Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ashdown Reveals Defection Terms

As we await the result of the Eastleigh poll, we can provide a little of the background to the coverage our candidate received on Wednesday’s Newsnight. (Catch it on iPlayer while you can: starting at 6:14 in and ending at 6:43.)

Colin reports: “I was able to crash in on some publicity given to Paddy Pantsdown when I suggested he join a real party, to which he threw his hand to his head saying he had lost hours of sleep the night before, worrying about doing so, whereupon I reminded him the Pope had resigned, thus setting a good example, to which he replied 'If the Pope joins the Wessex Regionalists I may consider it'. I am sure Liberal Democrat headquarters will be well-pleased with that footage!”

We are well-pleased that Newsnight included footage of five of the parties standing: Conservative, Labour, LibDem, UKIP and WR. It seems we are now established as the fifth party in Wessex, at least in their eyes. So complaining about the favouritism traditionally shown to the big battalions has produced a result at last.

Talking of favouritism, Colin also sends news of the four-party-only public meeting on Tuesday, which was arranged by David Babbs of 38 Degrees (dangerous radicals they are then):

“I had to shame him into agreeing I should be able to speak. He said I should be allowed one minute as opposed to four minutes for each of the unmentionable suspects, so, before commencing I took over chairmanship by asking the audience to show if they wanted me to have four minutes as the others. There was a majority in favour so I did, and had a good response from a full house with two rows standing at the back.

People are smiling in recognition when they see me and I have taken a number of details of people I have spoken to, explaining that I hope to return to Eastleigh sometime soon after the election and that we intend to field at least one candidate for each county for the General Election in 2015, for which we want offers from people to join us.”

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Right Here, Right Now

According to London newspaper The Guardian, “the fringe candidates have been great value”. Colin “has spent many chilly hours on Market Street patiently explaining exactly where Wessex is and why the ancient kingdom should not be controlled by Westminster”.

Ancient kingdom? Is that how Scotland, Wales or Cornwall would be described? Anyone would think we’re a party about the past, when in fact we’re the party most seriously concerned about the future.

At least the local media are doing a real job of providing impartial information in a non-patronising way. The usual attitude of London reporters just goes to show why we need to be in charge of our own destiny.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Wessex Conversations

It’s good to talk. It’s a necessary prelude to well-considered action. Yesterday as a party we had two lively conversations, one internal, one external.

The Party's Annual General Assembly, held at Wokingham, began the work of planning our election strategy for 2015. The meeting was arranged long before the Eastleigh by-election was called but our President broke off from campaigning to give us an entertaining and inspirational account of tactics in the constituency. A couple of members then accompanied him south to a hustings organised by Churches Together in Eastleigh (CTiE), held at St Andrew’s Methodist Church.

Waiting for the start, we were able to explain to one member of the audience why Eastleigh’s Wyvern Technology College has such an appropriate name. Eastleigh is a very mixed constituency. Chris Huhne, when he was the town’s MP, described it as “not pretentious at all, it’s very down to earth, and I think it’s great.” It’s a glorious cross-section of Wessex life and all life was indeed there last night.

Hustings we have known are of two types. There are those that advance the democratic process by even-handedness towards all candidates. There are also those that retard, truncate and ultimately undermine that process by allowing only ‘approved’ candidates access to the microphone. A fully functioning democracy isn’t just about choice: it’s also about how choices get to be defined and filtered. If they’re defined and filtered by undemocratic means - by favouritism - then the democratic choice itself is rendered meaningless.

We are pleased to report that CTiE did it right. The Tories and the LibDems did end up in an unseemly slanging match over local planning issues that was tedious to watch but the organisers had done their best to keep it all on a friendly level and most candidates had responded with very good humour. (According to Nick Clegg today, it’s a two-horse race, though he’ll only know this for sure if the ballot’s already rigged. If so, that’s a shame, since neither horse was on top form last night: too much whinnying by far.)

All candidates had been invited and ten were in attendance, arranged in alphabetical order, just as they are on the ballot paper. It was a very long table, accommodating a wide range of views. The contrast with programmes like the BBC’s Any Questions? and Question Time, where only opinions considered ‘safe’ are aired, let alone treated with respect, was immediately striking. A well-run hustings can reveal the truth that politics doesn’t have to travel in the same well-worn ruts.

The Britain portrayed by the mainstream media is one compressed into those very ruts: massively tribal in its thinking and with nothing better to do than gossip about the survival chances of the London party leaders and spit venom at ‘the other side’. Politicians are expected to jostle for power, to define or be defined. It is much less forgivable that the media, instead of opening-up space for ideas to grow, so often feign incomprehension and fawn before the familiar dinosaurs instead.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hobson’s Choice – Again!

WR President Colin Bex issued a press release today, protesting against arrangements for a meeting to be held in Eastleigh on Tuesday (26th February). The meeting will provide voters with the chance to hear from four of the candidates in the by-election. (We assume these are from the essentially indistinguishable major London parties.) The other ten candidates are not welcome. Colin is one of those ten.

We’re getting used to this now but it doesn’t get any more acceptable with repetition. It’s simply wrong, and it ought to be strictly illegal as an abuse of the electoral process. It is, above all, insulting to the voters, who have yet to vote and so have not prioritised the candidates from whom they wish to hear. How do the organisers of a meeting decide that four of the candidates are better than the others? Because their parties have done well before? What about past performance being no guarantee of future prospects? And doesn’t it become a self-fulfilling prophecy (not to say a self-perpetuating one) that if you only hear from the successful parties then those are the parties that will go on being successful? To break the mould, we must first break the silence.

The Moody’s Blues

“Growth is the disease for which it pretends to be the cure.”
quoted by Australia’s Stable Population Party

Two pieces of news this week illustrate the contrasting worldviews of today.

The credit-raters have spoken. The UK is no longer AAA. While the Tory Chancellor bows deeply before the infinite wisdom of the Markets, Labour calls for more to be done to stimulate growth. Borrowing more money. Or printing more money. Which ends in hyper-inflation.

We have a financial system designed for infinite growth. Without growth, which must end as resources expire, that financial system must implode. Which is why transferring our personal and societal stores of value out of paper (or electronic) assets into real ones that can be of sustainable benefit to us is a sound long-term move.

In a real free market, politicians would shut up about growth. Their track record isn’t good. Labour claimed to have abolished boom and bust, when in reality their debt-fuelled ‘growth’ was all smoke and mirrors. Is it the Government’s job to promote growth? If folk don’t want to buy and sell as much as they did, is that anybody else’s business? If they actually prefer to work less, borrow less, waste less, where’s the problem?

Keynesians demand higher spending, on things that aren’t always agreed to be needed, just to get those wheels turning. (John Maynard Keynes himself used the analogy of burying banknotes, then leasing the right to dig them up again.) We live in an odd sort of world where macro-economic policy is detached from the idea that work should be directed towards meeting human needs and no further.

That’s not to say that there aren’t things that need to be done. Local folk can list them easily. They’re just not the priorities of big government, locked into a nefarious conversation with big money. Getting things done doesn’t need growth. It just needs less waste, less chasing after the wrong priorities. It seems we are now moving into a no-growth, steady-state economy, which is where, ecologically speaking, we should have been a long time ago. This is painful not because it shouldn’t be happening but because growth junkies and depletion deniers are making it painful by clinging to their old worldview. To remove the pain, we need to remove them from power and attack the instruments of that power – global capital, militarism and centralist diktat.

We need to do it soon. The second piece of news this week was the publication of the latest issue of Population Matters Magazine. In a hard-hitting lead article, Simon Ross writes:

“In March 2009, the UK Government’s Chief Scientist, Professor John Beddington, said that ‘a perfect storm’ of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threatened to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration. He attributed the causes to population growth and success in alleviating poverty and concluded that ‘We head into a perfect storm in 2030 because all of these things are operating on the same time frame’.

Resource depletion is now clearly beginning to bite as rising demand hits limited supply. Successful financier Jeremy Grantham warned last November of soaring commodity prices and impending shortages… He noted that rising food prices and likely fertilizer shortages were particularly serious. A recent Chatham House report stated ‘The world is undergoing a period of intensified resource stress, driven in part by the scale and speed of demand growth from emerging economies and a decade of tight commodity markets’ while another report, this time from US intelligence agencies, concluded that ‘New technologies, dwindling resources and explosive population growth in the next 18 years will alter the global balance of power and trigger radical economic and political changes at a speed unprecedented in modern history’.”

We’re ready for this, aren’t we? Not according to Ross, who cites “the lack of political agreement on action on sustainability at the Rio and Doha conferences, with governments instead focussing on how to reinvigorate struggling economies and restore public finances.” Fiddling while Earth burns then.

If we cannot rely on London politicians to detach themselves from the grip of high finance and re-attach themselves to the real world, then we have to look to ourselves. Finding the right mood for that to happen has never been straightforward. Philip Larkin wrote ‘Going, Going’ in 1972, a poem lamenting over-development and environmental destruction in England and how, instead of challenging things about which they’re uneasy, folk reconcile themselves to the inevitability of it all. There’s a particularly fatal habit we have here of trusting the powers-that-be to ‘look after’ us and the things we hold dear, as if that’s any part of their plan. Another work that appeared in 1972 was the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth. One of its authors, Professor Jørgen Randers, recently advised ‘Don’t teach your children to love the wilderness.’ Because it won’t be there much longer.

The kind of politics worth having doesn’t worry about a lack of growth. It celebrates it as a respite from centuries of foul madness. But if the consequences of past growth – and continuing growth elsewhere on our planet – will hit us just the same, then we need to be prepared.

We need to plan for the best future we still can. It won’t be one we recognise today. Many of the most familiar aspects of our lives will need to adjust to the challenge – the use of our housing stock, the production and distribution of energy and food, our communications networks, our security arrangements and even the nature of our democracy. We need to look beyond the brief blip that is the five-year electoral horizon. We need to research and manage change regionally for a better Wessex in an increasingly volatile world that will seek to manipulate us for the benefit of others. And to do all of that we first need self-government.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Missing: Wessex (Reward Available)

The stereotypical Martian, asked to investigate what the Wessex Regionalists stand for, might be puzzled by the answer. At one extreme, we may seem focused on very high level issues, like global justice, including the trial of leading politicians here and abroad for waging aggressive war. At the other extreme, we may seem focused on very low level issues, especially on empowering parishes to be the prime decision-makers for their localities, in place of dictatorial ministers and a despotic parliament.

What links them is what appears at first glance to be missing: the idea of the region. Yet the region is the true focus of our activities that makes sense of the rest. We have endured a decade of fake “regionalism” that has made it quite difficult for our own message to be heard. We are in the process of enduring what could be a decade of fake “localism”. Both have been doled out from above by a cynical, money-grubbing elite when what is actually needed is an unstoppable demand – for the real thing – coming up from below, one with zero tolerance of MPs who vote for the centralist line.

Cleaning up the regionalist ideal after its mauling by the Prescott crew takes time. And an oblique approach is essential if we are not to be tarred with the usual brush, the one that remembers Prescott’s regionalisation plans as the centralisation of cherished local powers, not the real devolution that was being rolled out in Scotland and Wales at the very same time.

So to start at the beginning again means to start at the bottom, at the most local level, insisting that parishes decide everything that they feel capable of deciding, not what some toff in London judges them competent to decide. Only what cannot be decided at parish level should be delegated by the parish to other levels of local government. Only what cannot be organised locally should be organised regionally: specialist health care, higher education, railways and energy grids might be examples of that. Along with the thinking and debating needed to plan for a sustainable future at a human scale. (Because “sustainability” is another word that “they” have managed to turn on its head.)

That leaves next to nothing for national government to do. And hurrah for that! National government is organised for war and the urge to dominate others. Cutting it down to size, treating with contempt its claim to offer the means to a better quality of life for all, is what real devolution is for. And where will the criminals who run the show now run to then? We hope to see them behind bars in the not-too-distant future.

Wessex, like all English regions, is the missing piece in the jigsaw of ideas, allowing localities to achieve more together than they could achieve alone, while at the same time being both small enough to notice local concerns and big enough to be able to stand up for them effectively in wider forums. Alex Salmond has given Scotland a distinctive voice, confident about its future. Wessex, with a population 50% more than Scotland’s, needs a voice just as distinctive, just as confident. It’s time we put an end to our centuries of silent subservience.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Attacks Evader

Chris Huhne’s unscheduled exit from the Westminster stage has created a vacancy we shall be delighted to fill, should sufficient of the disillusioned cast their votes in our direction. WR President Colin Bex heads the list of candidates in the Eastleigh by-election and today we forward his first despatch from the constituency:

“Rumoured to have visited Eastleigh this morning, David Cameron failed to appear in the High Street where he would have seen at least four of the thirteen candidates including myself, standing against him and his party representative.

Could it be that he could not face a second meeting with me as, at the count in Witney 2010 when I stood against him, he failed to say why he had betrayed two million people in conspiring with the Labour administration's illegal invasion of Iraq?”

Cameron likes to set his own agenda and not have to answer awkward criticism. We don’t intend to let him get away with it.