Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review of 2012

Every year when we submit our accounts to the Electoral Commission we are also required to provide a ‘Review of Political Activities’ covering the year just gone.

The 2012 Review has recently been forwarded to the Commission and here is what it says:

“Between elections, our principal means of communication with the public are now predominantly online. Our blog continues to play an ever larger role, with the number of posts during 2012 being ten times the number in 2007. Our presence on Facebook continues to be developed and so, from February 2012, does our Twitter presence – @WessexRegion. All of these initiatives are vital to spreading our message in an increasingly digital world. The Internet has also made it easier for us to respond to initiatives by others in the form of online petitions.

We again took the opportunity in 2012 to respond to various official consultations, to the Department for Transport (on rail decentralisation), the Law Commission (on taxis and private hire vehicles) and the Commission on a Bill of Rights (on a UK Bill of Rights). Our response in each case focused on the need for fresh thinking on where decision-making is located in our society, with a preference for the local and the regional.

Our President, Colin Bex, who also manages our London bureau, remained active in the Occupy LSX campaign, providing us with reports from the front lines of the fight against financial tyranny, at St Paul’s Cathedral, at Finsbury Square, and elsewhere in London. He participated in a series of investigative hearings staged by the occupiers, including into the illegal invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the plan to criminalise all residential squatting. Colin testified for WR in both these cases.

We celebrated a key achievement this year when planning rules were relaxed to allow the Wessex Wyvern flag to be flown without the need to apply for advertisement consent. It was an intolerable injustice that any foreign flag, from Afghanistan’s to Zimbabwe’s, could be flown freely in Wessex while our own flag could not. The post entitled ‘When Will Wessex Flag Ban Cease?’ has long been the most popular item on our blog. We are pleased that the London regime has seen sense but we wonder why it took so long. It is good to now see our region’s name in print in legislation and we look forward to this being the first step towards a much more extensive recognition of its existence.”

Times of Tension

It was good to hear Nick Clegg last week distancing himself from the PM. We’re all Thatcherites now, claimed Cameron. Oh no, we’re not, insisted Clegg. Any reminder that the man is Deputy Prime Minister and not Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party is very welcome.

So too was another breaking of ranks last week, when agriculture minister David Heath drew attention to the looming disaster that is food security, or rather the UK’s lack of it. Heath, the LibDem MP for Somerton & Frome, may have been voicing his own views. Or those agreed by his party’s leadership. Certainly not the views of his Coalition partners, notably Osborne and Pickles, who remain desperate to destroy as much farmland as possible in the search for that strangely elusive growth they keep telling us that we need. Meanwhile, those who look ahead are buying farmland and laying the foundations for the new feudalism. The more land in others’ hands that is lost to development, the higher their own profits will in due course be.

Missing from Heath’s statement was any acknowledgement of the fact that WR have been making an issue of food security for years, while all the London parties have had their heads well into the sand. Just read this blog. Maybe Heath does. If so, he’ll know it won’t be the first time we’ve been proved right. We were right about the need to fundamentally restructure the financial sector. We were right about declining public enthusiasm for elected mayors and the whole ‘cities first’ agenda. We were right that localism, Coalition-style, would be a con. We were right about the resurgence of interest in public ownership and industrial planning. So what else are we right about? Peak oil? The need to rebuild the rural rail network (making substantial progress in Scotland and Wales but little in Wessex)? The need to stabilise our population and move towards a truly sustainable society?

It won’t give us any satisfaction to say we told you so. (Welcoming you to membership of WR would be far more constructive.) We do sense that change is coming. Not all of it positive by any means. Earlier this month we received news that West Dorset District Council, under pressure to meet London’s demands for ever more housing, has proposed 1,000 homes on land south-east of Dorchester at Winterborne Came. There is concern that the countryside setting for the homes of two Wessex literary giants – William Barnes and Thomas Hardy – will be destroyed by the development. The lies of London party politicians – that any number of houses can always be accommodated without harming our heritage – just go on getting bigger. But it’s what local folk should expect. So long as they go on voting for this, then this, of course, is what they will get. They will get something different when Wessex Regionalist councillors and MPs are elected to give London diktat its marching orders.

The fact that localism is failing to deliver on its promise of parish democracy will continue to pit Coalition councillors against Coalition ministers until the day they too realise that those in power in London truly don’t care what the yokels think. We who live here are an irrelevance, an irritation, an impediment to their careers. Yet we have it in our hands to destroy those careers by refusing to return these folk to Parliament. We won’t take that step, yet, because we are an essentially deferential society. We really do seem to believe that the big man in London must know what’s best for us. The vicious circle of deference and defeat will continue to repeat down the generations unless we say ‘no’. And follow through on that ‘no’ by building the regionalist alternative.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Contesting The Legacy

“There are certainly parts of the country that are more anti-her than others, but I think they tend to be the parts that have become relatively less important.”
Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph

Moore spoke on the day that we saw the last of the Rt Hon the Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. At least he’s honest. We’re really seeing the UK establishment for what it is now, contemptuous of all outside the charmed circle of the M25 doughnut ring. So if the United Kingdom doesn’t work for us, why should we work to sustain it? Answers on a postage stamp please.

It’s been a fascinating week. The Thatcher funeral was history in the making. And the writing. And the re-writing. The victors get to do that. And more. They get to shout down anyone with a different point of view. ‘We’re all Thatcherites now’, according to Cameron. Speak for yourself. Ten million quid to give the most divisive PM ever a triumphalist send-off? Not in our name. Austerity? You’re having a laugh, aren’t you?

The London parties have taken to heart Orwell’s words, that whoever controls the past controls the future. And they’ve been every bit as passionate about possession of it as any of Thatcher’s victims.

You have NO right to remember. You can mourn the passing of a politician who in the realms of hagiography is fast overtaking Churchill. But you cannot mourn the communities she destroyed. You can feel for her grieving family and applaud her support, in theory, for the family as an institution. But you cannot point out the families she wrecked. The broken marriages. The suicides. The children who hardly saw their grandparents because their parents had to ‘get on their bikes’ and ‘move to where there is work’. As if work is something that grows randomly like a plant and is not the product of human thought and action.

You have NO right to a view on events from 30 years ago if you weren’t around at the time. Even if your own life has been harmed by them. Full employment has never been restored, even in the Blair/Brown years when boom-and-bust was abolished. A ‘flexible labour market’ has become the new normal. Complete with the huge additional cost that represents for public spending. And the incalculable cost of wasted lives.

You have NO right of respect for free expression. Download what you will, but the music charts will be censored to show official disapproval of the choices that you, the once-so-sovereign consumer, make in the market place.

You have NO right to party. Is that so? If YOU don’t want to party, then don’t. Spare a thought if you can though for those who endured Thatcher’s reign of economic terror. Empathise with the catharsis involved in celebrating the end of a woman whose rule was brutal, callous and heartless. To rejoice at outliving your worst nightmare is a natural human reaction, even 23 years late; those who uncomprehendingly objected merely prolonged the cruelty.  Spare a thought not just for the lame ducks Thatcher sent to the wall but for the small businesses that also expired as a consequence of her illiterate policies. Ironic that, for a grocer’s daughter.

You have NO right even to question the now settled historical account of the 1980s. Move on. It’s 2013. It certainly is, and we still live by the assumptions imposed back then. They still go unchallenged by mainstream parties. Anyone who says ‘move on’ has something to hide from the piercing light of justice. Well, at least those mining communities have got closure now. (Pun intended.) They’ve had their bit of fun. Draw a line and return at once to your assigned prole sector. No chance of that. ‘Achieving closure’ is manipulative psycho-babble. In plain English, ‘accept defeat’. Accept the victors’ view.

The crackdown has been so over-the-top that it’s a fair bet that it has actually backfired rather spectacularly. No-one could have been the saint that Maggie was made out to be and more than a few who knew nothing of her policies will now be doing some digging for the truth. A watershed moment for British politics? Almost certainly. There is one person who has come out of the past week with a reputation genuinely enhanced. That person is Clement Attlee, who didn’t get a £10 million ceremonial funeral but did far more than Maggie to deserve one. Thatcher destroyed one half of his legacy, the nationalised industries, because she was too thick to examine how best to reform and modernise them without removing every last trace of democratic accountability. So she delegated the job to brighter folk in the commercial sector, who didn’t have a clue about democracy. Now her successors are destroying the other half, the welfare state, for precisely the same reason.

Dig for the truth and it will emerge. How many of our problems today are NOT part of the Thatcher legacy? Her manipulation of the unemployment figures, by parking the disabled and long-term sick on other benefits, underpins the furious debate over welfare reform. Complaints about rip-off utilities are the poisonous fruit of privatisation. And the shortage of social housing would not be what it is without Right-To-Buy.

Many voters did well out of Right-To-Buy and Thatcher knew they would reward her for making it possible to buy their council houses. Not just legally possible, but financially possible. With discounts that amounted to free money. Loads of it, stolen from ratepayers right across the land. Thatcher was a thief, pure and simple. She took what did not belong to her government – the property of local authorities answerable to their own electorates for its management – and gave it as a political bribe to a whole new social class. Duly noted. When private property is next taken into public ownership, no-one should expect to receive full compensation. Indeed, any at all might be viewed as needlessly excessive.  It certainly was when the water industry was privatised; its previous municipal owners were paid not a penny.

Make no mistake, the tide is turning back towards public ownership. Thatcher’s death, and the re-appraisal of the past that it has now unleashed, will speed that sea-change. Those who say ‘move on’ would like to remind us that history cannot be reversed. Indeed it cannot. But policy can. Thatcherism proves that it can. And so Thatcherism too can be undone. In the grand scheme of history, it may not even merit a mention.

The challenge now is to shape that undoing. The Left remains poorly placed to do it. The impotent rage of the Left during the 1980s was, sadly, all of its own making. How could it defend Labour-run councils, how could it uphold their right to make their own decisions, when it would have done the same sort of thing had it been in Thatcher’s shoes? What answer was there to the sell-off of council houses when a Labour government would have interfered as much if not more, for example to abolish grammar schools in areas that had repeatedly voted to keep them? It is that kind of contempt for local choice that places Labour and the Coalition equally in our sights. Neither is fit to preside over the rebuilding of the democratic sector that we so badly need. A rebuilding in which the region, as an area neither too large nor too small, ought to play a vital role. Labour, left to its own devices, will nationalise, centralise, and concentrate yet more power and talent in London at the expense of those areas deemed 'relatively less important'.

The Thatcher years saw some hard re-thinking on devolution. Many a Labour supporter came to rue the day that Scotland and Wales rejected the escape route from Thatcherism. A profound and vigorous regionalism throughout the UK would have had the effect of isolating the Thatcherite virus in its heartlands, depriving it of the resources – such as North Sea oil – that it needed to do its work, and creating in regions like Wessex a new politics that could have challenged the Tory hegemony here. Class division in Britain has a strong geographical dimension. Old Labour tried, and ultimately failed, to interpret geographical problems purely in class terms and to present control of the Westminster law-machine as the solution. It’s time now to try the alternative, to liberate the regions to find their own solutions.

Old Labour played by the old rules and it lost. It opposed proportional representation and the dispersal of power. And so allowed power to concentrate in the hands of an unrepresentative gang of free market thugs. Radicals in Wessex must be clear about what went wrong. And about what is now needed to put it right.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Among The Ruins

Lector si monumentum requiris circumspice.
(Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.)

The media had decades to prepare for the death of Margaret Thatcher, who checked out at The Ritz today. It still seemed this evening to have taken them by surprise. The BBC were the worst, like a bunch of prefects, busily orchestrating the nation’s grief. Female chauvinist cooing about how she was the first woman Prime Minister (which she was, and a pretty rotten example for any more to follow). Hints that she was anti-socialist (yet introduced the hyper-egalitarian Poll Tax). And all the London party leaders lining up to say how wonderful she was.

You can already visualise the flowers piling up like it was Princess Diana all over again. And there’s more to come as taxpayers’ money (£3 million has been mentioned) is splashed out on a funeral for the old girl at St Paul’s. (St Paul’s is a big church in London that thinks itself important, the work of the well-known Wiltshireman remembered in the Latin line above.) Such a shame that firm friends of hers like General Pinochet can’t be there. An even bigger shame that the rites aren’t to be funded entirely by private sponsorship as she’d surely have wanted.

Channel 4 did a much more balanced job. They actually went to the areas that Thatcher devastated and got reactions from those on the street. A big thumbs-down from Wales and Northumbria. And in Scotland, Alex Salmond cannily pointed out how much she’d done to make the case for a Scottish Parliament. Thatcher is gone but her legacy lives on. Part of that legacy has been to weaken and perhaps destroy the myth that the London regime works for the good of the whole UK. Thatcher worked for the spivs who still infect her party, and now the other big London parties too.

Sickest of all the comments made today was Cameron’s eulogy praising Thatcher as ‘the Patriot Prime Minister’ (‘the People’s Princess’ being, of course, already taken). She rolled back the frontiers of the British State, thereby enabling its assets (privatised at fraudulent prices) to be bought-up by foreign ones. She will be remembered for helping to bring democracy to eastern Europe. While destroying it in Greater London and the metropolitan counties like a nanny confiscating toys. She lectured others on freedom while curbing human rights and entrenching prejudice. Her most infamous, most unguarded remark was that there is no such thing as society. Society can at least now say that there is no such thing as Margaret Thatcher. Patriot Prime Minister? Loyal to something, yes, but never to her country.

The way is clear for the rebirth of that politics of community that so nearly made it through in the 70s before it was so horribly handbagged. Thatcher advocated what she claimed was true devolution, a return of power to the atomised individual. Post-crash, we now know what that world looks like in all its glory. A world where not only the individual but communities, and whole countries, are alone and defenceless against the will of ‘the markets’ and ‘the investors’ who must be placated. Not to mention the failed firms that, far from going to the wall as Thatcher told us they must, are kept alive by endless transfusions of public wealth. Worse, if everyone’s looking out for themselves, day by day, who’s looking out for our shared long-term future?

The damage that woman did is vast, so vast that the generations who have grown up since sometimes struggle even to imagine that a better world is possible. The repairs must start in earnest tomorrow.