been an Arab Spring, but no sign yet of a European Summer.

The Left comes to the debate with a confession it will not make. That having held power for 13 of the past 14 years, the events it condemns are largely of its own making. It has created a human zoo, an act for which it must not be allowed to avoid responsibility. Four decades of hippy thinking – that time and resources are infinite and that there are no right answers – have fostered a culture of excusing and celebrating what must nowadays always be termed ‘deferred success’. An older, blunter Left would have called a failure a failure and learned its lesson. The newer, parasitical Left dares not solve problems or it would be out of its well-paid job. Institutional empathy has to take the place of solutions, because success would be the new failure. At least the greying student revolutionaries who now run the show are having to think for once before deciding who their heroes are.

Tonight it was reported that Manchester suffered badly yesterday because its police were simply overwhelmed. Their available strength had been diminished by lending officers to keep the peace on the streets of London. It was last night too that unrest spread in Wessex, where previously only Bristol was featured nationally as the scene of disorder. Now we should be concerned. A chief constable’s top priority should be the protection of the force’s own area, lending to others only when that objective has been secured. Every Wessex officer sent to London is one less to defend those at risk in our own towns and villages. It will be instructive to see data on burglaries in the Cotswolds, the Vale of Pewsey or the New Forest while police from the Thames Valley, Wiltshire and Hampshire forces are elsewhere. When trouble flared in Stokes Croft in Bristol earlier this year, in the notorious ‘Tesco’s riot’, foreign police, from south Wales, were brought over to enforce the law. Police from another Wessex force might have been better received but there’s no prospect of that if they’re busy helping Londoners lance their own festering boils.

The possibility of being shot is actually highest in the countryside, not in inner cities. Rural areas are where the guns are, especially the ones held legally. And they’re needed, given the likely police response time if there is any incident. Events in London will lead to the questioning of many longstanding assumptions. Will Cameron’s goal of privatising everything but the police and army survive, or will they in fact be the first victims of the Big Society, as communities decide that if the protection they have paid for is not around then they need to start making their own arrangements? Farmers have already started, following a 17% increase in the cost of agri-crime in just two years. Livestock rustling has doubled in six months. Thefts of quad bikes are a particular plague in Wessex, as are high value tractor thefts in areas close to motorways. Heating oil has also been targeted since the price rose last year and it isn’t even a luxury yet.

Left and Right share the perspective of Jacobin individualism, one which seeks the elimination or subjugation of all institutions intermediate between the central State and the citizen. Neither can tolerate, or even comprehend, the idea of community responsibility, for good or ill. But we do not have to abandon a thousand years of progress in other fields to see that a system the Saxons knew as frankpledge, in which everyone is accountable for their neighbours’ actions, and for any failure on their own part to bring them to justice, creates a self-policing society.

Early in the 19th century, liability for riot damage was imposed on the hundred in which the damage occurred. The hundred was responsible to the king for keeping the peace, so if it failed in its duty, and the troublemakers could not be traced, it was only fair that everyone had to pay the compensation. In 1886 that responsibility was transferred to the police and so rests today ultimately with Council Tax payers in the county or larger area for which a constabulary is constituted. It’s a much fairer idea than insurance, where the future burden of higher premiums falls on the victim and never touches the perpetrator even indirectly.

You would think so. Except that under Labour a consultation paper in 2003 proposed to abolish altogether the last trace of the collective liability for riot damage. Why? Because insurance was seen as a better way, one that did not divert resources from the police, who should not be punished for not doing their job effectively. Top cops, of course, are now wriggling for the review to be revived, claiming that “in a context of cuts the public will see little sense in a shrinking police fund being diverted to pay for criminal damage”.

The public might conceivably disagree. It is no criticism of the frontline copper to say that, for those at the top, payment by results should work both ways. When so much investment has been made in ‘policing by consent’, for apparently so little return where criminals don’t consent to be policed, chief constables and police authority chairmen cannot just shrug off the results as the unpredictable nature of social complexity.

A lot of that complexity has just undergone a rapid simplification. The world will not be same again. When the dust settles, communities will be demanding that the authorities earn their keep, or the communities will keep their taxes. And maybe build for themselves something that history tells us will work.